NY plot shows need for vigilance and practice

By William Maclean, Security Correspondent – Analysis

LONDON (BestGrowthStock) – What if the New York car bomb had gone off? Are capital cities in any better shape to respond to catastrophic attacks than they were on 9/11, or in the 2005 London bombings, or the 2008 Mumbai raid?

The answer, experts say, appears to be mixed, at least in the United States and Britain, two Western countries frequently cited as targets by violent militant groups such as al Qaeda.

The global trend has been that fire, police, medical and security personnel have improved the way they work together thanks to a push by governments to counter perennial problems hampering such “first responders” in a crisis, particularly in communicating with each other and setting lines of authority.

But private business has had a mixed record in updating its procedures and preparing staff for crises, notably in instilling a rigorous culture of office security drills, the experts say.

“The point about 9/11 is that no one practiced and, from what I’ve seen internationally, there are still some huge missing pieces, mostly in practicing,” said U.S. businesswoman Emily Landis Walker.

“It’s basic stuff, I know, but you’d be surprised. Often, it’s a case of, either they do it ineffectively, or they just don’t do it,” said UK-based Walker, a staff member of the 9/11 Commission who has advised cities around the world on security.

FINANCIAL HUBS

“When things quiet down, people get complacent. Life goes on. They think: ‘It’s never going to happen to me’.”

A quick test of an organization’s readiness is whether an employee knows the location of their evacuation route and an assembly point. Too often, experts say, they don’t.

The 9/11 Commission report said “a rededication to preparedness” was perhaps the best way to honor the memories of the almost 3,000 lives lost in the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

Major corporations have made a sustained effort, particularly in the financial centers of London and New York, where companies work closely with the police to shore up vigilance, said Tobias Feakin, Director of National Security and Resilience at London’s Royal United Services Institute.

LACK OF RIGOUR

And companies as well as governments are contributing to an effort by the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) to create a standard for “societal security” to give organizations a global benchmark for crisis response.

But, compared to the public sector, private companies’ rate of improvement has been uneven.

Hagai Segal, a security expert and lecturer at New York University’s London branch, said there had been a broad improvement in private sector readiness, but there were exceptions.

“People would be mortified to learn that there are companies — a very small number, including major corporations — out there who simply have not responded to the new security requirements,” he said.

Segal said such firms tended to have a lack of rigor in security drilling and procedures, and perceived security and business continuity as a cost rather than a benefit.

Feakin said continued vigilance was crucial, despite an apparent decline in complex 9/11-style attacks, because even so-called homegrown militants with little technical expertise “will one day figure out how to make effective bombs.”

Coordination between business and the state is important, not only because the private sector in many countries runs core services such as water, power and transport, but because the preparedness of an enterprise is a factor investors consider.

Peter Clarke, former head of Scotland Yard’s Anti-Terrorism Branch, told a London conference it was “a board and chief executive responsibility” that staff were prepared for crises.

“In a crisis your reaction has got to be rote. The only way to do that is to practice,” said Walker. “It’s a corporate governance issue — would you invest in a company that wasn’t prepared. Would you want to work for one?”

Public vigilance in cities with a history of militant attacks may be higher than elsewhere, experts say. A success from the Times Square incident, and from a similar failed bombing attempt in London in 2007, is that citizens spotted something suspicious and raised the alarm, said Feakin.

“Everyday culture in London is ‘walk on by’. So getting people to actually report things is important.”

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NY plot shows need for vigilance and practice