Consultants describe disaster and emergency planning.
Terrorists sent the message to a TV station at 7.20am that an explosive device was on the railway line at Station Approach, Beckford. That bomb was made safe only for another bomb to go off in a car nearby, with many fatalities. You, the local university security officer, are rung at home. The Real IRA have admitted responsibility for the explosion, while claiming that the loss of lives is due to police incompetence. TV crews are on the scene, and there is traffic chaos in Beckford. Such was the grim scenario outlined by the Crisis and Contingency Training Company to members of the Association of University Chief Security Officers (AUCSO) at their annual conference in Sheffield on September 7. The day before, the conference heard chair Bernie Duncan, Operational Services Manager at City University London, report on how City handled the £6m fire at the Islington institution on May 21, from when a security guard responded correctly as trained to the fire alarm to the disaster recovery. Bernie praised the CCTC seminar she attended before May Day. She commented: ‘It’s all very well to have a nice folder with plans but if you don’t have trained staff it doesn’t matter what you have on paper.’ CCTC made the same point, adding that big business was not a target – until the J18 protests in the City of London in 1999. Environmentalist and other protesters realised that by making businesses their targets – by staging a sit-down in a university or City office – they gained profile. Hence CCTC seminars on how organisations should combat direct action and terrorism, including panel discussions (see below) and scenarios such as the Beckford one. Contingency plans, CCTC argue, give the security manager a framework for a response to an event such as disorder, a major accident, or loss of power.
Flexible and available
A good plan should be: relevant, workable, practical, flexible (because you cannot plan for everything) and available (it’s no use having to hunt for it in a desk drawer or on a computer). The consultants draw a distinction between training and exercises – which could be seminars, a table-top exercise, a computer-based simulation or a live and real-time exercise, as airports might carry out. Such an exercise might be fun, but the most costly. Briefing and de-briefing should be positive, rather than criticising individuals, because everyone makes mistakes and it is better to make them on an exercise, the consultants say. Issues include: how far to give security to individual directors, who could be ever-present targets for attacks at home; and how to evacuate an office without panic. Also: who do you tell about a threat – how far and how low down the organisational chain do you go’ The legal position could be delicate: for instance, legal action has arisen from the 1999 Soho pub nail-bombing, a customer claiming that the pub chain should have taken more steps to warn customers of the risk. Crisis training, the consultants argue, makes a pool of trained staff and is an aid to corporate and personal learning. Where a large disaster like the fictional Beckford one could bring confusion even over the number of casualties, the security manager should have key priorities: managers in the crisis team should know their responsibilities; the team should integrate with the emergency services; and react to the ‘what ifs’. For instance, during an evacuation someone is sure to leave a wallet or tablets – where does the legal liability lie if someone re-enters the evacuated building before they are told to’ Re-occupation of a building can take days, as after the explosion in Ealing in . A crisis team needs documentation for staff to hand over to others. Even during the return to normality, there is staff trauma to deal with – should counsellors go through the traumatic event with the victims’ Preparation for the unthinkable takes in a risk assessment, CCTV tape management (are your tapes re-used so much that images are fuzzy’), a check of first-aid equipment, and liaison with any other tenants in the building.