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Protecting facilities from terrorist threat

Author : Matthew Judge, Anvil group managing director

22 August 2016

In the past 15 years, national and international terrorism have not only become more prevalent in our mobile and linked society, but also infinitely more damaging and effective in terms of impact.

In Western areas, what we once saw as safe societies are suddenly looking more dangerous and this trend is set to continue.

London, Paris, New York and Madrid have come to share the same security concerns as more exotic and ‘tranquil’ locations such as Tunisia and Bali, as a focus on health, safety and security in society has brought risk to the forefront of debate amongst companies.

This has resulted in major shifts in social habits and practices, forcing companies to reconsider how they protect their people and facilities.

The role of the FM has become increasingly important as part of an overall resilience strategy.

In light of this, whilst we find some organisations keep a finger firmly on the pulse of the ever-changing global threats posed, we also routinely find many organisations of all shapes and sizes that have not developed mitigation measures within a structured security framework.

Indeed, security is still seen by many as a cost rather than a business enabler.

Risk can be intangible at the best of times and the pressure on facilities managers to improve efficiencies and cut supporting costs has resulted in many organisations adopting a ‘lean approach’ to risk management, whereby the threat of a terrorist attack is almost considered a ‘Black Swan’ event.

But as recent history has proven, terrorist attacks can occur in almost any location, with the potential to cause tremendous damage and inflict massive casualties.

As facilities managers can be involved in both the strategic and day-to-day operations of a business, particularly in regards to premises, they have a crucial role in any counter terrorism strategy and need to adapt to the increasing threat posed by international terrorism.

This responsibility should not be viewed in isolation, but instead as a combined effort with both internal and external stakeholders.

How well prepared an FM is depends on a number of factors, including effective communication of risk, the use of suitable tools and resources, the organisation’s own risk culture and its awareness of current and real-time threats.

Practical steps for FMs

Facilities managers have a vital role to play in limiting the impact of a potential terrorist threat.

However, in a results driven environment where business focus will often rest upon maintaining profitability, this can be a challenging process for facilities managers.

A considered and forward-focused management process, with realistic and flexible mitigation planning, will provide facilities managers and their wider organisation with the ability to evaluate threats, identify which are realistic, and put in place effective countermeasures and associated processes and procedures.

An attack can happen anytime and anywhere and, in order to remain resilient to a potential terrorist attack, the FM should take every opportunity to thoroughly assess the range of site functions and operations, and the potential issues they may face should a terrorist attack occur.

Typically organisations usually consider terrorism as solely a people risk, however the wider impacts should also be considered, such as the impact to reputation, disruption to operations and financial loss.

The resulting output from such liaison is effective compliance, collaboration and cooperation, and therefore those charged with planning must be capable, knowledgeable, flexible and effective negotiators and communicators.

Once the relevant risks have been identified, facilities managers can then work to mitigate or reduce the risk.

Successful planning and management at an early stage, ensuring a balanced and measured holistic suite of protection layers, will help to ensure that minimal impact is experienced during an event.

Physical security measures should be reviewed on a regular basis. For instance, companies should ensure that the windows are blast-proof and/or the installation of blast-proof blinds is strongly recommended.

Well-stocked and readily available first aid kits are also recommended and at least one member of staff should be qualified in the application of first aid.

The company should also keep essential emergency supplies on hand, including torches, portable battery-operated radios, spare batteries and protective clothing. It may sound extreme, but such measures would be essential to survival should an attack occur.

Another key area, if not a more important element, is to understand the capabilities of and effects upon people who are responsible for reacting and responding to a terrorist attack.

There are multiple issues which are caused by the effects of dynamic situations on unprepared personnel and the inability to respond accurately and adequately due to poor preparation or a lack of training can have significant consequences.

Facilities managers must consider the resources they have and use these wisely to ensure resilience at site locations. Site staff should be fully trained on what to do in an emergency situation and personal security encouraged.

There are a number of useful and free Government aids that can be used by companies such as the UK terrorism guidelines.

Using technology

Technology can certainly help facilities managers develop counter terrorism strategies.

Foremost, it can provide real-time information systems to alert the business of emerging threats and incidents within a given proximity of their premises.

This allows the facilities manager to take proactive measures to mitigate the risk and mount incident response plans.

Having a good situational awareness can inform facilities managers to the different types of attack and allow them the opportunity to assess the impact to their own organisation should one occur.

In addition, access to timely and accurate information during a crisis, which helps a business understand any potential impact to staff and facilities is imperative, allowing swift communication across the business at local and international level.

Large companies’ crisis management teams can often be complex and span many continents, whilst incidents can often be fast evolving situations where timely decisions need to be made.

Technology can inform and assist with the speedy communications required in these situations by globally-operating businesses.

Looking to the future

Looking back at the 20th century, the way that the world conducted its ‘business’ and managed its affairs seems far removed from what we have become in the 21st century.

For the resilient organisation, the ability to think ahead is the key to success.

The traditional totems of risk and security management, business continuity and crisis management have matured into being considered an essential component in an organisation which is now more formally known as ‘Organisational Resilience’. Facilities managers are a very important stakeholder in achieving resiliency.

There is now a greater need than ever before for them to effectively communicate with internal and external stakeholders, working with both government and industry to ensure they remain up-to-date and in line with the potential threats they face and the relevant response mechanisms.

The simple truth is that facilities managers need to cleverly use all resources available in order to remain ahead of the fast moving evolving risk we face from international terrorism.

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