Risk UK Comment: Terror hoaxes present significant continuity issues

Posted On 23 Jul 2013
Comment: Off

Threats to business continuity come in many forms, and whilst not all terror hoaxes are intentional, the disruption they can cause still affects the supply chain for a large number of businesses and organisations. In the 1970s, the terror campaign by the Provisional IRA against mainland Britain was in full swing. For every real attack, whether successful or thwarted by the security services, there would be dozens, maybe even hundreds, of hoaxes. So common were false claims of bombs that the term ‘hoax’ crept into common usage as a description of any suspicious incident that turned out to be a false alarm. If a bag was left on a train, it was referred to as a ‘hoax’. This wasn’t to imply that someone had left it with the intention of bringing the location to a standstill. It simply became an understood part of everyday language. Schools suffered a high degree of hoaxes. These were generally people telephoning with a claim that a device had been planted. These calls rarely used known codewords or procedures. That’s because whoever was making them didn’t understand the background to terror threats. Typically, the calls came on a sunny day, and resulted in the school being closed for the afternoon. The calls inevitably came as the lunch break was ending, and I don’t remember one ever happening when it was raining! Aside from those who simply exploited the political situation back then to have an afternoon playing football in the park, the business of terror hoaxes is a complex one. It is true that some hoaxes are perpetrated by parties who have no involvement with” or even support for” the actual terror groups. However, evidence shows that many hoaxes are carried out by the terror groups themselves. This is a significant consideration, in two ways. The first is the impact that hoaxes can have on those who are at the threatened site. Initial hoaxes cause unease, fear and panic. They create an atmosphere of uncertainty, and that in itself can affect productivity. However, as the hoaxes continue, the uncertainty also begins to turn to part complacency. This is part of the thinking behind hoaxes, as the target in question starts to become less alert to potential dangers. For those intent on creating terror, this is a softening of a target that can be exploited. It can also serve to distract those fighting terror, who may switch their focus as a result of the hoaxes. The second significant issue is that hoaxes do affect businesses and orgnisations. Buildings need to be evacuated, roads are closed, infrastructure is shut down or overloaded, tranportation links are closed, etc.. The impact on organisations and the authorities is significant, and often the problems can be exasperated if the hoaxes are high profile and attract copycat incidents. Recent hoaxes in Manchester, which led to a man being arrested for three offences, followed on from the controlled explosion of a suspect item” which turned out to be a laptop” in the city. One of the hoaxes led to thousands of people being evacuated, and a police cordon being established for over eight hours. More recently, a hoax in Paris hit the headlines as the Eiffel Tower was closed and searched. France is in a high state of alert due to threats made against it because of its involvement in Mali. The UK has also supplied support to troops fighting Al-Qaeda-linked militants. The point that must be understood is that hoaxes” whether intentional attempts to spread unease by terror groups or those sympathetic with their aims, or those that are simply the act of attention-seeking malicious individuals” do have an impact on businesses and organisations. Continuity planning must include provision for both real attacks and hoaxes too. By their very nature, terror threats not only affect the targets, but also businesses and organisations around them, and indeed those that rely on those companies as well!

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.