As London played host to Operation Strong Tower – the major counter-terrorism exercise that was six months in the planning and involved 1,000 police officers across the city – and with the country still reeling in shock following tragic events overseas, it’s clear that no matter how much things change in life, some other elements of it will always remain the same. David Ward evaluates the role of traditional security in a modern world.
The threat of terrorism will undoubtedly remain with us. It’s a reality of life that has always haunted humanity and shall continue to do so. Regardless of attempts to tackle the individual underlying drivers for terrorist activity, it can never be eradicated as a technique.
Of course, prevention should always be the primary thrust of addressing the ongoing threat of terrorism. That prevention will include diplomatic efforts to address the drivers where they’re known, as well as acting on intelligence gathered to stop any planned attacks. These are the areas in which technology and other advances can be brought to bear to great effect.
That said, there will always be times when an attack is unforeseen because diplomatic and intelligence efforts fail or simply because, as has been the case with recent events at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, some attackers are solitary and cannot be easily identified in advance. In such instances it’s fair to say that technology will never really present a strong solution.
While ‘simple’ terrorist techniques will undoubtedly persist, then, it follows that the ‘simple’ tried-and-tested security techniques will always have a hugely important role to play in public safety.
Human security: the advantages
The advantage of human (and human/canine) ‘feet-on-the-street’-style security will always be the ability to respond instantly and deploy adequate and measured responses to any incident, be it low level nuisance crime or something more serious.
The process of judgement is key, but so is the preparation, training and experience that’s embodied in today’s professional security operative. While the police and the Security Service conduct Operation Strong Tower to test their preparedness and response, so private security companies should always ensure they have an awareness of their own preparedness and response should the unforeseen happen and a major incident present itself on their watch.
One of the contributory problems emerging from events in Tunisia was the lack of information presented to people caught up in the attack and shortly afterwards. Nobody can be blamed for this or the ensuing confusion. After all, hotel staff and people working at the resort are there to look after guests and cannot be expected to know how to deal with such a shocking event. However, where security is in place – be it at an office block, on a building site, inside a school, at a public park, a holiday resort or in a shopping centre – it will have a vital role to play in helping to advise people caught up in unexpected events, pointing them to exits if needed and generally managing what would be an unimaginable and unmanageable situation for most.
This surely is the fundamental role of security. In other words, to imagine what can potentially happen and react to manage the situation if and when it does.
Traditional security and public safety
With the threat of terrorism – both organised and rogue – persisting and set to persist, and with budgetary cuts to policing still continuing, can we expect to see a growing place for traditional security in public safety? Perhaps it would be better to ask: ‘Will people expect more from traditional security?’
For many years now, commercial clients have come to expect more from security. This is partly due to the evolving offer and range of technologies and services brought to the table by security companies, but it’s also due to an expectation from clients around greater value for money and service from their suppliers.
The security sector has risen to meet this expectation and, as a result, the relationship between supplier and client is an increasingly strong and mutually rewarding one.
What about in the public realm, though? What expectations should the security industry expect?
Professionalism undoubtedly, but perhaps we should not be surprised to see a growing expectation that private security steps forward when needed and takes control in the most dramatic of situations.
Police visibility on the street has reduced with the loss of nearly 17,000 police officers and approximately 22,000 police support staff over the past four years. The number of police officers per head of population is now lower than at any time in the last two decades, in fact. Should an extreme and unforeseen event occur – a terrorist attack, for instance – it’s only fair that people caught up in that event should expect leadership from probably the only people in the vicinity qualified in how to react and respond.
It’s an expectation that the security sector should – and, indeed, must – meet with assuredness.
David Ward is Managing Director of Ward Security