Baselines and Anomalies

So I last wrote about the FBI and the potential 1000 active investigations on potential ISIS terrorists inside our borders.  In that article, we covered several points ranging from See Something Say Something and what to report to the authorities if you happen to see something.  We touched on "Red Teaming" and thinking like the bad guy, and lastly we talked about Baselines and Anomalies and how understanding what the Baselines of your environment are and identifying wha the Anomalies are when they appear.       

I wanted to continue the discussion and expand more on what Baselines and Anomalies really are and how to observe your surroundings in a more effective way.  The examples I used in the last article were centered around a typical morning routine in getting ready for work or school.  You wake up, get ready, make your coffee and drive off to work.  The last thing you do before you dive off is close the garage door.  Your morning routine is the Baseline, every little detail of your morning routine is what builds your Baseline.  When you return home and notice that the garage door is now open, you begin to wonder if you closed the door or not.  Confident you had closed it, you now wonder if someone is in our house.  The open door is clearly the Anomaly, and the feeling that something is not right clearly indicates that your situational awareness is at another level.

Since my last post, we have experienced a terror attack in San Bernardino CA, in which 14 people were tragically killed and 21 more injured by two ISIS affiliated individuals.  This investigation is still unfolding and details are still coming out, but there are a few things that we do know and they are topics that I covered in my last post.  Lets look at one of the neighbors of the shooters and examine what Baselines and Anomalies were observed and why nothing was reported.  The neighbor seems to have been paying attention to her surroundings well enough to know what the Baselines of her neighborhood were, when people were coming and going and the normal day to day activities of others.  You could make the case that maybe she was a nebby neighbor, but really who cares, she paid attention to the details and she was observant.  Enter the new neighbors, or the shooters, as I will refer to them.  For several weeks leading up to the day of the attack, this neighbor, and now more are coming out and saying the same thing, observed several Anomalies that stuck out to her and did not fit the Baselines of the neighborhood.  What did she and others observe? well the observations were as simple as noticing activity of the shooters late at night with multiple visitors coming and going at odd hours of the day.  Increased and repeated deliveries to the house of the shooters leading up to he event.  I know that these types of activities may be difficult to say that something is going to happen or that everyone who does these types of activities is bad.  But in this case, the neighbors gut instinct and her knowing what the Baselines were in her neighborhood, she and the others were right.  Why did she not report anything? I wrote in my last post that it is better for us to error on the side of safety than to fail on the side of political correctness.  The neighbor clearly failed on the side of political correctness.  I feel horrible for everyones loss and I feel horrible for the neighbors who did not speak up as well.  We have to get over this hurdle of being afraid to say something, until we do, more Anomalies will be continue to be discarded and not reported.

So, lets take this discussion a little deeper and talk about Baselines and Anomalies surrounding your place of work or your school and then lets apply a situation like an active shooter or potential terror attack to the scenario.  Just as your morning routine has Baselines, so does your business or school, people come and go each day maybe even at the same time everyday.  People park in the same spots, sit at the same desks, eat the same food or snacks from the same vending machines.  We are creatures of habit and will stick to our routines as faithfully as possible, and when something disrupts our routine we will typically respond with some level of frustration.  That's ok, but we are not talking about someone taking the last snack out of the vending machine or removing your favorite pencil from you desk, we are talking about real events that can and do cause fatalities.  

My guess is that you know the Baselines of your place of work or your school pretty well, and that when something is out place or not how you left it, you know about it pretty quickly.  But, are you aware of the car parked across the street at the same time everyday for the last two weeks in which the occupants rarely get out of? or did you notice that person sitting on the bench outside of your building who has been writing in a notepad? What about the person who has made repeated attempts to gain access to a restricted are of you building?  Maybe these are the extreme examples, or maybe they aren't, but they are all very possible and in fact do happen, more than you think.  In almost every attack situation, the shooter or bad actor has done some type of reconnaissance or advanced planning on the target.  Which means that at some point they had to spend time observing your building or personnel as you come and go, learning how you travel throughout your facility or how the building works from the time the lights turn on to the time they turn off.  The shooters or bad actors know and learn as much as the can so that they can carry out their mission with a high degree of success.   The shooter or bad actor will almost always have the advantage because they are the aggressor, but just because they are the aggressor doesn't mean that we are at a complete disadvantage.  For us to level the playing field, we have to do a few things better.

First, we have to be more aware of our Baseline, notice that I did not say we had to be better at being aware of our Baselines.  We are good at knowing our Baselines and those Baselines that are close to us, what we are not good at is our Baseline Distance!  Our what? Baseline Distance, that is how far we expand our Baselines to see more Anomalies.  Lets go back to the example of the car parked across the street for the last few weeks everyday at the same time in which the occupants rarely get out.  Normally we might not see this because our Baseline Distance is only set for our immediate surroundings, perhaps we increase that distance in situations that are new to us or where do not feel comfortable, but in our day to day settings, we tend to lower our Baseline Distance because we feel more comfortable.  If we expanded our Baseline Distance to see beyond our normal range, would we discover more Anomalies?  I think we would, would we have the courage to speak up? Hard to answer, but I hope so. I encourage you to try this where you work, challenge yourself to expand  your Baseline Distance and look for things that do not look right.

Jason Destein