A heightened state of awareness

I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.

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What took place at the finishing line of Monday’s Boston Marathon provides a shocking reminder of the devastation caused by acts of terrorism. The horrific scenes of maimed runners and members of the public receiving treatment instead of celebrating human endeavour will live long in the mind.

Two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were detonated at around 2.50pm, within seconds of each other and 50m apart. The current casualty toll stands at 183 injured and three dead, one of which was an eight year old boy. Despite more than 1,000 law enforcement officials from 30 state and federal agencies now in the process of tracking down whoever was responsible for the worst terror attack on US soil since 9/11, there has been no statement about who perpetrated this atrocity.

The FBI remains open minded about the possibility of an international group, home grown extremists or a ‘lone wolf’ attacker being to blame and the only hard evidence appears to be the use of pressure cookers packed with nails, ball bearings and other shrapnel. Having been recovered from the scene, they are now in an FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, where experts are reconstructing them to determine their make up and components.

While there are obviously a number of possible suspects, I’m not going to speculate on who it is most likely to be. The wider media is already getting drawn into this type of conjecture – something that I consider very unhelpful as it only serves to cause additional fear, apprehension and paranoia. Instead, I think that we should all wait for the facts to emerge and then debate our next move.

In the meantime, it is imperative that we do all we can to ensure our safety in public spaces and buildings, and reiterate to everybody the need to be vigilant. This is something that I feel very strongly about, having had a ‘close call’ while in Belfast in the 1980s. A bomb destroyed the office block I had been working in and it was only the fact that I had left the building to buy a sandwich that I am here to write this blog. The level of panic that I witnessed on that day is a powerful memory and I firmly believe it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure our own safety and that of others.

I’m also well aware that this is easier said than done, especially in large, densely populated gatherings, such as the funeral of Baroness Thatcher. I’m pleased that this took place without major incident, despite the possibility of the demonstrators committing public order offences and acts of civil disobedience. Perhaps more resonant under the circumstances though is the forthcoming London Marathon on Sunday.

With spectators lining every inch of the 26.2 mile course there will naturally be heightened security before and during the event. Intelligence services will certainly be looking at the movements of those they suspect of being involved in terrorist activity, while police and security services will carry out on the ground searches along the route for any suspicious behaviour or packages. CCTV will also be used extensively to assist them in their work.

In a statement, London Marathon chief executive, Nick Bitel, said, ‘Our security plans take account of many contingencies, including this type of threat and incident, but one can’t be complacent and you need to then review those plans you have in place to see what else may be necessary.’

Although this should provide a level of reassurance, it is only natural that some people will find the idea of attending the London Marathon off-putting under the present circumstances. Marathon world record holder, Paula Radcliffe, even said that as a mother she would think twice about allowing her family near the finish line of future races.

However, it is important to maintain a sense of perspective and remember that this event will be no less safe as a result of what happened in Boston. We have a long history of having to deal with the threat of terrorism through our experiences with the IRA and, more recently, the 7/7 bombings. Also, let us not forget that less than a year ago we held the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which passed without reported incident.

It is also worth noting that the threat level since that time has not been increased and it is still ‘substantial’ rather than ‘severe’ or ‘critical’. That said, a threat level of ‘substantial’ is enough to warrant the utmost vigilance and the security industry’s 300,000 Security Industry Authority (SIA) licenced personnel have a vital role to play.

Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing we put out alerts to all operations teams in London to pay even greater attention to access control, building and land perimeters, left items and suspicious packages. I urge all my industry colleagues to follow our example and do all they can to thwart any future attacks on our safety and security.

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