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Non-Sterile and Sterile Areas – Where Do They Begin and End?

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Matthew Porcelli
Matthew Porcelli
Matthew Porcelli, MSc, CPP, CPOI, F.ISRM, FSyl , is a Safety/Security Management Specialist with over two decades of experience in the criminal justice and private security sector working with clients from international airlines to corporate global headquarters, and alongside municipal, state, and federal law enforcement partners. Porcelli is a globally recognized volunteer thought leader, author, presenter, and featured in many global security periodicals.

Enterprise Security Risk Management (ESRM), is a very effective method for measuring an organization’s risks in an advisory capacity, evaluating an organization’s structure during and after a serious incident or crisis, and putting strategic countermeasures in place to lessen the probability or occurrence of security threats. Many fixed and close quarter protection details require security personnel to know danger areas for their principals or in what locations might present the largest risk. This presents challenges on their own; however, what about those impetuous mistakes of something as simple as knowing where the jurisdiction of the protective detail or fixed security program begins and where it ends?  For instance, airports are divided into two distinct areas, non-sterile, comprised of areas such as arrival and departure drop-offs/pick ups and space before the x-ray screening areas, and sterile, which makes up the area past x-ray screening from the gates to the aircrafts themselves. Unfortunately, many company employees, and even some security personnel, are ignorant of exactly what areas are physically non-sterile and sterile areas that make up an important piece of the entire security framework.

The Latin phrase, “ignorantia juris non excusat,” translates to, “ignorance of the law excuses not.” Just as ignorance of the law is not an excuse for defense, the same is true for ignorance of non-sterile and sterile areas.

Fixed and non-fixed areas often use signage to advise a would-be aggressor or one with malicious intent that their actions are under surveillance along with the penalty for transgressions against said assets. However, when organizations and their protectors fall into ignorance, it causes not only a risk to the principals and assets but may also question the competence of those associated with the security framework from the frontline Security Officers to the Chief Security Officer (CSO).

Ego, passivity, and laziness, may be the culprits for this type of ignorance; however, the question is how many chances does one get to dodge a near miss – both figuratively and real?

Sometimes, the solution is more obvious than perceived.

Initial, quarterly, and sporadic training, and simulations are force-multipliers to sharpen the acumen of the security professional and provide the right amount of confidence to increase security and threat awareness. Many times, there is a premature leap into how to protect the asset or principal, (i.e. via CCTV cameras, pre–established and backup transportation, and access control systems), but a lot can be said for covering operational basics such as where the non-sterile and sterile areas of a security assignment or posture begins and ends. This may be done by identifying what checkpoints lead to sterile areas and how aggressors may try to circumvent them.

A few years ago, I led a team of contracted security professionals who were tasked with adding an additional layer of security for a visiting Senator to a town hall meeting for a prominent financial organization. During the advance team training at the location, first on the agenda was ensuring each of my 12 team members knew the space where the public could occupy, such as the atrium where building tenants were still conducting business, to the host organization’s employee spaces, where they were still running the financial institution’s operations, and then finally to the town hall space where the Senator was making his presentation.

Once that was established, I infused a critical thinking exercise to my team by asking them, “if an aggressor were hypothetically able to penetrate the sterile areas and was noticed, what would be the route of escape? The purpose was not to insinuate that breaching into the sterile areas was something to be taken lightly, but to best communicate throughout my team, to the internal security team, and local law enforcement, the area which would be most concealed in a possible aggressor’s mode of escape, which would lead to their capture.

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