Terrorism: Setting realistic expectations for the security industry By Tony O’Brien

When we think of the word counterterrorism it brings to mind images of well-armed police in full kit storming buildings and neutralising threats. The cavalry which arrives swiftly and professionally in response to armed violence. However, for security operatives that support is often minutes away when we only have seconds to respond. The reality is that in the event of an armed attack (terrorist or not) the first line of defence for members of the public will be a scared, undertrained and underpaid member of the security industry. They won’t have the tools, training or support to do all of the things that the cavalry will be able to do, and they will have members of the public looking to them for help. They may have done some form of terrorism awareness classroom training programme, but in this state of fear, the chances of them remembering the content is almost zero. The reality is that in this situation they are most likely to be a victim and will most likely be injured or killed. Killed or injured because they have been set up for failure in how they have been informed, trained and in terms of the expectation placed on them. Maybe it’s time we changed that and faced reality. Maybe it’s time we changed the way we train the security industry to deter, recognise and respond to terrorist attacks.

Control what we can control

In all acts of terrorism there are lots of factors that we cannot control. We can’t control the time, the place, the methods or the numbers. We can’t control the intent of the perpetrator or the response time of the emergency services. We cannot control any of these things, but we may be able to influence them in some way. There are also things that we can control. We can control our preparations, our equipment levels and our immediate response.

Train for the realistic

Classroom training for any skill which requires stress inoculation, has limited value. I’m not knocking this training. Of course, anything is better than nothing, but for a situation that may cost the lives of many, we owe it to ourselves and to the public to train in a way that gives us the best chance of being effective. I read social media posts every day with photos of fancy new bleeding kits, door barricades and acid attack kits. I’ve yet to see a single photo of the staff training with these kits in their own workplace, under time pressure and stress. In the event of an actual emergency and without training, it is likely that they become ornamental pieces of equipment unused and gathering dust while people die. For example, this week I’m seeing a video of a security guard who was stabbed in the leg in a retail store. The staff crowd around the poor man and apply clothing to the wound. This is a busy retail store which must have numerous fully stocked first aid kits in it that are sitting unused while the man bleeds out waiting for help. This isn’t a criticism of the staff at all and they are fantastic for at least trying to help. It’s a criticism of their training. If they had simulated getting a first aid kit and applying pressure on a wound three, four or five times a year then what would their first response have been. Training for emergencies requires ongoing practice under stress. That has a cost associated with it but if we are taking the risk of an armed attack seriously then surely, it’s worth it.

Use the tools available

Our workplaces and neighbourhoods are full of tools and assets that can be used to assist us in our planning and response. Organisations regularly revert back to a copy paste response plan from a government advisory document from 5 years ago. One of the greatest tools available is the free advice from the experts. All it takes is a phone call to your local police station. Get in touch with whatever local experts will likely be responding to an incident.

Hello this is the Security Manager in ABC facility. We are designing a procedure for a response to armed violence. We would very much value your input. Could you give me a date in the next few weeks where you could walk through the facility with me and take a look at our plans to ensure we are doing the right thing? “

Now repeat the call with the fire service and ambulance service. Find out what they need from you and how you can make things easier for them. It’s free expert advice so use it. A walk through with emergency services in your building will benefit both them and you in terms of what your expectations are and the local knowledge you can impart to them prior to them needing it in an emergency. There are also built in tools in almost every building in the event of an attack. Every building has fire alarm. Build it into your plans. There is no more effective tool for raising an alarm and eliciting a conditioned response. Same with a PA system and a CCTV system. Use them as force multipliers to enhance your response. Design all of these into your plans and train, train, train.

Build the security mindset

Put emergencies into the conversation. Include more than just security staff in those conversations too. Cleaners, maintenance, managers and other employees all have a part to play but security as the venues subject matter experts in this area, have to take the lead and educate them. We can only educate people if we are ourselves knowledgeable. I don’t just mean an hour in a classroom. I mean practical education on how to raise an alert, how to direct customers, what to do upon alarm etc. Encourage staff to be aware of security risks and report them. You would rather receive 20 reports of suspicious behaviour all of which aren’t a threat than receive none and miss a real threat. Small rewards for reporting suspicious behaviour or items, can go a long way, and build positivity around security. Build a focus on noting the behaviour, not the person, across employees (including security staff).

Set the expectation

This is a key point for security staff, and particularly for contract security staff. Be realistic with management and other stakeholders about what security are willing and capable of doing in an emergency. I did a contract specification and tender process for a shopping centre recently. One of the tenders that arrived in for the contract proudly stated, “our security staff can respond quickly and effectively to security incidents including fire, bomb threats and acts of terrorism to neutralise any threat to your premises”. Not only is this an unrealistic expectation on an averagely paid and trained security team but it’s a down right lie, and they know it as they write it. Be realistic with clients and managers, and in procedures. Don’t say that security is going to run and guide all of the customers out of a large shopping centre if there are only two staff on duty at a time. Either a) insist on more staff to carry out the plans or b) say that security will sound the alarm and move customers in their vicinity of the building. Setting expectation is important. Its important for the client to know what their money gets them in reality, and it’s important for the security staff, so they know what is expected. They should know that they aren’t expected to tackle armed raiders or cut the red wire sticking out on a backpack. They should have confidence in what is expected of them and have confidence in their ability to execute those actions.

At the end of the day there is a guy who will bravely and professionally engage armed terrorists when they strike. Your average security guard is not that guy. They were never meant to be that guy and if they think they can be, then they will often get in the way of the person who is that guy. Of course, the security industry is full of brave men and women but there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity. Our role is the force multiplier. Being as effective as we can be with the tools and training that we have. That role is in the deterrence and detection of potential risk and in making as many people as we can, safe when terror does strike

Tony O’Brien

Tony O’Brien

Tony is a respected specialist in the field of security, safety and the management of conflict and risk in organisations. As a top industry consultant, on a daily basis, he is helping organisations develop solutions to their risk management and conflict management processes through designing training, policy and risk assessments to meet real world challenges. He’s also qualified as an expert witness, in the use of force, and most security related fields. Also a QQI subject matter expert for the security and safety sectors and Winner of the 2016 IITD Rising Star Award.