Europe has continued to be subjected to terrorist attacks from various terrorist groups. What actions can organisations in Europe take to help them prepare for the possibility of a terrorist attack occurring that may impact their people and operations?

How are acts of terror evolving?

 In the past few years, a number of terrorist attacks in urban areas have involved the use of vehicles to cause maximum harm to pedestrians in city streets. Other attacks have involved the use of knives and firearms. Governments of nations around the world continue to be vigilant in the face of the terrorist threat. Significant focus continues to be on counter-terrorism operations, some of which are evident in our public spaces, some of which are more discreet.

How likely is it that we, as individuals, could be caught up in a terrorist attack?

Over the past few months StrategicRISK has covered how the threat of terrorism is, in reality, still a small risk for most organisations (for example, refer to this article from August 2017). Regardless of the low likelihood of your people being caught in a terrorist attack, is your organisation ready to respond if an act of terror is carried out and your people and/or your operations are impacted in some way?

Here are some points to consider.

Plans and controls: what do you have in place?

What plans, procedures and controls do you have in place to be able to respond to a terrorist attack?

The types of plans, procedures and controls a business may have in place to respond to an act of terror incident that affects them may include the following (this list is an example only and is not exhaustive or specific):

1. Incident / Crisis Management Plan, with specific elements related to terrorist attacks

2. Incident / Crisis Management Team (and specific skills training)

3. Staff training

4. Intelligent Communications IT / telecoms tool(s)

5. Specialist security experts ‘on call’

6. Incident / Crisis simulation exercises

7. Office and site evacuation procedures

8. Specialist advisors to assist international travellers

9. Business Continuity procedures

10. Disaster Recovery location(s) and temporary working solutions

After agreeing and implementing the plans, procedures and controls you need to be ready to respond to a terrorist attack (which may vary for different locations), you should ensure they are tested for effectiveness, and that they are ready to be used at any time.

Staff training: do you provide Situational Awareness training?

We’d like to hone in on one of these controls: staff training.

What can you do to help your staff be prepared if they are suddenly caught up in a terrorist attack situation of some sort? An important element in this is ensuring that people are aware of potential threats around them and having awareness of their surroundings (whilst not being paranoid).

For example, Situational Awareness training could be taught in your workplace. Situational Awareness, a term used by the security industry, is a mindset for people to adopt, which is about having a base understanding of “what is normal” and recognising unusual change quickly.

Armed with this awareness, we can quickly spot unusual activity, we can communicate it (to those around you / authorities) and – if necessary – respond appropriately. Situational Awareness training can be delivered as a short, punchy training session, or perhaps through a good interactive online course.

Here’s an example of how Situational Awareness can help us all:

We discussed earlier how recent terrorist attacks have used vehicles as weapons. It is of course normal to see vehicles on our streets every day, so how can we spot the difference between people who are going about their normal business and those that have a malicious intent to cause harm to innocent civilians?

Remember that the people who seek to do us harm deliberately blend into our environment and use the element of surprise to carry out their attacks.

While we do not want to be paranoid, we can teach ourselves to be aware of small “pre-attack warning signs”, by noticing things that are contrary to “what is normal”.

For example, as you walk down any street at any time of day, would you be alert to a sudden change in pitch of a vehicle engine, a sudden screech of tyres, or the sound of people nearby shouting?

Many of us are not attuned to pick up warning signs like these because we don’t pay attention – we assume we will never be caught in such a situation (“it always happens elsewhere”), and we are busy concentrating on the latest message on our phones or chatting to someone.

Crowded street

Having situational awareness to spot signs like this (without being paranoid, we must stress) stands us all in good stead.

Would you be ready to respond if a vehicle driver with malicious intent suddenly mounted a busy paved area?

As well as running Situational Awareness training, it may be worth providing staff with training on situations that could develop as a result of terrorist attacks being committed. For example:

  • • providing practical training on what authorities may do if there are gunmen on the loose;
  • • what your organisation would do (“how we would respond”) if one of its offices was in the vicinity of a city lockdown, with perhaps authorities ordering people to “stay inside the buildings where they are”);
  • • what you should do if you are travelling overseas and you get caught in a place (be it a city centre, an airport or anywhere else) that goes into lockdown.

Training could include explaining to your staff the tools you use to communicate with them in such situations. For example, maybe you have an “intelligent communications tool” through which your staff would receive text messages / voice calls from a central incident response team and they may be asked to respond back (e.g. “Press 3 to confirm you are safe”).

3. Testing plans and controls: how (and how often) do you test them?

How do you test the effectiveness of your plans and controls, and how often? As an example, if you have an Act of Terror Response Plan, or a “threat scenario” as part of an overall Incident Management Plan, how do you monitor its effectiveness?

For example:

1. Do you monitor the status and progress of staff training, and do you have explicit feedback on the effectiveness of that training?

2. Do you test how your incident management team knows what to do if your organisation somehow gets caught up in a terrorist attack?

3. Do you review data and intelligence about certain geographic areas where you operate, where specialist experts believe the risk of acts of terror taking place may be increasing (or decreasing)?

4. If you have a communications tool in place to contact staff in an emergency, how often do you test it (and keep contact details of your staff up to date)?

5. Do you test your office / site procedures for a city lockdown situation?

6. Do you hold crisis simulation exercises on how you would respond if some of your people (and perhaps one or more of your sites / facilities) were caught up in an act of terror attack? If so, do you involve specialists to help run them and provide expert advice and learnings?

7. How will your organisation and staff deal with the aftermath of a major incident? What contingencies do you have in place to ensure your business will be able to continue to operate. Ask yourself this – if the incident takes place on Day One, what does Day Two look like, the next week and the weeks after? Business continuity planning to deal with the aftermath of a major incident is as important as being prepared for an incident.

4. Tapping into the knowledge and assistance of experts

Experts can provide advice in many ways. For example, if your people are caught up in a health-related act of terror or a hostage situation, do you have advice from experts on how best deal with it, and can you call them in at short notice to advise and assist?

Depending on the locations where you operate, it may be beneficial to have agreements in place with physical security providers who can immediately help you to respond to an act of terror attack that affects your people or your organisation.

Security services firms can liaise with authorities if any of your staff are unfortunate to be caught up in an act of terror situation (e.g. in a hostage situation). They may also liaise with independent hostage negotiators in a hostage situation, and they may be valuable partners to help you evacuate staff that find themselves in the unfortunate position of being caught up in a terrorist attack event, or the aftermath of one.


You can never know when or exactly how your staff, and/or your sites, could be impacted by a terrorist attack. 

All organisations can benefit from having plans, controls and training in place, which are maintained to ensure they are effective, to deal with the event that they are affected in some way by a terrorist attack.You can never know when or exactly how your staff, and/or your sites, could be impacted by a terrorist attack.

Gareth Byatt

Gareth Byatt is an independent risk consultant and owner of Risk Insight Consulting.

He is based in Sydney and has 20 years’ experience in international risk management and project management.

Lloyd Figgins

Lloyd Figgins is chairman of The Travel Risk & Incident Prevention Group, and LFL Global, and author of The Travel Survival Guide published in April.