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The Importance of Consistent Facility Security

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

It’s easy to forget that security preparedness has always been about more than just dealing with guns and active shooters. Threats against employees and loved ones have always come in many forms, but in the world of Parkland’s, Las Vegas’, and Sandy Hook’s, it’s easy to focus our attention exclusively on the possibility of an active shooter. However, these are not the only tools used to accomplish violence and even where guns are severely restricted, people still find ways to inflict harm and create mass casualties. For example, Great Britain has seen a spike in knife attacks, and violent crime in the country is at record levels. Europe is facing a pandemic of vehicle attacks on pedestrians. But one of the most glaring examples of large-scale, non-gun related, violence recently took place in Japan, and it highlights the extent of damage a non-firearm threat can produce.

Kyoto Animation, often shortened to KyoAni, is an animation studio located in Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto itself is one of the most storied and ancient cities in Japan and was the country’s capital and the home of the Emperor until the move to the modern capital of Tokyo. The company produces many popular Japanese animated cartoons, often called Anime, and has been in business for almost four decades. The morning of July 18th started as a typical workday at the studio for the 74 employees, mostly women, involved with the tedious work of creating anime.

But something was different that day and had been for some time. For weeks before July 18th, KyoAni had been receiving anonymous death threats. But unsure of how to respond, or how serious to take the threat, the company reported the threats to the police but otherwise did nothing more to their security posture. KyoAni did have existing security measures in place. The facility had an electronic key-card entry system and required all employees to comply. However, on the morning of July 18th, the doors were left intentionally unlocked in preparation of an NHK news (a national level news network) interview that afternoon. But the news reporters weren’t the only visitors that day.

Just before 10:30 that morning, Shinji Aoba exploited the vulnerability created by the unlocked doors to pull a trolley loaded with canisters containing more than 11 gallons of fuel inside. Once there Aoba sprayed fuel throughout the building, especially at the exits, and even soaked the people near him with fuel as he shouted “shine!” (pronounced shi-`ne and means die in Japanese). He lit the fuel starting an inferno and unintentionally set himself ablaze in the process. He and the others covered in fuel were seen rushing into the street aflame. Aoba tried to escape but was hindered by his self-inflicted burns and some brave KyoAni employees that pursued him, and police were able to take him into custody.

The fire however spread quickly, and of the 74 known employees that were in the building when the attack began, 34 were severely burned but survived, while another 35 employees died. Many of those killed were trapped by the blaze, as the first Aoba set had blocked the main exit. Rescuers found 19 bodies in a stairwell leading to a roof exit. It was first reported that they were unable to unlock the door, but the investigation revealed that the door was indeed operating correctly and was easily unlockable from the inside. They died of smoke inhalation as they made their way up the stairs.

An interesting fact is that the building didn’t have a sprinkler system. However, this wasn’t a code violation as the facility was designated as a “small office”. In fact, in 2018 the building had easily passed it is most recent a fire inspection. As of this writing, the police haven’t completed their investigation. However, it is known that Mr. Aoba, had been in a long-running feud with the company over the belief that the studio had stolen some of his ideas and plagiarized his novels. It is believed that this was the catalyst for the attack. And a review of security video showed Mr. Aoba canvasing various KyoAni filming locations and offices around the area in the week prior to the attack.

So, what are the take-aways from all of this?

  1. Heinous acts are often committed without the use of firearms

  2. Lethal threats should be taken seriously – not shrugged off

  3. People will take advantage of even temporary security vulnerabilities

  4. People will exact revenge on innocent, unsuspecting people without regard or remorse

  5. Your security stance and protocols must consider all potential threats, not just the more obvious or prevalent

  6. It is important to take threats seriously

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