It Really Happens
Des Conway has over 20 years' experience in police and commercial security. He uses his additional research and commercial security experience to ensure his own and his family's safety while planning and taking holiday and business trips. Through this and his other security handbooks he is committed to helping people keep themselves and their loved ones safe, wherever they are.
It Really Happens
In recent years there have been an increasing number of fairly indiscriminate attacks on what can only be described as ‘Western’ targets. These include:
- Bomb attacks in the UK.
- Three bomb attacks on tourist areas in south-west Turkey.
- A suicide bomb attack in Doha, Qatar.
- Bombs detonated in Makati, Manila.
- Separatist group exploded a bomb in a Spanish resort.
- Bomb attacks against tourist sites in Egypt.
- Serious attacks including bombings in Saudi Arabia.
- September 2004 car bomb in Jakarta, Indonesia.
- Bombs downed commercial aircraft in Russia.
- Suicide bomb attacks in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
- Bomb attacks on commuter trains in Madrid.
- Bomb on a ferry in the Philippines.
- Bomb attacks in Casablanca, Morocco.
- Suicide bomb in Mombasa, Kenya.
All of these and more recent attacks illustrate two things.
The terrorists want to succeed. They are intelligent and experienced in attacking the targets they choose. They are organised, have significant resources and can operate anywhere in the world. They aim to attack a target which will give them a high body count and international press coverage. If they can do that without risk to themselves they will attack those targets, leaving them free to attack different targets another day. If not, they use other means.
Most people don’t commit crimes because they don’t want to be caught and punished. Anyone can commit a crime – the trick is to do it and then get away without being caught.
If the ultimate deterrent to crime is imprisonment or in some countries execution, what happens when there are people who don’t care about being caught? What happens when those criminals actually intend to die with their victims, whose only ‘crime’ may be that they are vulnerable and in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Tourists and travellers who die have no control over American foreign policy or British economic policy or anything else that terrorists may be fighting against. Whether they want to or not, there is nothing they can do about any of those things. Their crime is vulnerability. While the people who actually make those decisions, the presidents and prime ministers, sit back in armour-plated limousines and bullet-proof residences with round-the-clock armed guards, ordinary citizens are vulnerable.
Bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time and not being alert to the risks kill average people. Though the likelihood of any one person becoming involved in a terrorist incident is extremely low, there are some things that everyone can do to protect themselves.
To stay free, make money, move around the country and travel between countries, terrorists have to have a ‘clean’ identity. That is, they may so far be unknown to the police so they can use their own identity, or they may be using your stolen identity to move around, plan and make money for their group. Criminals are already trying to steal your identity in order to steal from you or steal using your identity, so you should be protecting your identity. Don’t let terrorists steal your identity in order to bring death to more innocent people. Don’t make it easy for them. Shred or burn confidential papers, don’t give personal details over the phone or internet, and protect your passports and other documents.
The leaders who are the real targets of terrorists are too well protected. The terrorists’ only option is to go for a soft target, which is unguarded and may or may not have a tenuous link to the group they oppose.
That soft target could be a shopping centre underneath offices associated with the government, or a factory that the president is due to visit. The terrorists know that innocent people will be hurt or killed, but they aim to ‘make a statement’ and declare the innocents who are killed to be martyrs. Alternatively they may just declare the innocent casualties to be opposition soldiers.
To the terrorists ‘collateral damage’ is an acceptable consequence of their fight. More often than not they will deny responsibility or blame innocent deaths on the people they are targeting. For example, blaming President Floribunda for siting government offices over that shopping centre, or saying that the factory was a legitimate target because it was being used to support a corrupt regime.
With limited resources and probably under some level of surveillance by security services, terrorists have to plan their campaign. They have to raise funds. establish a base of operations, visit the site of their intended attack, buy vehicles and import or buy weapons and explosives to build bombs. These are activities that could and sometimes do attract the attention of security services or members of the public.
It we all accept that terrorists may be operating anywhere, even in our street or building, then by remaining alert to what is going on around us we can all help to defeat them
There is little that the average person can do and probably little that the vast majority of people need to do, to protect themselves from terrorist attacks.
A new good-quality bullet-proof vest will cost you at least £800. But that vest only fully protects your torso from a frontal or rear assault.
A bullet or shrapnel can hit your head or neck, arms or legs and that injury could easily kill or maim you. If hit in the arm or leg by a bullet, without prompt medical attention blood loss and shock will kill you anyway. A shot or injury to the groin, which is not protected by a ballistic vest, is notoriously hard to treat in the field. As vital organs are in the lower abdomen and major arteries run through the thighs and groin, unless you get immediate attention after being hit in the groin area you will probably die.
So a bullet-proof vest isn’t as protective as most people think it is, and it won’t protect you from a car bomb, a nail bomb, a blast bomb, virus release, poison gas, radioactive contaminants etc.
Don’t panic though. As a member of the public you are really extremely unlikely to encounter terrorists. Unless you work for a defence contractor or news station in a war zone, you shouldn’t lose any sleep about the protective quality or otherwise of ballistic vests. I could just as easily have pointed out that a meteorite falling on you could kill you. It would, but that is just about as unlikely to happen to Joe Public (or Josephine Public) as you are to encounter terrorists.
Nobody can guarantee to protect you from terrorist atrocities. There is only one way in which you can protect yourself and help to protect society, and that is to remain alert.
Terrorists may want to target military staff, politicians, business leaders and even celebrities. Generally they want publicity. They want their actions to affect and be seen by as many people as possible. Though they usually attack soft targets, they would have little to gain from attacking the home of the average member of the public. That means that at home – unless you live opposite a government building, main-line railway station or military base – you are probably safe.
That doesn’t mean you should lower your level of vigilance, but it does mean you will have greater peace of mind while keeping your eyes open.
For anyone who may be selected as a target due to their status or employment, the following countermeasures should help. Your organisation should also be giving information, support and advice on how to protect yourself and your family. Adopting the countermeasures will help anyone to increase their level of vigilance and protection. Be careful and be vigilant, but don’t get paranoid!
After an incident
I have heard that people are offering bags of equipment that people should carry to use after any attack. They range from a box with a few plasters and bandages to full chemical, nuclear and biological combat suits. I wouldn’t buy one!
You could build a disaster kit to be available and ready to be used at home. You could also make a portable kit for each of you to take with you when you are travelling. I would consider putting a few useful things together and carrying them when possible.
- Face mask. Recent explosions have shown us that immediately afterwards the air is full of dust and smoke. Victims and those nearby report having difficulty breathing. A simple DIY face mask held on with a strip or two of elastic would fit in your pocket (in a plastic bag to keep it fresh, un-contaminated and clean) and that would be enough to help you breathe while you got to an exit.
- Goggles. As above. Close-fitting DIY goggles held on with an adjustable elastic strap will let you see and keep your eyes safe from circulating dust and debris. With those goggles you might be one of the few people who can see to guide survivors to an exit.
- Gloves. There will be debris around, sharp edges, glass and possible contamination. You may have to pull debris out of the way so that you can reach survivors or get to an exit. Gardening gloves would protect your hands. Beware of live electric cables!
- Torch. Most survivors and those who go to help after an incident report that a decent torch is worth its weight in gold. Any explosion will have caused the power to go off or destroyed the light bulbs so it will be dark. Add swirling dust and smoke and you will need a good torch.
- Water. It you are caught in an explosion or other incident water will be invaluable, for you to drink, or to rinse contaminants out of your eyes or off your hands. If you are stuck in a train caught between stations because of an incident somewhere ahead, you may be there for hours, so a bottle or two of water will certainly help.
The threat against your employer will vary depending on what your organisation is and does. If you work for a government department, the threat and risk levels will be a lot higher than those for a shoe repair shop in a rural village.
- Assess the threat and risk level.
- Physical security – fences, barriers, doors, security staff and passes.
- Structural security – strength of windows and doors.
- Staff security – selection and recruitment, training, vigilance.
- Planning – preparation and readiness.
- Procedures – definition and use of formal procedures.
- Management – to manage and control the whole system.
Assess the threat and risk
The first step is to assess the level of risk and threat that you are facing. By their nature some organisations are potential targets, for example government and military offices and bases, and the offices of large corporations. If you work for such an organisation you are lucky because a lot of the work has already been done for you. It almost certainly has an existing security team, management and procedures already in place, whether you are entirely aware of them or not.
Smaller, independent organisations will have to do this assessment themselves, but even then there is help available. If you are a supplier to a government office or large corporation you may be able to get assistance from them. Even if you are just a small business serving the local community you can get free help and advice from the local police and a variety of websites or business groups.
How do you assess the threat level? In simple terms be realistic. Think about it and decide if terrorists would really be interested in Mrs Biggins’ Village Bakery – I think not. In that case, I suggest that no special measures are required – just maintain a healthy level of awareness. On the other hand, a defence contractor or subsidiary of a US-based multinational corporation might be the soft target the terrorists are looking for.
When you have identified your threat and risk level, take steps to address the issues below.
The perimeter of the building and site should be secure, which could include boundary fences, barriers, gates, floodlights, CCTV, movement sensors, intercom links to doors and gates, collapsible posts, anti-ramraid posts, movement sensors, anti-vehicle spikes, etc. If you can stop criminals from getting near to your building you have beaten them.
The next level of protection is the access doors and windows. Are fire exits kept secured so that people inside can release them to get out in an emergency, but nobody outside can get in? Is the reception desk manned at all times? Are windows secured or set so that they only open far enough to allow for ventilation?
So you have doors and fences, but are they strong enough to do the job? Are they in good repair? Installing a reinforced steel goods inwards door is a waste of time if anyone with a chainsaw can cut a hole in the wooden walls of your barn. Securing all windows on the ground floor with security grilles is a waste of time if one good kick will break open the fire exit which isn’t alarmed.
Do you need laminated glass in the windows of your building? Do you need blast-proof curtains in certain areas? Do you need to erect bomb shields over basement stairwells, etc.? The structure has to be as strong and secure as your security procedures.
People are a security threat – full stop.
As an organisation you should carefully check the references, background and qualification of all prospective employees. If Mrs Biggins’ Village Bakery employs somebody without checking their references, it certainly isn’t a major threat. That employee may empty the till and run off with all of the money but that is as bad as it can get. If a government department didn’t bother checking references the result could be catastrophic.
As a minimum, references should always be asked for and followed up. Work history should be checked and verified. Skills and qualifications should be reviewed and confirmed. The home address and status of the applicant may also have to be checked as well.
When an employee is taken on, it is in the best interests of the employer that the new employee is properly trained, supervised and managed to ensure that they can and do follow all company processes and procedures.
There should be foolproof access-control systems that only allow authorised people into different areas of the building and premises.
All organisations should invest time and effort in planning what they will do in any likely situation. The risk assessment will have shown them what threats are likely, so they have to produce plans that they can follow if that threat materialises.
All companies probably have written plans and procedures saying what staff should do in the event of a fire, an evacuation, a power cut, floods, etc. I suggest that you should include terrorist incidents in your plans. I saw one report from 1992 that stated that up to 80% of businesses affected by a terrorist bomb ceased trading within a year.
The plans should be simple, clear, available and most importantly tested and reviewed. A plan won’t work unless you test it and iron out the problems. By the same token, if you don’t review and update that plan, when you come to use it, it will probably be inappropriate.
A ‘procedure’ is an instruction on how something should be done. It is written, tested and formally agreed and signed off. It fills a number of roles. It is a checklist, a training aid and at the same time a sequence of instructions. The checklist tells the employee what he has to do in what order. As a simple example, a ‘procedure’ for issuing office stationery may be:
- 1.Check the stationery requisition.
- 2.Is the requisition filled in properly and completely? If not, refuse to issue stationery.
- 3.Is the requisition counter signed by a manager? If not, refuse to issue stationery.
- 4.If filled in properly and signed and the stationery items are in stock, issue them.
- 5.If stationery items are not in stock, place an order.
- 6.Member of staff to sign for stationery issued.
- 7.Amend stationery stock records.
- 8.Check to see if order level has been reached on any stock items.
- 9.If order level reached, place stationery order.
- 10.If order level not reached, serve remaining employees or lock stationery store if no employees waiting for stationery.
Thus the procedure tells people what to do in what order. It reminds them of things that they may forget, such as checking for a manager’s signature and/or forgetting to reorder items when stocks are low.
There should be procedures for all standard functions. For example:
New employee process. There should be a process that describes the induction process for a new employee. Attending the HR office, signing forms, getting issued with a company pass, getting issued with a login ID and password, being given a desk and key, etc.
Fire alarm process. This will describe what bell or alarm will sound, what the different alarms mean, by which doors employees should leave the building, whether employees should lock confidential cupboards, etc. before they leave the building, where employees should meet when they get outside, who should check that each floor or section is empty and that all staff and visitors have gone (fire wardens), etc
Broken computer process. Depending on what the computer is used for, the process may be different. For example, if a social club computer is broken, you just get it replaced. However, if the computer was used to process and store any restricted information there will be a different procedure. In that case you must personally supervise the engineer as he removes the old hard disk, then without losing sight of that disk you must seize it and hand it to the IT manager, who will take it for disposal at a secure specialist company, hi that way classified or confidential data will not be removed from the building on a disk that may or may not be recoverable.
Telephone bomb threat
All procedures should be written, checked, signed off and then as part of the management system reviewed regularly. An example telephone bomb threat form follows on pages 212 and 213. Note that it asks for the important information first and gives the call taker time and space to add extra information at the end.
The security system needs to be managed, which means that there has to be a nominated person in charge. That person will have responsibility for ensuring that the security system is used and monitored. To do that they have to have the right level of authority to accompany the responsibility. Without authority, they cannot enforce compliance with the security system.
All security systems have to:
- Be managed/controlled – to ensure compliance and efficiency.
- Be monitored – to maintain the required level of efficiency
- Be reviewed – to ensure they are still relevant and appropriate.
- Cover the period after an incident, with appropriate plans, processes and procedures to allow the organisation to recover.
In terms of terrorism, a few issues are important. There should be procedures telling staff how to handle a range of incidents – advice is widely available. For example:
- Phone calls giving a warning of a bomb or an attack.
- Reports of a suspect package near, outside or in the building.
- Reports of suspected letter bombs or mail contaminated in some way.
- How to perform a methodical and thorough search of your building and premises.
- Full or partial evacuation in case of terrorist incident that affects your building or a building nearby.
Transport systems are a favourite terrorist target. Because people have easy access to public transport, so terrorists can easily get in to plant their devices. Stations, ports and airports are a hub of activity, which means that any explosive will almost certainly kill and injure a lot of people, no matter when it goes off, as well as disrupting life for an entire city. Stay alert.
I have already stated that the only way of spotting a bomb or bomber is to look for something or someone that is out of place and unfamiliar. That won’t usually work when you are abroad, because it is you who is out of place and unfamiliar. You are in a place where you are not used to customs, language or sometimes behaviour. That puts you at a disadvantage. You must therefore take advantage of the other indicators that are available to you.
Travelling to high-risk areas
You already know that there are considerable risks associated with travel to listed high-risk areas. The sensible countermeasure is to stay at home. However, in some cases, such as with some urgent business deals, travel is almost unavoidable. If you do have to go, take precautions.
Hijack or hostage
There is no standard hijack or hostage situation. They are all different, but there are some things to bear in mind.
After an Attack
If there is an attack, be it by bomb, rifle or anything else, everyone who was at the centre will probably be dead or severely injured.
Everyone who was in the immediate area will be injured to some extent. If it was a bomb they will be deaf, suffering from shock and concussion, confused and disoriented with their eyes full of dust and grit.
Everyone who was in the area may have been injured by debris. Office and shop windows for streets around may have been shattered by a bomb and falling glass will have caused a lot of injuries.
Anyone further out will be scared. Though they heard the incident, due to the way noise moves in built-up areas, they will not know what has happened and probably won’t know where it has happened. You may find people running towards an incident thinking they are running away.
There will be people running in every direction, some wanting to get away, some moving towards the incident to locate loved ones or to offer assistance, and some just running in a panic.
The immediate threat is that when bombs are used, terrorists often place secondary devices at the scene. Secondary devices are placed to cause maximum death and injury to the emergency services, police and officials who attend to deal with the initial incident.
Your main responsibility is not to become a casualty because you will only be adding to the problem. If you stay in the area you are at risk, so in this book the advice has to be to go to a place of safety and get home as quickly as you can.