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Seeing Soft Spots

To protect your community from terrorist attacks, you have to learn to look at it through the eyes of a terrorist.

September 01, 2004  |  by Tracy-Paul Warrington

In 1952, the U.S. Army Special Forces developed a matrix for evaluating the threat against various industrial systems. When the “Green Berets” had to help protect foreign interests, they used this matrix. When they had to destroy those same types of systems, the matrix helped identify the weakest places to hit.

The Special Forces target matrix goes by the acronym CARVER, which stands for criticality, accessibility, recuperability, vulnerability, effect on populace, and recognizability.

Criticality refers to how important the infrastructure target is to the functioning of the town, city, county, etc. A water treatment plant is critical to the survival of the city; a park is not. A highway bridge is important, but the local fast-food restaurant is not.

Accessibility is an estimate of how easy it is for someone to approach or get inside the target and attack it. It’s very easy to go into a library, but it’s a little harder to gain access to a carnival (admission); and harder still to enter a police station.

Recuperability rates how long it takes to restore a target to full working order. This includes replacing critical personnel that is killed, wounded, or scared away by the attack. For example, if only one person in your jurisdiction knows how to operate a drawbridge, and is killed or injured while the bridge is open, it may take days to find someone to lower the bridge.

Vulnerability is a broad rating of the target’s security; it includes both construction and security personnel. A park has no real barriers, but surround it with enough armed security officers, detectors, and concrete barriers, and you can almost make it impregnable.

Effect on the populace is one of the more important ratings in a CARVER assessment. A high rating here can make a terrorist group ignore security, access issues, and other factors in an all-out effort to create maximum impact. Remember, effect is beyond the immediate target audience. At the point of attack, people will get hurt or die, but the real target is the symbol and the morale of the people. The Mall in Washington, D.C., is not a worthy target, except on the 4th of July when thousands of people gather there for celebrations and rallies. But a terrorist attack on the Mall that destroyed a major monument would seriously affect the nation’s morale and could occur at any time.

Recognizability rates how hard it is to locate the target. Believe it or not, terrorists sometimes hit the wrong target. If they perform their reconnaissance during the day, then attack at night, there’s a good chance they’ll move to the wrong location. So if the terrorists can’t find the target or its location is not well known that works to your advantage. It doesn’t make the target 100-percent secure, but it helps.

To use the matrix, you assign each target a rating of 1 to 5 in each category, with “1” being the lowest (or best) to “5” being the highest (or worse).

When you have assigned the numbers in each category, each target is “scored” by adding up the numeric ratings from each category in the matrix. If you are on the defense, then ideally all critical infrastructure should have a score of “6,” the lowest possible score. But that’s hard to get. So in reality, the score will be between 6 and 30 (the highest and worst rating).

Of course, just assigning numbers to targets does nothing to enhance your community’s security. You have to act on your findings. A CARVER assessment can help you focus limited resources for protection and evaluate what measures to take in driving down the CARVER rating. OK. Let’s go over the categories in the CARVER Matrix, so that you can understand how to analyze your community for targets.

The purpose of defensively analyzing your community’s infrastructure with the CARVER Matrix is that it shows what facilities need attention to improve their overall security, which is quantified in the Matrix’s 6 to 30 scale. The score shows vulnerability, and any target with a total over 20 or a single 5 in any category should be given priority consideration for hardening.

Narrow Your Study

When beginning analysis on your infrastructure, consider the scope of what you want to achieve. The CARVER matrix works for an individual store, classroom, a whole school, or an entire city. Analysts often find that one element in a target can skew a rating in the matrix. This can help you reveal important facilities in your community to which you may have never given a second thought and require you to perform a deeper study.

For example, let’s say your CARVER analysis shows that a rather “quiet” shopping center scores a high rating in two areas: criticality and effect on populace. You shake your head in wonder and ask, “Why would anyone see this collection of stores as a critical target?” But then you realize the reason for the high ratings is the acute illness clinic in the strip mall. It’s the only one in the area and averages 100 patient visits per day. By redoing your analysis, you can better focus on the weaknesses of the clinic.

Performing the Analysis

A CARVER analysis of your community is best accomplished by a select team of experts. This task force should have representatives from the following public safety specialties: explosive ordnance disposal, SWAT (especially snipers), firefighting, emergency management, and city planning. The task force leader should either be from the police department or fire department.

I doubt that any municipal organization has the resources to create a full-time CARVER task force; so the next best alternative is an ad-hoc organization that puts in extra hours (probably without pay) to do the analysis. Of course, if the top leadership in your organization does not support doing this tough analytical work, it’s going to be extremely hard to carry out the mission.

And remember, the CARVER Matrix is just a starting point. If it doesn’t exactly fit what you are looking for, make the changes and drive on with the analysis (it won’t hurt my feelings). Just one caveat: Make your adjustments to the system before you do your analysis. If you make the changes during your analytical work, you risk invalidating your previous work, which means starting over.

The most common adjustment that I have seen is to allow a decimal rating for each category such as 1.3, 4.6, 2.5, etc. Another common type of change is to “spread” the rating over 6-10 levels instead of five levels.

Finally, nothing ever remains constant, so it’s important to schedule periodic reviews of your CARVER studies to make sure the rating has not changed for better or worse.

Hardening the Targets

After you’ve determined your community’s vulnerabilities, the biggest hurdle still remains: finding the resources to enhance a target’s survival. Terrorists are very good at striking where we’re not looking. They study a series of targets and strike the weakest ones.

So ideally we should harden them all. Unfortunately, that’s not possible. We can’t afford to bankrupt a community or a nation in an effort to protect against a probable threat. This is especially true because we still have to guard against other calamities such as natural disasters, accidents, etc.

OK. So how do we strengthen the targets that we decide to make priorities? It’s not easy. There is no magic list of things to buy or do that will make a target stronger. Every single target is unique, and it will take a group effort from your community’s public safety personnel to find the most effective solution.

Funds are tight. So be especially careful about what you buy. There are thousands of business representatives out there who want to sell you all kinds of stuff that they say will enhance a target’s survival.

Before you buy their merchandise, I recommend that you ask for two basic pieces of information. Ask for a list of other buyers using the same exact equipment or service. And ask for a list of terrorist incidents that their product or service helped to prevent or mitigate. Talk to the buyers, study the results, and make the decision accordingly.

Keep in mind there are a lot of businesses trying to market military products to civilian agencies, and what works for the military doesn’t necessarily work for law enforcement. Some products only work in all-out combat, and severe casualties are an acceptable risk of combat but not of law enforcement.

One of the more interesting things that we’ve learned over the years of studying critical targets is that they tend to be in close proximity to each other. This has its pluses and minuses. It makes a target area more lucrative for terrorists, but it also allows you to consolidate protection for those same systems.

Hardening targets is all about making tough decisions. You can’t protect everything and even the things that you choose to protect may still come under attack. So you may discover that the best use of your limited resources is to mitigate the effects of an attack. This sounds callous, but it’s the way you must think in order to serve your community.

There is no magic solution for terrorism. Its method of operation and motivation is an almost perfect foil to the world community. As long as there is discontent and sympathizers, terrorism will flourish.

But while we can’t stop terrorism entirely, we can make it harder for terrorists to work and we can force them to make mistakes. Security will always be inconvenient and protection will always be uncomfortable. The question we must ask ourselves is, how much inconvenience and discomfort are we willing to tolerate in stopping terrorism?

Law enforcement will be at the fore of our efforts to combat this menace in all aspects. And remember, we have to be continuously alert to stop terrorism, but terrorists only have to get lucky once.

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Comments (1)

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[email protected] @ 7/19/2007 9:09 PM

I am a criminal justice student and found this article useful in my Homeland Security course. However, when I click on "print this article" on your site I get the article in very printable format, but it covers up my printer icon and I'm unable to print it in this format and have to print from the previous format, which wastes both paper and ink. Any suggestions? Thanks so much for the great resource!

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