Failing to Act on the Risk of Terrorism

Terrorism LevelRisks associated with a terrorist incident are well-reported within Australia and abroad.  The Australian government raised its terror alert level in 2014 from medium to high. In 2015 a new National Terrorism Threat Advisory System was launched that replaced the previous four step approach to a scale of five levels.

The scale provides public advice about the likelihood of a terrorist act occurring in Australia. This public advice will also enable authorities, businesses and individuals to take appropriate measures to minimise security and safety-related risks as part of their preparedness and response planning.  Of course such public advice should also allow employers such as security leaders to ensure an appropriate level of precaution and vigilance is maintained across their workplace.

There are various guidelines to assist employers respond to changing levels within the National Terrorism Threat Advisory System.  For example, the current level is “Probable” and the National Guidelines For Protecting Critical Infrastructure From Terrorism (2015) list 11 considerations in response (p17).

Those responsible for workplace safety and security owe a duty of care under common law.  A duty of care is a legal obligation imposed that requires adherence to a standard of reasonable care that could foreseeably harm others.  In the context of this article, one would consider that an employer or person responsible for workplace safety and security should adopt reasonably practicable positive action such as aligning with the considerations listed under the National Guidelines For Protecting Critical Infrastructure From Terrorism.

Although the workplace may not be part of the sector for critical infrastructure the guideline still provides some relevant considerations in the context of work.  For example there should be a general review of the system for workplace security and safety as it relates to:

  • staff and contractors so they are aware of the increased risk and measures being implemented;
  • control of people and property on site through use of staff and visitor identification and inspection of property such as parcels prior to entering a site or designated area;
  • staff awareness to increase the likelihood of detecting suspicious people, items and vehicles in and around the workplace;
  • perimeter protections to increase the effort of a perimeter breach and the risk of an early breach detection;
  • liaison or communication with local emergency services seeking advice about local issues;
  • emergency preparedness and business continuity planning; and
  • protocols to ensure they remain adequate to assist guide staff in terms of proactive and reactive measures including the issues outlined above.

Prudent organisations have also reviewed their current insurance protections to ensure there is adequate coverage should a terrorist incident occur.  In some cases it is been determined that nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological terrorist events are excluded hence the importance of a policy review.

A relevant case, although outside the jurisdiction disclosed risks with failing to act. The case arose from a car park bombing incident where six people were killed the New York State Supreme Court (2005) found the local Port Authority had failed to heed warnings based upon the 9/11 attacks to close or substantially improve its carpark security. The costs were considerable at an estimated US$2 billion in claims.

As the risk of a terror related event is well known it is important that employers, those responsible for systems of work and security leaders take reasonably practicable actions to minimise the risk of terror related incidents in and around their workplace.  These risks must be formally addressed proactively and reactively in line with public advice.  Failing to act on the risk of terrorism exposes those responsible for workplace safety and security to litigation plus various risks including operational, financial and reputational.  In addition to reviewing the system of work through a risk assessment it is recommended frequent reference is conducted to the Australian National Security website.

Dr Tony Zalewski is a Director of Global Public Safety and a forensic security specialist with qualifications in law, criminology and the social sciences. He provides advice and training to Governments and the private sector in Australia and abroad on matters relating to operational risk, security and safety.  He is also an expert with practical experience in some of Australia’s leading civil actions involving security and safety.