How to spot a terrorist on your premises

(Written by Jackie Bennett Shaw)

Terrorists?I went along to the first BIFM North key learning event of 2016 on counter terrorism in Manchester, along with over 70 FMs, prepared to learn how I could identify a terrorist. Did they wear certain clothing and speak or walk in a certain way? We were shown a slide of 10 people by Kenneth Upham, counter-terrorism security advisor (CTSA) for Greater Manchester Police. The 10 were of different sex, race and culture. When asked to ‘spot the terrorist’, of course I could identify them. We are fed stories of terrorism daily by the media. Surely I knew my stuff? But the answer was a resounding ‘no’ – I didn’t.

In FM, we all have a duty to be suspicious, but we must try to identify suspicious behaviours, rather than stereotyping and judging by appearance. The employee whose reference does not materialise, for example, and the person who suspiciously asks for detailed information that is not relevant to their job, or the P45 that doesn’t look ‘quite right’.

So, having failed to catch the terrorist, I must know what the CTSA would highlight as the greatest threat to security – lone attacks, hostile reconnaissance, marauding firearms attack? Again, I failed. “The biggest threat to security is believing that no threat exists.”

And yet, when the audience of FM, property and security managers was asked which organisations currently have counter terrorism plans in place, there was a surprisingly small show of hands. Few seem to be in a strong position to build resistance to the very real terrorist threat and to create resilience for business continuity, should an attack occur.

Working in crowded places, such as sports and leisure venues, retail centres, transport networks and educational establishments, which are the clear targets for attack, FMs have an important strategic role to play in proactively understanding and preparing for terrorist threat. However, it’s not just these that should be considered high risk. Premises with high risk neighbours, hazardous sites, organisations with hazardous substances, or those holding important information, are also at risk.

The threat to British interests in the UK from international terrorism is severe, and is a position that is unlikely to change in the near future. But clear the message was one of “don’t panic, prepare”.

And there’s plenty of guidance for FMs, or anyone with responsibility for the safety of their people and places, who are looking to develop counter terrorism plans and training. Liaising with CTSAs; the NACTSO (National Counter Terrorism Security Office) website and their Stay Safe firearms and weapons attack video; the MI5 and CPNI (Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure) websites; Project Griffin’s national best practice; and the Project Argus multimedia simulation are all valuable resources.

At the event, FMs were urged not to overlook anything suspicious or to dismiss anything suspect as a waste of time. What may seem irrelevant, could be the missing ‘piece in the jigsaw’. Each police authority has its counter terrorist units and advisers and any suspicious activity should be reported immediately.

Ben Neate, national contracts manager for GMS Group, reinforced the message of protecting people, physical assets, processes and information and ensuring that counter terrorism policies and procedures are up do date with the current business. But, amongst all the policy and procedures, we were reminded of the real the first line of defence in counter terrorism – the security guard. Warning that security guards are often not treated or trained well, Neate explained that it is imperative that businesses nurture their security team. We must create a highly motivated workforce, through a positive culture and quality training, to establish high vigilance and observation and to give security guards the confidence to challenge situations.

Terrorism simply cannot be pushed aside and ignored. FMs have a key role to play in the safety of places and people. They must look at the messages from this seminar, not to create fear but to create awareness.

Magenta Associates