BIFM Lancashire event: The role of FM in counter terrorism

(Written by Tom Parker)

Terrorism ConferenceWe prepare for fire, flood, and power failure related emergencies. Why wouldn’t we prepare for a terrorist attack? This was the question asked of the audience at the BIFM Lancashire key learning seminar, hosted by

We prepare for fire, flood, and power failure related emergencies. Why wouldn’t we prepare for a terrorist attack? This was the question asked of the audience at the BIFM Lancashire key learning seminar, hosted by Recycling Lives in Preston, this month. Steve Gardner, OCS head of standards and solutions for security, spoke to the facilities and security managers, working in organisations from football grounds to national health service organisations, about how facilities managers can and should put procedures in place to protect staff and clients in the event of a terrorist attack. The counter terrorism security advisor for Lancashire constabulary David Skirvin also spoke at the event, explaining why the counter terrorist efforts are necessary and giving real examples of how the threat affects Lancashire.

Gardner looked at the vast and varied sites an FM could have responsibility over and discussed some of the security complications. With the threat of terrorism evolving and technology advancing, government bodies now recognise the need to liaise with property managers and security professionals to support counter terrorism efforts. Businesses on the ground are in a better position to deal with an immediate threat, and to stop an incident before it occurs. From glass-fronted shopping centres that encourage people to pour through the doors, to large entertainment venues with tens of thousands of visitors converging on them, the FM property portfolio is diverse and requires a bespoke and detailed security plan to ensure safety and to effectively communicate with staff and customers.

His session offered practical advice on dealing with a potential threat. He emphasised that we should never assume ‘it won’t happen to us’, It is better to prepare for something that doesn’t happen than to be caught unprepared when it does. He reminded the audience that the team on the ground, whether security, cleaning or reception personnel, will be the ones everybody turns to in a crisis. Staff should be aware of their role, and the procedures, and be able to communicate appropriately to others. An operational escalation plan should be put in place and tested through live challenges.

Skirvin’s session gave context to the terrorist threat, reminding us of some of the major incidents that have occured in recent years. He explained that terrorists can come from outside of the UK from groups such as IS, but also from within from radical activists fighting for causes such as animal welfare or disarmament.

He emphasised that it is impossible to stereotype a terrorist and spotting a potential threat is challenging. However, terrorist attack is preceded by ‘hostile reconnaissance’ around the target location. Terrorists will visit a site several times, making notes and planning strategically, before commencing an attack. It could be a woman pacing across a lobby multiple times, or a man filming the same journey on the underground each day, both are taken from real incidents of a planned attack.

Often, it is the frontline staff who know an area well, such as security, cleaners, and receptionists, that spot this kind of suspicious behaviour. Skirvin highlighted that employees may just have an inkling or gut feeling, but they are often right. It is often these reports that spark off serious investigation or that confirm what the police are looking for.

The session was rounded off with Skirvin explaining what the four sections of the government counter terrorism policy:

  • pursue: to stop terrorist attacks
  • prevent: to stop people becoming terrorists or radicals
  • protect: to strengthen protection against an attack
  • prepare: to mitigate impact if an attack occurs

He also highlighted the Stay Safe video campaign (available on You Tube), which demonstrates some of the aspects that need to be included a facilities manager’s counter terrorism plan, including clear evacuation routes and places where people can hide.

Blair Fotheringham, BIFM North member, summarised the event by encouraging the audience of facilities, property and security professionals to make counter terrorism a boardroom matter, alongside the likes of health and safety, an ensure it is receiving the appropriate attention in the organisation.

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