THE MAGAZINE

Chicago’s Big Security Shoulders

By Teresa Anderson

Along with local agencies, the museum trains to meet specific threats, to comport with its emergency action plan, and to be sure that it will know how to evacuate the building. “Involving the local authorities in our training efforts helps us to become more like a neighborhood,” McDonald explains. “If you need a tool, you can borrow it from your neighbor. Also, you can determine what you need to do to be prepared. We then become an active participant in our safety and the safety of our guests.”

For example, in May the museum held a training session on recognizing and responding to a bomb in the building. An FBI special agent from the Chicago office who specializes in bombs visited the museum to train officers on recognizing and responding to suspicious packages. Before the training, the agent provided background on how such bombs work and shared information on some of the bombs he had encountered.

As a follow-up to that session, the Chicago Police Bomb Squad sent representatives to the museum in June to train security officers on how to determine whether a package is suspicious and what the police will do when called about a bomb threat. The training especially focused on backpacks because of the recent Boston bombing and because backpacks are frequently carried into the museum by visitors.

With this information in hand, security personnel then trained nonsecurity employees. It is especially critical for nonsecurity staff to know how to respond to a suspicious package before security arrives, according to McDonald. For example, staff should immediately turn off cell phones to prevent accidental detonation if it is a bomb. Staff should also be on the lookout for everyday items used in an unusual way. “The FBI agent told us that he was able to make a 25-pound bomb for training purposes and purchased all the materials from a national sporting goods store without being questioned,” explains McDonald.

The museum conducts an incident-related exercise at least once a month. The exercise changes based on threats or even weather conditions. “We go through various parts of our emergency action plan,” explains McDonald. Issues include how and when to shelter in place, what numbers employees should call for different emergencies, and the procedure for calling school groups to notify them that the museum is closed.

In addition, there are frequent evacuation drills in conjunction with first responders such as the police and fire departments. Different types of drills are conducted to simulate smoke, fire, and water emergencies.

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