In an increasingly unsafe world, building operators and their security teams must plan for the worst, says Robert Clark of Templewood Training Services
This summer’s widely reported attack on the shopping centre in Munich highlights the risk property owners and occupiers face from deliberate acts of violence targeting the public. Any building where the public gather, such as entertainment venues, shopping centres and bars, could be the site of an attack through an act of terrorism or a mentally unstable individual.
Over 15 years the number of deaths resulting from terrorism worldwide increased from 3,329 in 2000 to 32,685, a ninefold increase according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index. These figures include those killed by gunmen in the Westgate Shopping Centre attack in Nairobi in 2013. More recently we have seen the atrocity at the Bataclan theatre in Paris and assaults on the public with axes, knives and even a lorry.
Faced with such horrors it might seem we are powerless to do anything. But doing nothing is not an option. Indeed, there is much that can be done to lessen the impact of an incident. For some, putting in place plans to mitigate the impact of an incident is a legal requirement: the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 stipulate that every business and employer in control of a premises must establish ‘appropriate procedures to be followed in the event of serious and imminent danger’.
Furthermore, failing to put in place adequate plans could not only lead to loss of life but puts the reputation of the organisation at risk, should the media uncover shoddy health and safety procedures.
As always, prevention is the best policy. Procedures to monitor risk need to be in place and linked closely to emergency response plans. Employees and building staff need to be on alert for suspicious behaviour – anything unusual should be reported to security staff.
Most businesses will have plans in place which should encompass deterrence (preventative measures), response and recovery to minimise the impact of an incident such as a terrorist attack. However, it’s essential to put plans to the test, rehearsing emergency procedures to highlight problems and make any necessary improvements. For operators of large premises, this means full-scale exercises. These, however, will have to be balanced against the disruption and cost such exercises will cause. It’s a fine judgment.
Any necessary equipment, such as first-aid kits and fire and communications tools, must be properly inspected and maintained. Suitable training is also essential. Emergency procedures can only be successful if each individual knows how to play their part. People’s skills, such as first aid, must be refreshed and kept up-to-date.
Co-operation is essential in making contingency plans work. This means building management teams need to work together with tenants to ensure that safety plans cascade throughout the building or estate, and are acknowledged and understood by all. It is vital that everyone knows their role in an emergency.
For the same reason, working with neighbouring businesses is also important. Externally, regular liaison with relevant civic authorities – the police, security services, fire service, and medical response teams – is essential as this will help confirm that everyone is co-ordinated and up-to-date on the latest emergency procedures.
Following an incident, the first 60 minutes is vital. It is important to note the ‘hold-off time’ – the time between calling the emergency services and their arrival. This can be anything from 10 minutes to three hours, and it is during this period that the action of the first responders is the most crucial – they are the difference between chaos and containment.
Part of the first response will be to alert the emergency services and provide them with as much information as possible. At the earliest opportunity, they will need to communicate details such as the number of individuals involved, what they look like, what they are carrying, where they were last seen, and information about any casualties. Staff and tenants should be aware they need to gather these details as this will help security staff to prevent further injury or loss of life.
First responders must help to co-ordinate a response without putting themselves or others at risk. These personnel – emergency response officers – need to be trained in their role to identify, report and assess the situation, as well as assist victims and the emergency services.
It is never possible to eliminate risk, but we can reduce the negative impacts of a major incident through planning and preparation, and in doing so, help to keep the public and building occupants safe.