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August 18, 2016

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Events: Responding to the terrorist threat


By Andrew Scott CBCI, Senior Communications Manager at the Business Continuity Institute

A changing threat

When I was growing up in the UK there was always the threat of terrorism, primarily from Irish extremists, but there was very much a routine to any threat. A bomb was planted, a warning given, an area evacuated and the bomb detonates causing widespread damage, but very few casualties. That’s not to say there weren’t casualties, or even fatalities, as there often were, but the objective most of the time was to cause disruption rather than to kill.

The rules of the game have now changed, and with groups like Daesh and Al-Qaida, the objective nearly always is to achieve mass fatalities, or if not a high number of fatalities then at least to make any that do occur as horrific as possible. It is not the establishment that is the target, but society as a whole, and terrorists want us to feel that none of us are safe.

It seems much longer ago with everything that has happened since, but it is still less than a year since the terrorist attacks in Paris where gunmen and suicide bombers attacked several sites and took the lives of 130 people. This included the Bataclan Theatre where 89 people died and the Stade de France where France were playing Germany. Fortunately, at the latter venue security was tight, and a guard discovered the suicide vest on the bomber before entry was gained. As a result, one person lost their life, but think how much worse could it have been. More recently we have experienced a shooting at a nightclub in Florida where 50 people died, and a lorry driving through a packed crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, which resulted in 85 fatalities.

A clear pattern is emerging – anywhere where crowds gather is a potential target, and the methods of attack are very low tech.

Events and terror

So what can be done to protect ourselves, or if you are an event organiser, what can be done to protect your customers? The primary advice remains the same as it always has – be vigilant. Look out for objects that are suspicious, for example bags that are unattended, or anything that just looks out of place. Look out for people who act suspiciously which, according to the Met Police, includes:

  • People in stationary vehicles watching a building or structure for no apparent reason.
  • Vehicles moving slowly near prominent locations, or parked in suspicious circumstances.
  • People using recording equipment, or seen making notes or sketches of security details.
  • Someone paying close attention to specific entry and exit points; stairwells, hallways, fire escapes.
  • People loitering at or near premises for long periods, watching patrons.
  • People asking detailed or unusual questions about buildings and business operations, facilities (such as room layouts), security or parking.
  • Members of the public in offices and ‘off limits’ areas, plant rooms and similar locations.

As for what people should do in the event of an attack, the UK Government recently published advice on implementing a dynamic lockdown, ie the restriction of access to a location during an incident in order to prevent people entering the danger area, or to disrupt any attackers in their attempts to move around that location.

Planning for a dynamic lockdown means looking at your facility and seeing how areas can be sectioned off, how they can be secured and who is responsible for what. You also need consider how to communicate urgent messages during this time. If the site is a large open venue like a stadium, then you will need to consider safe methods of evacuation, bearing in mind that there may still be hostile persons present.

For individuals, the advice also highlighted the stay safe principles which are simply run, hide, tell.

  • Run: If you can escape using a safe route, get out as soon as you can and encourage others to come with you.
  • Hide: If there is no safe route to escape, hide. Try to lock/barricade yourself in a room, but not somewhere where you could become trapped. Move away from the door and keep you and your phone quiet.
  • Tell: If it is safe to do so then phone 999, don’t rely on someone else to do it. Even if someone else has, you may be able to provide the emergency services with important information that no one else can – number of attackers, casualties or hostages and where they were last seen would be key information.

Plan and plan again

Once you have a response plan in place you need to know, does it actually work? During an incident is a great way of finding this out, but if doesn’t then it could have disastrous consequences. Exercises ensure the plan can be effectively assessed in an environment where it doesn’t matter if it goes wrong. Of course if you do hold an exercise then make sure you clear up properly afterwards. Manchester United learnt this lesson the hard way when one of their Premier league fixtures was postponed following the evacuation of their Old Trafford stadium when a prop was found and the alarm raised.

While it is never easy to read about the impact of terrorism, remember that the likelihood of being directly impacted by an incident is still very low. People are more likely to be injured in a car accident than by a terrorist attack, so don’t to let the terrorists win and let fear dictate our actions. Be vigilant, but don’t be scared. As Nick Ross used to say at the end of every episode of Crimewatch – don’t have nightmares, do sleep well!

Andrew Scott CBCI is the Senior Communications Manager at the Business Continuity Institute who joined after a brief stint working as the Press Officer for a national health charity. Prior to that he had over ten years at the Ministry of Defence working in a number of roles including communications and business continuity. During this time he also completed a Masters in Public Relations at the University of Stirling. Andrew has successfully taken the Certificate of the BCI exam which he passed with merit.

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gary cullen
gary cullen
7 years ago

Hi Andrew,

Thank you for this article and I agree that this subject should now be treated as a business continuity priority

I would also remid others that setting patterns could also assit the terrorist during the planning stages of an attack


Senior Safety & Risk Advisor
East Coast Growers