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Terrorism: All Hands on Deck

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Last Updated on 22 February 2019.

All hands

The IFSEC  event opened at the Excel London yesterday, where I met Frank Gardner (he’s the BBC’s top man on security) – Well, when I say met, I was about 10 yards from him so it was more like a proximity thing.

IFSEC is an international security exhibition which encompasses everything from CCTV through to Fire Alarms and Access control and is on over three days. If you want to attend its on today and tomorrow and here is the link.

I have been going to IFSEC for years and for the first time ever I attended the opening address which started a little late, which gave us time to settle into the venue, Michael Chertoff and Baroness Butler Sloss were also involved in this semi-debate informational presentation.

The Baroness

Baroness Butler Sloss is a name that I had heard before. She came across as a very wise and incisive person and framed what I was about to hear from Mr Chertoff in such as way that it piqued my interest, she talked about the way that information dissemination has completely changed in recent years and how we all now get our information from an extremely wide number of sources; Facebook, Twitter, BBC etc.

Michael Chertoff

I had never come across Mr Chertoff before, which to someone like Frank Gardner must be amazing, I am sure I must have heard his name previously but he had had no particular impact on me.  I was taken aback by the sheer clarity of this man. He summed up what is a weighty subject in less than 25 minutes; Terrorism

Mr Chertoff talked about the three levels or versions of threat. My understanding of these was;

BIG Event

The Big event  which he used as an example was 9/11 and he talked about how unprepared we were and how much work had been carried out since this event to identify the way that this was planned; specifically, he explained that although not perfect, the various agencies and countries were much better at spotting the traits:

  • Planning
  • Command and control
  • Training
  • Discipline
  • Autocratic leadership

Extremist Groups

Mr Chertoff explained that the moves that followed 9/11 were things like those co-ordinated by local groups such as the 2008 Mumbai Attacks. This required less control from afar and was, therefore, harder to spot than a big event, however it does require planning and several members, meaning that things can be let slip and its possible for the authorities to spot this and take action.

The Lone Wolf

Although these were not his exact words, he described an individual who could walk amongst us and for whatever reason, typically psychological illness, could decide to take out a knife or use a vehicle or some other means and kill people and either base this or blame this on some extremist view. A typical example is the Westminster Bridge attack.

Frank Gardner

Frank summed up what had been expertly laid out and explained the facts of our [the UK] capabilities’ or more specifically the limitations of exactly who the authorities could watch. In short not many and that it took about 15 officers to monitor just one person!

Frank’s Question…

Frank asked a question, which didn’t quite get the initial response he was after.  In fact, no-one (including me) stood up and answered although the point he raised was very politically charged and the arguments for both sides could be clearly understood.

Frank explained that Sajid Javid [Home Secretary] has restarted a committee (the name of which I can’t recall) which requires people in authority such as county councillors for example,  to keep an eye out for people who could possibly be suspected of considering a terrorist activity of some kind.  He then explained the context, i.e. that there are two tiers of ‘people of interest’

A – People who are believed to be actively planning terrorism

B – People who were in group A but have dropped out of the radar for various reasons, e.g. a bigger fish has surfaced and you can only watch so many people at once

The relevance of this is that the authorities can’t watch everyone and therefore want or have required local authorities to do this…

So, now what do I think now?

For me its simple. As a citizen of a free country I think it’s our duty to consider the safety and security of others, but to do this we must be a closer and more connected community. I often hear older people talk about the local policemen and the fact that he [Mainly male at this time in history] knew local people and could offer strong guidance when required. Sadly this is not the case any more and isn’t likely to change any time soon.  Operating a security company myself, I know how little is being done about burglary, a situation I don’t blame the police for.  They are a precious resource and it’s not rocket science to understand that we need more. However, you have to play with the hand that you have been dealt.

There are lots of things that can be done to manage people within the built environment and these can assist us with the safe operation of our buildings. These include; CCTV analytics, which is software that can identify activity in an area of the building, where at certain times of the day there should be none. The system would alert you when the unexpected activity is taking place, such as a person walking into a service yard or breaching  an access control.

Do I think it is fair that an elected official or person in a position of authority should be on the lookout for potential terrorist activity? No. however I also think that is vastly unfair to put any lives at risk where someone on a personal level could do something to prevent it. So on balance, I will use the phrase that the wise Mr Chertoff used during the presentation “All hands on Deck”


PS. If you’re after further reading on Security Systems or CCTV, here are the links below

Security Systems Page


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