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Freelance journalist

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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
June 16, 2023

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Crisis management and terrorist attacks: Planning for the worst

Topics at the Crisis Management in High Rise and Complex Buildings conference, taking place alongside IFSEC and FIREX in May, were multi-faceted – much like the threats to organisations themselves in today’s landscape.

During the day, Chris Phillips, from consultancy International Protect and Prepare Security Office, set out the types of issues involved in terrorist attacks and the ways in which organisations should plan and prepare for them. Ron Alalouff reports.

The overall message from Chris Philips can be summed up as: Prepare, prepare and prepare.

When you’re using counter-terrorism scenario planning, he said, you have to cover all bases and eventualities. You’re planning for an extreme set of events that will have short, medium and long term consequences.

CrisisManagement-Concept-EmreAkkoyun-AlamyStock-23

Image credit: Emre Akkoyun/AlamyStock


When considering the likelihood of a terror attack, the chances of being involved in an attack in a large city is much higher than elsewhere, Phillips told delegates.

The 2015 Paris attacks, for example, were multi-faceted and the attacks covered a wide area, including the Stade de France, cafes and restaurants, and the Bataclan venue.

But there is little point in trying to work out a threat level yourself, as the UK government’s five threat levels (low, moderate, substantial, severe, and critical) do it for you.

The UK’s current national threat level is classed as substantial.

Planning for a terrorist attack raises many questions, including:

  • What do you do if you get a government emergency alert?
  • What if you’re in central London, for example – what are your plans?
  • What about your duty of care to your staff?
  • What is your organisation’s protocol?
  • What needs to happen – lockdown or evacuation?
  • Do you want staff and visitors coming into the office or to stay away?
  • How will you communicate with them?

If you don’t do it properly, it could impact on your staff, supply chain and business reputation.

Key principles of crisis management

Phillips’s presentation set out the principles of crisis management. They are:

  • Get control
  • Communicate effectively
  • Be prepared with clear, universally understood structures, roles and responsibilities
  • Build situational awareness with good information management, challenge and collective working
  • Have well-rehearsed decision-making plans
  • Train people for specific crisis management roles
  • Keep comprehensive logs
  • Learn from mistakes

Various terror threat scenarios are feasible, he said, including an insider threat, raising of the terror threat level, a left device, a phone threat, or a marauding terrorist attack.

Warnings are not given any more. In a scenario of a marauding terrorist attack, what if the fire alarm goes off? Evacuation to a muster point could lead to another terrorist opportunity, where secondary devices are planted near exit or assembly points.

In the case of a telephone bomb threat, who takes the phone call? In terms of searching the building, it’s better for the owner or someone who knows the building to make a search, rather than wait for the police to arrive. Someone who knows the premises knows what to look for.

Although the recently published Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill (otherwise known as Martyn’s Law) will not be in place for at least a year, said Phillips, the findings of the Manchester Arena Inquiry show what can be planned and done.

Whatever it ends up being called, the Protect Duty is good practice.

Phillips concluded by saying that terrorism is not going to go away, and you should understand how you can communicate with your people.

“Do your planning and preparation now – don’t wait for an incident outside your premises. And train your staff.”

 

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