Terrorism Is The New Norm


The security manager can no longer believe that terrorism is an extreme and unlikely event. It is now part of the normal operating environment and every organisation should recognise that armed assailant/active shooter, bombings and hostage takings are to be expected. There is no excuse for the defence “we did not think it could happen to us”.

Terrorism is actually a definition of motive; the underlying purpose being to promote a political, cultural or religious ideal rather than for personal gain or the result of mental illness, although they are not mutually exclusive. Extreme events may not be a terrorist event by definition, but the nature of the attack and the preventative and response options are similar regardless of motive.

What terrorism has done is bring awareness of these events to the forefront of the community, government and corporate minds. Therefore, there is an expectation that security managers have an awareness of the potential for such events and plans in place to prevent and respond.

Australia has a long history of workplace violence, with shootings and stabbings in office and public areas, a history of bombings for criminal and political reasons going back to the Eureka stockade and even hostage takings, usually family related but sometimes for commercial or social reasons. The arrests and convictions over the last decade of groups committed to acts of mass violence have informed society that the threat exists. But, by preventing the attacks, the arrests have made everyone complacent in that Australia has yet to suffer the atrocities seen overseas. This will change and there will be many surprised looks and cries of “why were we not warned”.

As the Lindt Café event demonstrated, any business may be a target. Those other businesses in and near the building were also victims of the event. Every business needs to have within its security and emergency plans how it will prevent, detect and respond to incidents such as an armed assailant, a bomb attack (particularly a post-blast scenario) and how it will deal with a hostage taking. The plans should address not only how they will deal with such an event on their premises, but also if it should happen next door.

What can be done will of course depend on the size of the organisation, the resources, whether the organisation is the sole occupant or one of a number of tenants on site, the site layout and the existing management plans. Some common considerations include: the ability to recognise that an incident is occurring either on site or in a neighbour’s site/office; the ability for one person to have authority to initiate an appropriate response; the ability to communicate with staff and visitors/the public; and a clear idea of the options available to move or secure people and other assets.

Terrorists have different drivers to profit-motivated criminals and as a result their target selection is also different. Sometimes their selection of what is important or will help them achieve their aim exceeds rational analysis – the stabbing of police officers in Victoria may be seen as an attack on the enforcement arm of the oppressive government, but the shooting of a police accountant in Parramatta has no apparent rational basis other than he was walking out of a police building. Similarly, Timothy McVeigh’s choice of the federal building in Oklahoma City was as much a surprise as if someone was to bomb an office in Dubbo because it was their closest target.

All businesses must recognise that extreme events are no longer unlikely (if they ever were) and should have plans in place to deal with them.

Don Williams
Don Williams MIExpE, IABTI, CPP, RSecP is convenor of the ASRC Explosives 2014 forum. Don is a member of the Institute of Explosives Engineers, the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators, the venue managers Associations, ASIS International and the Australian Security Research Centre’s Activities Committee. He is the Author of “Bomb Incidents – the manager’s guide” and numerous other publications relating to explosive and bomb safety and security.