By Dr. Jenni Hesterman

Disgruntled individuals and/or terrorist groups targeting the U.S. are looking for opportunities to impact the election or, at the least, get press coverage through an attack. Striking a soft target, like a polling place, is a distinct possibility. Be aware of the risk.

Millions of Americans will exercise their right to vote on Tuesday, November 6th by going to a polling location in their district. Churches, schools and community centers will open their doors to the public in a long-held tradition, many remaining accessible for 13 hours or more.

Election Day is not only a celebration of America’s democracy, but it’s also a growing security challenge. We’re seeing an increase in violence in our country. People are acting out on their anger like never before. This is a contentious election year, and supporters of both major parties are highly emotional about their candidates and various issues. In addition, terrorist groups are always looking for opportunities to attack. Striking a soft target, like a polling place, would be an ideal place for anyone to cause a disruption.

Remember, you have the right to ask questions about the safety and security plan for your polling place. Don’t assume the location has a plan, or has even considered their location as a place where violence could occur. I’ve found that building owners have a severe blind spot regarding their vulnerabilities. They don’t believe violence could happen on their property and thus, do not adequately prepare.

Security in the form of a police officer, contracted security, or even just a parked security vehicle at the location may deter those who might desire to do harm. Access control is a must at the polling location. For instance, there should be a specific parking area for voters, separate from facility users. Parking on voting day is always chaotic, so be sure to keep fire lanes open in case of an emergency. Also, extra traffic generated by voters is a serious issue in areas with pedestrians (e.g., the elderly or children), so I recommend volunteers observe the parking area and man adjacent crosswalks to help.

Finally, voters shouldn’t be able to roam all over the property of the polling place, or throughout the building. There should be one entry and exit for the voters, and enough manpower at the location to ensure crowd control. If you see people wandering where they shouldn’t, report it!

The bottom line is that you have the right to ask the voting location or local officials about their security plan at the polling location.  Also, if you sense any security or safety issues, unapologetically bring them to the attention of those in charge at the polling site.

No one wants to imagine the worst, but we must be prepared. No town, city, state or region is immune from violence. If the public is educated on the risk and response, they become force multipliers to the resource-constrained law enforcement in our communities. Let’s stay safe together!

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Is your facility ever accessed or used by the general public? Need help figuring out how to keep it safe and secure? Contact us! The experts at Watermark are experienced in physical security. Don’t hesitate to request advice or ask us to formulate a safety plan for your organization.

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