With major cities remaining on terror alert, what are the practical steps that can be taken to protect buildings and staff from potential threats? David Howell investigates.

With the UK still on a high alert for potential terrorist attacks, building managers need to ensure they have taken all the practical measures they can to protect their businesses from attack.

The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) states: “Organisations need to be prepared. Even if the likelihood of being directly targeted by terrorists is remote, the repercussions of an attack elsewhere can spread right across the economy. Could a business still function if, for example, key suppliers or clients were directly affected, if telephone networks went down or if power supplies were cut? What if deliveries could not be made or payments completed?”

Says Mike O’Neil, Chairman of the Specialist Services Section, British Security Industry Association (BSIA): “Many FMs have a problem building a board-worthy business case to develop effective engagement with the client beyond what are often seen as routine, mundane services. True protection can only come from an organisation wide approach to building resilience. It is vital that businesses aim to mitigate the impact of attacks and improve the ability to recover. Currently there is often a fragmented approach that fails to incorporate dynamic response.”

Clearly, the risk assessments that are routinely performed should include identifying potential weaknesses that could be exploited by terrorists. Often, enterprises fail to place the emphasis that is needed onto these potential threats or to have a strategy for capital investment where this is needed to develop robust terrorist countermeasures. Facilities and safety managers can keep up to date with the latest counter-terrorism strategy on the Government’s website.

Brian Painter, Managing Director of Discreet Help told us: “Facility managers should utilise resources available to them including making the most of local police forces. Most offer business support through Project Griffin , an initiative bringing together the police, fire brigade, ambulance services, professionals within the private security industry and other government agencies. The united aim is to target and deter or disrupt any terrorist and extremist activity.”

Practical steps

The physical protection of a building from attack involves taking a multifaceted approach that will result in an integrated security barrier to potential attacks. Access points should be kept to a minimum and protected and monitored. The screening of hand baggage and the patrol of external grounds may be appropriate and can act as an effective deterrent.

“Ensuring that systems such as closed-circuit television (CCTV) and Access Control systems are physically secure as well as safe from the threats of hacking is a good step forward for facilities managers in the fight against terrorism,” comments James Wickes, co-founder, Cloudview. “At the very least by ensuring that usernames and passwords are of a sufficient strength to prevent immediate access.

Unfortunately, most people do not think to change them from the default state and information on the internet connection ports and default passwords for most CCTV systems can be found with a simple web search (http://portforward.com). Worse still, open devices can be easily located using search engines such as www.shodan.io.”

With Steven Gardner, OCS Head of Standards and Solutions — Security also advising: “Early warning systems can help to spot potential weaknesses. Terrorists do not act spontaneously but collect data through several visits to the site to gather consistent evidence on weak points. CCTV monitoring, vigilance and data collection on, for example, people trying to gain access to unauthorised areas will provide key evidence for reviewing and identifying potential exposure to dangerous situations.”

The complexity of the security measures developed for any particular premises will depend on the level of risk perceived. Other factors, such as whether the building is listed, will need to take these constraints into consideration when developing an anti-terrorism security regime that is effective yet not unduly punitive to the building’s users. The BSIA offers a guide to security for heritage properties onits website.

Future security

Building security will inevitably become more important as threat levels persist. Building managers are not powerless to act, so act they must. Says Matthew Judge, Group Managing Director, Anvil (a specialist risk consultancy): “Risk can be intangible at the best of times and the pressure on facilities managers to improve efficiencies and cut supporting costs has resulted in many organisations adopting a ‘lean approach’ to risk management whereby the threat of a terrorist attack is almost considered a ‘Black Swan’ event.

“But, as recent history has proven, terrorist attacks can occur in almost any location, with the potential to cause tremendous damage and inflict massive casualties. As facilities managers can be involved in both the strategic and day-to-day operations of a business, particularly with regard to premises, they have a crucial role in any counter terrorism strategy and need to adapt to the increasing threat posed by international terrorism. This responsibility should not be viewed in isolation, but instead as a combined effort with both internal and external stakeholders.”

Clearly, taking action to review and improve counter terrorism measures should be seen as a priority. The uncertainty about where an attack on premises may take, or how an attack could impact their organisations on a wider level, needs to be factored into a detailed plan of action. What is certain is that as terrorist attacks will become more sophisticated and so should strategic planning and practical action to protect buildings and their occupants.

Top 10 security guidelines

  1. Carry out a risk assessment to decide on the threats you might be facing and their likelihood. Identify your vulnerabilities.

  2. If acquiring or extending premises, consider security at the planning stage. It will be cheaper and more effective than adding measures later.

  3. Make security awareness part of your organisation’s culture and ensure security is represented at a senior level.

  4. Ensure good basic housekeeping throughout your premises. Keep public areas tidy and well lit, remove unnecessary furniture and keep garden areas clear.

  5. Keep access points to a minimum and issue staff and visitors with passes. Where possible, do not allow unauthorised vehicles close to your building.

  6. Install appropriate physical measures such as locks, alarms, CCTV surveillance and lighting.

  7. Examine your mail-handling procedures, consider establishing a mailroom away from your main premises

  8. When recruiting staff or hiring contractors, check identities and follow up references.

  9. Consider how best to protect your information and take proper information technology (IT) security precautions. Examine your methods for disposing of confidential waste.

  10. Plan and test your business continuity plans, ensuring that you can continue to function without access to your main premises and IT systems.

Further information

Last reviewed 6 June 2017