SAFECITY – Violence-Free City – threats and opportunities The importance of risk assessments

SAFECITY – Violence-Free City – threats and opportunities The importance of risk assessments

The terms "SAFECITY" and "Violence-Free City" have recently been added to the glossary of public administration and local government. In the most general terms, these are two models – similar, yet different – of coordinating efforts and pooling resources for the purpose of enhancing the quality of life of the community and its inhabitants, and creating a safe environment for them.

The definition of SAFECITY is somewhat elusive, and is far from academic. This is a model that has been imported from abroad. It lacks uniformity, and is implemented in a different manner from country to country, and at times – even from city to city, based on the definition of the goals, objectives and missions – in the best case scenario; or based on the whims of position holders, consulting companies and entities marketing security technologies – in the worst case scenario. In some cases, the program focuses on coping "only" with property crime, violence and vandalism, while in other cases it covers a broader range of threats, including terror threats, as well as preparedness for extreme emergencies caused by multi-casualty disasters, terror attacks or accidents. Some programs cover an entire city, while others focus only on its violence prone areas.

In contrast, "Violence-Free City" is a model developed in Israel – one that is uniform and institutionalized, and therefore easier to define. It is a project developed based on a "bottom – up" approach, aimed at combatting violence, delinquency and crime in local authorities, which was implemented in the city of Eilat in 2004 and was subsequently adopted by the Israeli Ministry of Public Security. We will therefore define it as a "national program for combatting delinquency and crime, led by the local authority, supported by the state, and based on coordinating efforts and on pooling all the resources and bodies operating in the city."

A comprehensive comparison between the SAFECITY model imported from abroad and the "Violence-Free City" developed in Israel is beyond the scope of this paper.  Prima facie, "Violence-Free City" is more wide-ranging with respect to coping with threats of violence and crime: in addition to the security and law enforcement units, it also harnesses the bodies responsible for education and welfare, and encompasses the relevant components that exist in SAFECITY. On the other hand, SAFECITY provides a broader response to other threats – mainly terrorism and emergency preparedness
If asked to idealize the system, we would probably aspire to implement a more all-embracing program, which we would name "VIOLENCE-FREE SAFECITY."

One way or the other, both the "Violence-Free City" and the SAFECITY model include opportunities for real enhancement of the quality of life of city dwellers. Needless to say, attaining the benefits these opportunities present involves incurring substantial costs.

The VIOLENCE-FREE SAFECITY program is first and foremost an opportunity: for citizens – men, women, the elderly, youths and children, for business proprietors, clients and employees, for tourists and visitors – to live a safer life; as well as an opportunity for the local authority or municipality to prove it is capable or providing its inhabitants with a safe environment.

However, the model also holds a risk of missed opportunities: the implementation of VIOLENCE-FREE SAFECITY harnesses all the position holders, is publicized and creates high expectations. The local authority's senior executives therefore bear the burden of proof. It they succeed – their success will be recognized and appreciated; however, if they fail – it is unlikely that they will be given a second chance.

The factors most influencing the success of the program are commitment, methodology and training.

The success of the program is dependent, to a large extent, on the commitment of all the position holders, in all sectors, to cooperate and properly prioritize the required activities. But achieving success depends, first and foremost, on implementation that is base on the foundation of a professionally executed, methodology-based, effective risk assessment process.

Risk assessment is a process through which risk factors are identified and characterized, and the level of risk is assessed. Subsequently, an accepted level of risk is determined, taking into account existing counter-measures, and recommendations on the means and processes required for risk mitigation or neutralization are submitted.

Risk assessment as a tool for overcoming or eliminating an undesirable phenomenon is similar, in essence, to the medical treatment of a disease: the doctor diagnoses the disease, presents the prognosis and decides on the necessary treatment and on preventive measures. Just as a person who is ill will not go to the pharmacy and purchase medicine without first consulting a physician, a project of this magnitude cannot be carried out without first completing a structured, professional risk assessment process.

Risk assessment for cities and towns comprises three elements, as listed below:

(1) Risk assessment:
The entire range of activities whose purpose is to assess the probability that incidents will occur, and their level of severity. This stage of the risk analysis process includes a site survey; a review of past incidents and an evaluation of the probability of future incidents taking place; the definition of the potential adversaries (approximately 3% of the population present 97% of the threat); the analysis of their modus operandi; the presentation of the threats in the form of matrices of probability and severity, based on the damage equation; and the grading of risks, from high to low. The products of the risk assessment will serve as input in the decision making process during the risk management stage
(2) Risk management:
 The presentation of the optimal, proactive response to the risk – the full set of activities required to maintain the security and safety of the inhabitants and to mitigate or even eliminate violence and delinquency. This is in fact the implementation of the VIOLENCE-FREE SAFECITY model in practice – the operational plan developed to deal with the threats that have been analyzed within the framework of the risk assessment, and have been adapted to the city's characteristics. This stage also involves the prioritization of tasks, taking into consideration the available budget and other resources, as well as the planning of the optimal integration of the model into security plans and measures implemented to deal with other threats – such as terror threats and emergency preparedness.

(3) Risk communication:
 The required activities at the political level – both externally and internally, in order to enable the plan's implementation: a description of the activities needed in order to create the proper image of the risk vis-à-vis the public (in order to avoid making it appear overly threatening, on the one hand; but ensure it is taken seriously enough, on the other hand), as well as the activities required to secure optimal cooperation from the community and the inhabitants. Risk communication will also take place vis-à-vis official bodies (police, homeland security, education, etc.), as a key contributor to the success of the plan.

 The full understanding of the relevant issues by key position holders within the local authority is another element that is essential to the success of the VIOLENCE-FREE SAFECITY plan. Proper training will provide them with the toolbox and compass required to harness all the relevant entities, locate the suitable professional bodies and individuals, select the most appropriate technologies and find the optimal balance between them and the manpower operating them. Proper training of central position holders and those responsible for the actual implementation of the plan is critical to its success.

In order to be truly effective, the VIOLENCE-FREE SAFECITY model must be adapted to the characteristics of each city, the nature of the activity taking place in it and its specific needs. The model must be carefully developed by high level experts, taking into account cost-benefit considerations. It must focus on addressing the threats; however should not impair the level of service provided by the local authority to the community. Such a plan will send a reassuring message to the public and demonstrate that "everything is under control", yet make it equally clear to any potential adversaries that the local authority is well prepared for any incident.

The implementation of a high quality risk analysis methodology by highly professional consultants will serve as a roadmap and ensure available resources provide maximal benefits. It will also enable proper planning of milestones, and outline planning, management, supervision and control processes.

Successful implementation of the VIOLENCE-FREE SAFECITY model requires belief in the cause, creative planning and design and determination.

Property crime, vandalism and violence are not a stroke of fate. Determined, well planned activity by the local authority, if professionally executed, can mitigate, and even eliminate these phenomena and ensure the community and its inhabitants a high level of personal security and quality of life.


Nir Ran is the Head of the Homeland Security Academy at Wingate College which develops and delivers special training programs to senior executives and other position holders on the VIOLENCE-FREE SAFECITY program. He also serves as the CEO of Axiom Security & Management Ltd., which provides security and emergency consulting services, project management and risk assessment services on VIOLENCE-FREE SAFECITY.

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