How Can Terrorism Risks Be Managed? Security Professionals Have a Role Not Only to Secure People and Assets but Also to Reassure People and Help Them Carry out Business as Usual. (Viewpoint)

By Heathcote, Mark S. R. | Security Management, May 2002 | Go to article overview

How Can Terrorism Risks Be Managed? Security Professionals Have a Role Not Only to Secure People and Assets but Also to Reassure People and Help Them Carry out Business as Usual. (Viewpoint)


Heathcote, Mark S. R., Security Management


A year or so ago I received a call from our manager in France. He was planning to go on holiday in Turkey and he wanted to know if it was "safe" to do so. Turkey is a big place, so I asked him where he intended to go. He planned to hire a car and drive down the west coast of Turkey. He only planned to transit the airport in Istanbul. I asked him whether he planned to go to Kusadasi with the ruins of the ancient site of Ephesus nearby? He did. There had been a terrorist bomb placed in the town the year before, which had caused some damage and injured people. In fact the PKK, the terrorist organization supporting Kurdish independence, had for two or three years been targeting tourist locations. It had set off half a dozen bombs a year in these locations, mostly in Istanbul, to try to damage the tourist industry (much as ETA did in Spain this year).

I then asked how long he was going to be in Kusadasi. He anticipated a stay of one or two nights. So I asked him how risk averse he was. I told him there had been a bomb the year before but that no great escalation was expected. I asked him: even if events repeated themselves, what did he think the chances of his being there on the exact day, the exact time, and the exact location were? He decided to go, and not surprisingly, he came to no harm. His experience illustrates how safety and security should really be about statistics and the calculation of risk--not about perceptions.

At this time of heightened security concerns among business and the public at large, security professionals may be tempted to reinforce fears as a way of encouraging action. I would argue, however, that we have a role not only to secure our people and assets but also to reassure our people and help them to make informed judgments so that they can carry on their business as usual without fear.

The world's reaction to September has been deeply depressing in that Osama bin Laden may have succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Did he, for example, really calculate that so many people would stop flying, and that stock markets would collapse around the world? (One subsequent tape of him talking with associates suggests that he did not.) It is possible that the reaction (one might say overreaction) of the public, the press, and government officials has played into the hands of the terrorists and handed them more success than they deserve.

The security industry now has an opportunity to play a special role by putting these risks back into proper perspective and helping everyone get back to business as usual. We can bring calm, evaluated intelligence to our clients so that balanced decisions can be made about travel and all the risks to business.

Evaluating the threat from terrorism has always been notoriously difficult. These events are still rare, but they can have catastrophic effects. In risk terms, we are talking of very low frequency but occasional high impact. Apart from the Twin Towers, one thinks in recent years of high-impact events such as the Kenya/Tanzania bombings, the Karachi shootings of the Union Texas employees, and the massacre of tourists in Luxor, Egypt.

But it is important to draw back and examine the larger picture of terrorism. A high-impact attack on a site may happen at most once a year worldwide and there are millions of sites that are candidates for such attacks. When the chance is one in several million, what, if any, protection do you give to such a site or event? The answer lies in the value of that site and the extent to which it is replaceable or the extent to which its loss could have other ramifications.

Low frequency is not the only issue.

In human terms, the loss of life in a terrorist incident is more likely to be small (ten people or fewer). Thankfully, loss of life in a terrorist attack on the scale of the Twin Towers is rare. And similarly, the risk of death by terrorism for any individual remains low. …

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