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Paris attacks: the immediate lessons

As organizations review their business continuity and crisis management plans following the Paris attacks, Peter Power highlights some useful advice for protecting employees caught up in future incidents.

As I write these words France has just concluded three days of national mourning for the 129 people killed (so far) in the recent Paris attacks. But for anyone now urgently reviewing their crisis and business continuity management plans (and in my case planning with others the next World Conference on Disaster Management (WCDM), we should be testing responses and looking for ways to improve. After all, it is a lot more beneficial in terms of people and communities to try and outmanoeuvre an attack, than it is to recover from one.

Up until a few days ago many people had been saying that a fight against (so called) IS is not their fight, presumably to avoid yet another West v East battle in the Middle East and possible reprisals at home. But now it's different. If we didn't know before, it's clear that IS has now come to us. They have gone global with attacks that are not random or indiscriminate, but in pursuit of their three aims: to terrorise, mobilise and polarise. This in turn triggers widespread and, at times, irrational, fear in target populations, bearing in mind that compared to other forms of fatality, death by IS in the West is currently rare. But that really doesn't help us sleep at night.

In less than a fortnight IS has carried out three organized acts of mass murder in three countries: downing a Russian plane in Egypt; a suicide bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, and now attacking Paris once more. Our enemy, for that is what they clearly are, have become more sophisticated and ruthless than we previously thought possible. Recruiting arming, coordinating and keeping hidden the Paris killers until the last moment, all implies a high level of organization. So what can we do?

"It is an act war" declared French President Francois Hollande referring to an "an Islamist army" and so in one sentence evoking Article 5 of the NATO Washington Treaty: 'An attack on any NATO country shall be considered an attack against them all and each country will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, including the use of armed force'.

However, this presumes that any attack is directed from abroad and even in the case of 9/11 in 2001 (when Article 5 was last triggered), no determination has ever been made that the attack against the US was actually directed from abroad.

Such words are also in harmony with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations: 'Nothing shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations'. Perhaps a statement of the obvious, noting that the UN remains unable to agree a common definition of terrorism. It's also impossible to "close our borders" as Hollande also said in the wake of the recent attack. One of the basic features of the EU is free passage between neighbouring countries (the Schengen Agreement), so apart from the UK which geographically remains an island, borders can no longer be closed. And even for the UK there is a fast/direct train connection between London and Paris.

Perhaps it is no surprise, therefore, that amongst Western countries a commonly agreed (and enacted) strategy on resilience and at the same time, how to attack and conquer IS abroad (and in our own countries) remains as elusive as ever. Many people must wonder just how many attacks are we to suffer before the massive arsenal of NATO defeats the evil that is IS.

If only it was that straight forward. Go as far back as the Christian Crusades, which commenced in 1095, and you come to realise that the West never remembers, while the East never forgets. The radical Islamist group 'Muslims Against Crusades' was established in 2010 - now banned in the UK - and the day after the Paris attack, IS were talking about killing the French crusaders. It is only by understanding their motives that we ever defeat IS in the end.

But those now on their front line, wherever they are, can only be defeated by overwhelming force. Now is not the time for platitudes. If we are lucky, we might then be able to persuade the next generation not to follow the same route. But for now, we should concentrate on knowing what to do if we are ever caught up in such a terrifying scenario.

In the last few days, the UK National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) has published some guidance on 'dynamic lock downs' (Guidance Note 1/2015 available on line – see below). I have summarised this guidance here to encourage anyone reading this article to download the complete document. I've also added a few extra thoughts as well, since I have advised others before on mass gatherings/ 'active shooter' scenarios, in my case within the sphere of crisis management / organizational resilience (most recently for the Sydney Opera House).

Many survivors of the Paris attacks have said that they mistook the first gunshots for fireworks. This is not uncommon as it's the nearest convenient memory they can call on. Equally not unusual in these situations, about 25 percent of people (at most) immediately reacted in a way that probably helped them survive, leaving at least 75 percent just bewildered, often looking to other people to act first.

Turning to the NaCTSO guidance, various options exist to help overcome confusion and bewilderment, depending on the nature and occupancy of the site, these include;

  • Public address (PA) system
  • Existing internal messaging systems; text, email, staff phones etc.
  • ‘Pop up’ on employees’ computers / internal messaging systems
  • Dedicated lockdown alarm tone
  • Word of mouth.

Use of fire alarms should be avoided to reduce incorrect response to an incident.

‘Stay Safe’ principles (Run Hide Tell) give some simple actions to consider at an incident and the information that armed officers may need in the event of a firearms and weapons attack:

Run

  • Escape if you can.
  • Consider the safest options.
  • Is there a safe route? RUN if not HIDE.
  • Can you get there without exposing yourself to greater danger?
  • Insist others leave with you.
  • Leave belongings behind.

Hide

If you can’t RUN, HIDE.

  • Find cover from gunfire.
  • If you can see the attacker, they may be able to see you.
  • Cover from view does not mean you are safe, bullets go through glass, brick, wood and metal.
  • Find cover from gunfire e.g. substantial brickwork / heavy reinforced walls.
  • Be aware of your exits.
  • Try not to get trapped.
  • Be quiet, silence your phone.
  • Lock / barricade yourself in.
  • Move away from the door.

Tell

  • Call 999 - What do the police need to know?
  • Location - Where are the suspects?
  • Direction - Where did you last see the suspects?
  • Descriptions – Describe the attacker, numbers, features, clothing, weapons etc.
  • Further information – Casualties, type of injury, building information, entrances, exits, hostages etc.
  • Stop other people entering the building if it is safe to do so.

Police response

  • Follow officers’ instructions.
  • Remain calm.
  • Can you move to a safer area?
  • Avoid sudden movements that may be considered a threat.
  • Keep your hands in view.

Officers may

  • Point guns at you.
  • Treat you firmly.
  • Question you.
  • Be unable to distinguish you from the attacker.
  • Officers will evacuate you when it is safe to do so.

You must STAY SAFE

  • What are your plans if there were an incident?
  • What are the local plans? e.g. personal emergency evacuation plan.

The full NaCTSO advice can be found here and here.

With the next WCDM now taking shape ahead of us (and the call for papers closing at the end of November!), who can say what other terrorist attacks might occur between now and next June? But one thing is certain: the topic of how to try and manage the threat will once again be a very important subject.

The author

Peter Power FBCI FIRM was previously a Senior Police Officer at New Scotland Yard during an earlier period of sustained terrorist bombings against the UK and has delivered presentations to the United Nations (World Tourism), CSIS (Canada) and the Australian Emergency Management Institute. He is also the co-author of the UK Govt. standard on Crisis Management and Chairman of the WCDM Toronto. Contact Peter at [email protected]



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