Bruce McDonnell, Managing Director at Incentive FM, discusses the measures that are being taken to address the current terror threat in the UK and also looks at what could happen to shopping centres if the threat level rises to critical.
The UK Terror Threat
Recent news reports suggest that Britain’s security services are probing at least four plots to commit terrorist atrocities, and that extremists are believed to be at the “planning” stages to target shopping centres and other high profile, high footfall locations. The recent attack at the Olympia shopping centre in Munich highlights the risk of indiscriminate terrorism targeting the general public.
With the UK threat level at ‘severe’ for the past two years, facilities management companies are playing a vital role in planning and preparing for any potential incidents. At Incentive our shopping centre portfolio ranges from high profile complexes to local facilities and regardless of their size we apply the same rigorous preparations to each one.
Planning, Planning and More Planning
Our planning is focussed on two areas: firstly how to help prevent an incident through increased vigilance; and secondly how to respond should there be an attack to mitigate any injuries or loss of life.
Planning is absolutely key and it vital that it includes all stakeholder. We hold monthly meetings with the Shopping Centre management team and retailers, as well as having regular updates with the emergency services. Similarly, we meet with the larger retailers regularly to rehearse desktop procedures for every eventuality and regularly review our plans.
Communication is also key to ensure that not only does everyone know the details of the plans and safety procedures but, perhaps more importantly, what their role will be. However, the only way you will know if your preparations are sufficient is by testing and rehearsing them. At each of our locations we have undergone a Physical Security Assessment undertaken by a third party. This is a good way of testing your defences, control systems and evacuation plans. An external body provides a holistic comprehensive examination of the physical security of your centres evaluating their effectiveness.
A key consideration for us is that our staff feel safe enough to come to work and by involving them in the planning, preparation and rehearsal the feedback we have is that they feel very reassured.
As well as our own in-house training we have been able to benefit from some additional external guidance which has been invaluable. All our senior management team have undergone the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme training, which offers practical guidance to help improve a multi-agency response to an incident. Our learnings from this have been cascaded to other members of staff throughout our portfolio.
We have also been looking at additional training for our FM staff who don’t hold traditional security roles. In particular, due to the fact that shopping centres tend to attract a large number of women and children, we need to ensure we have enough female staff that are able to do stop and search when needed. As a result we have invested in additional SIA training across all our sites.
The right equipment
Whilst our people are without doubt the best defence against an attack, it is important that we support them with the best equipment. We have just issued brand new digital radios with tracking devices and a state-of-the-art tannoy system to a number of our sites to ensure that we are able to communicate messages to staff and visitors during an incident.
A critical threat level
Another main focus for us at Incentive is preparing for the possibility of the threat level rising to ‘critical’, which means an attack is expected imminently. Whilst each of our shopping centres has its own bespoke plan, there are a number of common actions. For example we are likely to implement checks, searches and possibly even scanning of everyone entering the shopping centre which main also mean limiting the number of entrances. Depending on the size of the building, this means we will need up to 50 additional staff just for this particular role, hence our decision to train additional personnel in advance.
Deliveries are also a potential issue with goods vehicles coming into the shopping centre creating another possible entry point for a terror attack. We will therefore be organising alternative plans for deliveries such as cancelling them completely for a short period of time, or arranging for the vehicles to be searched off-site and then escorted in.
Should there be an attack the emergency services may well be called upon to support other incidents so we have to assume that they will not be on hand to help – and even if they are they are likely to be delayed. This is where our planning proves its worth and we have Dynamic Lockdown Plans in place at all our locations which have been have been fully rehearsed.
It is worth noting that terrorism is more about creating fear and less about action. The UK is an island nation with external border checks and tight gun controls. The work of MI5, MI6 and the Metropolitan Police have meant Britain is not a ‘soft target’. In the past year the police have deployed an additional 600 armed officers, Scotland Yard have sent police officers to the Middle East to learn how to tackle suicide bombers and 800 people were involved in an exercise at the Trafford Centre to practise their response to an attack. We at Incentive are aware of the important role we also play in this and are committed to doing everything we can to prevent an incident. However, should the worst happen we are fully prepared with the best training, planning and equipment across all of our locations.