The State House now has metal detectors. Portland City Hall and Cross Insurance Arena can now lock down quickly in the event of an attack. And teachers across the region could soon have “panic buttons” on their laptops that swiftly summon police.

These are among the measures being taken to protect public buildings in the event of a mass shooting. Recent attacks in California and Colorado have some public agencies in Maine reviewing their security protocols, but one national expert says that, aside from metal detectors and armed guards, little can be done to make any place truly safe.

Wednesday’s shooting in San Bernardino, California, in which 14 people died, is reportedly the 355th mass shooting this year, defined by whether four or more people were killed in an attack.

With more venues becoming the sites of mass shootings – including schools, churches, movie theaters and health clinics – action plans have become ubiquitous among buildings open to the public.

But short of screening everyone who enters a building, it’s practically impossible to prevent a mass shooting from occurring, said David Katz, chief executive officer of Global Security Group, a New York City-based company that provides a variety of public safety services, including consulting, training and security.

Still, local law enforcement agencies say they study every incident to glean any lessons.

The Capitol Police, which provides security for 50 state buildings in Augusta, including the State House, incorporates those lessons into its training, said Chief Russell Gauvin.

In the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris last month and Wednesday’s shooting at a social services building in San Bernardino, upcoming training sessions will focus on situations with multiple shooters, Gauvin said.

He said no one incident has resulted in any specific changes to the force’s security protocols, but since 2012, visitors to the State House have been required to pass through a metal detector.

Maine State Police also try to find out what was helpful in other incidents and could prove useful if a similar incident were to occur here, spokesman Stephen McCausland said.

In addition, state police have taken an inventory and studied the interiors of potential target sites in Maine, although McCausland wouldn’t name them.

“Troopers have become familiarized with a number of buildings in the state, public and private … in case an incident takes place within them,” he said.

The Portland Police Department conducts tabletop training exercises for supervisors about dealing with an active shooter, and plans to do more in the future, Chief Michael Sauschuck said.

“Ultimately, we will be conducting live drills with our staff,” he said.


Three Portland-area school districts are working together to add a “panic button” on teacher computers or phones, according to Craig Worth, deputy chief operations officer at Portland Public Schools. The Portland, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth districts are planning to begin using new software, called Share911, that allows a teacher to alert others to a threat – whether it’s a medical emergency or a lockdown situation. It goes to first responders, such as police or fire departments, as well as other teachers on the network. It also works in reverse, so emergency personnel can notify an entire school of an emergency at once.

“We’re constantly looking over our plan and updating it,” Worth said of the district’s security plan. He said they have briefed school administrators on Share911, and hope to have it in place by fall 2016.

State law already requires school districts to have comprehensive plans to address emergencies, ranging from shootings to bomb threats to natural disasters to fires. Safety protocols vary depending on the school district, the type of school and, in some cases, the year a school was built. Newer schools tend to have more built-in safety measures, with many installing more security cameras, double sets of locking doors or classroom doors that lock from the inside.

The city of Portland has installed metal detectors at the Oxford Street homeless shelter and the General Assistance office on Lancaster Street, costing nearly $5,800, City Manager Jon Jennings said.

Portland City Councilor Ed Suslovic would like to see more protections in place at City Hall.

People visiting municipal offices are allowed to carry guns because local officials don’t have the authority under state law to ban them. At least a dozen people openly carrying firearms converged on a City Council meeting in 2010 to oppose a proposed resolution calling on state lawmakers to submit a bill prohibiting people from bringing firearms into public facilities like City Hall.

Five years and many mass shootings later, Suslovic, who chairs the city’s public safety committee, said lawmakers need to give local officials the same tools legislators already have to protect themselves and the public.

“I am personally significantly worried about someone coming into City Hall with a weapon for a variety of reasons and causing harm to our staff and members of the public that are in and out of the building on a regular basis,” Suslovic said. “There’s nothing about Portland, Maine, that would make us believe it wouldn’t happen here.”


An incident in August involving a man with mental health problems who went into City Hall claiming to have a machete prompted the city to update its security protocols.

Since then, the city has installed mechanisms on doors at City Hall that would allow a building-wide lockdown, Jennings said.

“That incident had a chilling impact on city staff,” he said. “We have an ongoing review right now that predates what happened yesterday. I’m proud to say we’ve been on top of that for the last few months.”

Jennings said the city is considering installing security cameras and already has redistributed a Homeland Security video titled, “Run, Hide, Fight,” that tells staff how to react to an active shooter scenario.

Informing people about how to protect themselves is probably the most effective way of saving lives in the event of a mass shooting, said Katz, the Global Security Group CEO.

In such incidents, most deaths occur in the first couple of minutes, before anyone makes a 911 call or police arrive, he said.

Finding an exit and running from the scene should be the first reaction. If that’s not possible, he said, get behind a door, lock it and barricade the entryway with all furniture available.

“If you can’t, the only thing remaining is to kill them,” he said, using any means possible, such as scratching their eyes with fingernails.

Although Katz insists most security efforts are “all talk,” operators of some larger venues that welcome the public have taken their own measures.

As part of the recent renovation of Cross Insurance Arena, a new security system was installed that can lock down the entire building at a moment’s notice, General Manager Matt Herpich said.

Staff members are briefed before every event about what to be aware of and are encouraged to communicate anything they notice.

“Spilled popcorn we even mention on the radio,” Herpich said.


The most recent addition to the Maine Mall’s security measures is an emphasis on communication, specifically the Homeland Security mantra, “see something, say something,” general manager Craig Gorris said.

He said the mall’s trainings always have included plans for responding to active shooters, but he wouldn’t be more specific.

Security equipment also is becoming more popular.

“There is definitely a trend toward more physical security technology being installed everywhere – schools and universities, other public buildings, hospitals, sports and entertainment venues, commercial and government buildings, on mass transit of all types,” said Martha Entwistle, editor of Security Systems News, a Yarmouth-based trade publication. That ranges from cameras and control systems to fingerprint recognition and iris readers.

But equipment alone is not an effective form of security, Entwistle said.

“Security professionals tell me that the most important element in keeping people, places and assets secure is protocol,” she said. “You can have the most high-tech security system around, but that won’t matter if people in your office, school or hospital haven’t been trained on specific steps to take in the event of an emergency.”

Staff Writers Randy Billings and Noel K. Gallagher contributed to this report.


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