Editor’s Note: CNN analyst Juliette Kayyem is the author of the best-seller “Security Mom: My Life Protecting the Home and Homeland.” She is a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration and CEO of Zemcar. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
The shooting in San Bruno, California, at YouTube’s headquarters was, in some respects, just another case of gun violence.
Three people were shot before the woman turned the handgun on herself and committed suicide. Employees were seen fleeing off the YouTube campus as police rushed to the scene.
It appears, by news accounts now, that the shooter was Nasim Najafi Aghdam. More information will be forthcoming about her specific motives and whether she targeted any of the victims. This is a traumatic incident for all those affected by the attack. But in the strange way we judge violence today, the YouTube incident is not a national tragedy; it doesn’t even technically qualify as a mass shooting.
And because it didn’t take place at a schooI but in a workplace environment, it lacks the emotion of what we saw after the February attack in Parkland, Florida.
But that doesn’t mean we should just walk away and simply say: “Tragedy averted.” In crisis management and homeland security, a disaster averted is still significant because it can tell us what we – a school, a business, a community – can do better given that the system was tested.
In other words, we can learn a lot from a mass casualty event that didn’t occur.
In the coming days, YouTube must assess how it performed when the emergency was unfolding.
Did employees get notified? Have they been trained in active shooter protocols? Did police know the campus-like facility and what to do? What sorts of communications were coming from headquarters to notify the public and employee family members? In other words, did the system work?
These are important questions to answer, because these kinds of emergencies are bound to happen again, and YouTube will be a better company if it honestly assesses its performance rather than thinking it simply avoided a catastrophe.
These lessons learned will then serve as a foundation for new security protocols. They can also be shared with other businesses – and will be especially useful to those in Silicon Valley that have similar campuses. In some respects, YouTube also owes such a thorough review to its traumatized employees and their families.
One of the most important aspects of disaster management training is to perform such an exercise that results in lessons learned. Commonly referred to in the military as an “after action” report, it helps institutions assess how prepared they were and what they can do better next time.
Take, for example, the often annoying decision by governors in New England states to stop people from driving during anticipated blizzards. These directives – sometimes wrong if the sun is still shining – are based on one clear reality learned from blizzards of the past: people who die in blizzards often do not die from snow but from carbon monoxide poisoning of those who get stuck in cars. So, as a lesson learned, the general rule is to keep people off the road, even if the disaster doesn’t actually occur.
In an ideal world, there would be no gun violence like what we saw at YouTube. The company does not necessarily need to respond with gates and fences. Every institution needs to weigh how much security it wants against its desire to be open and, in the case of YouTube, “disruptive.” There is no perfect security solution.
But what YouTube can do is take advantage of a bigger tragedy averted so the rest of us might be safer for any deficiencies or gaps that were exposed in those few scary minutes on its campus.