Businesses in London are being advised by police to consider updating security against the threat of suicide attacks. Alexander Boyd, who spent a year working in Iraq managing the security measures for large construction projects, offers his advice.
Firms in London are waking up to the threat of terrorism and how it will directly affect their business. The attacks of 7 July and subsequent attempts to strike at the capital demand a thorough review of business Crisis Management Plans (CMPs).
These plans have been put in place with the aim of protecting the staff, the business and the physical assets, in that order. These must include a training element. Staff need to be aware of what the threat is and learn to tolerate it through extensive response rehearsals. The plans will need to be managed by the appropriate staff and reviewed regularly in response to the threat level.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the insurance market will need to be satisfied as well that the appropriate measures are in place to offer affordable premiums.
City businesses have been threatened in the past by IRA terror campaigns. But the recent wave of bombings have added a dangerous new element, marking the first attacks in the UK by suicide bombers.
Another city that has faced countless attacks of a similar nature is Baghdad. Whilst London is not going to degenerate into the chaos that besets the capital of Iraq on a daily basis, it is worth taking on board some hard learned lessons that are helping those who have to assist in the rebuild of the country.
It is extremely difficult to contain a suicide bomber as he or she will want to cause maximum damage and is willing to die in the process. Therefore, measures to provide a stand-off level of protection are essential. All those who enter compounds in Baghdad are liable to be searched – it is important that this practice is widened here. In Iraq, it is a case of doing it outside the compound so that if a bomb were to detonate, it would not affect the targets. Therefore, consider the possibility of having the entry point outside the building or with significant protection between it and the rest of the company.
A thorough record of who is entering the premises is essential. This serves two aims – primarily to provide a checklist of who is in the building and secondly the current forms can be modified to ensure that there is relevant information about the visitor should an attack happen. Therefore their parent firm can be assured of their whereabouts.
In Iraq, everyone who does not work for a firm is escorted at all times. This is a labour intensive practice but one that ensures there are no wayward wanderers. Security guards are detailed for just this practice and this could be mirrored here. It is appreciated that this may seem inappropriate at times in London but the host can provide the escort as well, thereby relieving the impression of a big brother scenario. The knock-on effect of this is that all security badges must be visible at all times and that there is a clear division to those offered to employees, sub contractors and visitors.
If attacks happen, then the CMP must enact its most critical phase – response to an incident. It is important that the firm has a chain of communication established that can ensure that all staff are accounted for swiftly. Known as the Warden & Cascade system, staff are divided into small groups, each of which has a Warden, who is responsible for contacting all team members. This means that one person is not responsible for calling all the staff. Of course, in bigger firms, there will need to be tiers of Wardens, all of which will eventually report to the crisis manager. Many firms in London experienced problems in accounting for the safety and whereabouts of their staff on 7 July and this must be addressed.
Once a company has been affected by an attack, it is not implausible that the offices will become temporarily inoperable or unreachable due to transport links being affected. A business continuity backup plan should be already in place to deal with this level of disruption, including the provision of temporary hotel accommodation for key staff.
It is important to learn from others that have been through similar experiences. There are measures that can be detailed to mitigate the risk for London firms, some of which are touched on above. Insurance firms will want to know that the risk is managed appropriately and it is wise to take the right actions. The experience of businessess in Baghdad offers lessons for all, and it is prudent to investigate what ideas can be adapted for London.Alexander Boyd is a director of risk management and insurance consultancy Jaleinius Limited www.jaleinius.com