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Bouncing back from a bomb

14 February 2008 by

A terrorist attack is always a terrible thing and can have an awful human cost. But there is also the danger to businesses, both in terms of being the focus of an incident and in the commercial repercussions. Christopher Walton reports

Last June, in London, the hospitality industry had its first major terrorist scare since the bombings of 7 July 2005. Two car bombs were discovered, and fortunately disabled, before they could explode outside a nightclub in the heart of the West End.

A day later, a Jeep filled with propane canisters was driven through the glass doors of the terminal building at Glasgow International Airport.

Failed suicide bomber Kafeel Ahmed was the only casualty of either attack, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

In the London incident, the discovery of the first unexploded car bomb, outside the Tiger Tiger bar and nightclub, led to police cordoning off a 400m exclusion zone around the site. Neighbouring pubs and bars were forced to evacuate on a busy Thursday night.

Bomb discovered

However, the terrorists had planted a second bomb intended to cause more destruction than the first. This device was found 375m away from where the initial blast was intended, just 25m inside the police cordon and close to would-be revellers who felt safe behind the "Police Stop" tape. The bomb was discovered only after the car had been towed away because it was illegally parked.

The goal of the terrorists was a mass-casualty attack. The high volumes of people who congregate in pubs, bars, restaurants and clubs make these businesses prime targets, and experts have warned hospitality managers to think seriously about how they would survive and recover from such an attack if one were successful.

Richard Flynn, security officer at the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, hosted a "Project Argus" session in London last week with licensing solicitors Poppleston Allen, putting hospitality managers through their paces in a simulated attack.

As soon as a bomb goes off, a manager must do three things, according to Flynn.

First, make an assessment of the area, asking themselves what the nature of the event is, where the explosion came from and where the most immediate danger is.

Second, they must deal with any casualties and administer first aid. "Just because things are happening outside, don't assume that inside is safer," Flynn said. "Assume the importance of searching. It's almost unknown to have a single bomb attack of this nature. One has gone off and more will go off."

Finally, phone 999. Managers should never assume that someone else is doing this for them. Emergency authorities will scale their response to any incident based on the volume of 999 calls they receive.

The next major problem will be finding a safe place for people to congregate. This is vitally important, as flying glass is the biggest killer in a terrorist attack, claiming more lives than the explosion itself.

And a common mistake - acknowledged by many of the operators attending the briefing - is to assume that the safest place to congregate people is the fire assembly point. What would be safe were there a fire - for example, across the road - might not be safe in a terror attack.

Responding to any attack all comes down to planning. Under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, local authorities can assist businesses in developing an incident management plan. All businesses should have a "grab bag" on site that includes torches, high-visibility jackets and blankets, and a first-aid kit that contains military-style wound dressings - these can be obtained from local ambulance services.

Rebecca Jackson, health, safety and environment manager at PizzaExpress, said incident planning formed a large part of the group's training programmes, particularly for city centre managers. "It's not that we put too much faith in our managers, but we expect them to do a lot," she told Caterer. "That's why we've been operating security training workshops for staff over the past four months as part of their incident management planning.

"We were not aware of the Civil Contingencies Act, and that's something we can now use to assist with what we're doing. Your plans have to be as flexible as possible, and you need to make sure you're able to seek assistance."

How a hospitality business can recover from a terrorist attack

  • Communicate with staff The psychological impact of a blast should not be underestimated. Hold sessions with staff to discuss what happened. Make provision for staff who may want to work elsewhere. Work closely with local authorities, which can provide social services help.
  • Rebuild your reputation Use local and national press to talk about acts of bravery conducted by your employees.
  • Rebuild quickly Pubs and restaurants cannot change locations quickly. Leaving the building in a distressed state gives the wrong impression when regenerating an area.
  • Talk to customers and suppliers They might know some of what happened from the news, but they won't know what's happened to you directly. Tell customers when you intend to reopen, and tell suppliers to change their deliveries.

Source: National Counter Terrorism Security Office

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