Lessons learned from the Paris terror attacks

Nov. 20, 2015
Experts discuss implications of the attacks on enterprise risk, stadium security plans

While France and the rest of the world is still reeling from last week’s terror attacks in Paris that claimed the lives of 129 people, the days that have followed have done little to calm the nerves or alleviate the security concerns of people throughout Europe or the U.S. From the manhunt and multiple raids conducted across France and Belgium in search of the suspected mastermind behind the attacks to the two Paris-bound flights in the U.S. being diverted because of reported bomb threats, Western nations are on edge. But while the fear and tension created by the massacre and its ensuing aftermath are likely to fade in the coming weeks, the attacks will likely have a significant impact on the security industry moving forward across several vertical markets.  

According to John Rose, COO of risk management services firm iJET, while the Paris attacks are obviously not on the same scale as 9/11, if you look them both in terms of being pre-planned, executed acts of terror by a known entity, the widespread nature of the Paris attacks is unparalleled.

“Sept. 11 was horrific, but immediately afterwards there were no subsequent events. There were no raids where they were finding other suicide bombers, there were no other stadiums being evacuated which happened in Germany this week and there were no flights being diverted because of bomb threats. This is unprecedented,” said Rose. “Then you take into account the widespread police actions going on in Germany, Belgium and, of course, France, the (risk) landscape has changed. It appears there is a much broader (terror) network, a much older network here because in recent history, after an attack on a Western country, there is a lull before a group can regroup and make some other type of attack.”    

Protecting Personnel and Assets Globally  

One thing that Rose said these attacks have certainly demonstrated is the criticality of communication between institutions and their employees.

“You absolutely, without question, have to be able to immediately communicate with all of your people,” he said. “We saw it this weekend again, during every single event like this there are institutions running around that don’t know where their people are because they can’t track them or they have no form of communication with the individuals because they don’t have their mobile phone numbers or they don’t have email addresses that they can check because not everybody checks all of their email. They have a primary and you need to know what that is.”

Rose said that many businesses and institutions do not do a good enough job of conducting tabletop exercises and practicing for events like this. Despite the fact nearly everyone holds fire drills, Rose said hardly anyone practices for a terror attack, either directly in terms of instructing people what to do if they are present during an actual shooting or bombing or indirectly with regards to training employees on what they should do if an event occurs within the vicinity of where they are working or living.

“The odds of you having an employee impacted by an event are higher than you having a building fire, not necessarily being caught up in a terrorist event in which they are being shot at, but what I’m saying is you’re going to have someone who is impact because of this,” he said. “What is your drill? You need a drill that says, ‘Here are our protocols, here is who gets woken up, this where the reports come from, this is what we know,’ so that everyone can be communicated with quickly.”  

In addition, Rose said these attacks have also shown the need for organizations to have actionable intelligence at their fingertips to be able to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the credibility of threats and to also gauge whether or not they want to operate in a certain part of the world.

“I want to know what is the real threat, how do I mitigate against that threat and is that something that is cost-effective for us to do or do we decide not to go or expand in a certain area because the security we need to put in place is not cost-effective,” added Rose. “We all know companies can do business anywhere. There are companies doing business in Iraq and Afghanistan - some of the scariest places in the world from a security standpoint - companies can do business there with the right level of protection, but not everybody wants to spend that type or money or take that type of risk. I’m not saying to do business in Paris you need protection like you do in Kabul, but you may want to look at very different footprints of what you do there just from how travelers act, what you allow them to do when they are on their off time because if you look at most of these event, they’re not happening at peak rush hour on a Tuesday, this was a Friday night, leisure time.”

Making Stadiums a Harder Target

The Paris attacks have also shined a spotlight on the vulnerabilities of so-called “soft targets,” which are essentially places with easy ingress and egress and have limited security measures in place.  Among these soft targets are sports stadiums. Although only one person was killed when a bomber blew himself up outside the Stade de France stadium in Paris where a soccer match was taking place between Germany and France during last week’s attacks, it is widely believed that the stadium was the location where the terrorists intended to cause their greatest amount of carnage. In fact, according to an article published by the Wall Street Journal, a suicide bomber who had a ticket to the game was blocked by authorities from entering the stadium after his explosives vest was discovered while he was being searched at the stadium’s entrance. According to Dr. Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi, this is a testament to just how well-trained and prepared security staff at the venue were.        

In the U.S. since 9/11, Marciani said that a lot of effort has gone into training both law enforcement officers and stadium security personnel for this exact type of scenario.

“A lot of work has been done by the Department of Homeland Security, state homeland security agencies and the (professional sports) leagues to develop best practices, train people well and exercise plans. We really are doing things right, it is now just a matter of implementing that and continuing to do what we’ve always done. We might have to, at certain times based on threat levels, add different layers of support to the environment,” explained Marciani. “I think what we learned from this incident, which is a little bit different from what we’re used to in that it was a multiple site attack, which means movement towards softer targets so you have to increase resources to manage those events, but that’s the big takeaway thus far.”

Despite the threat posed by terrorist attacks and the inconvenience of increased security measures, Marciani believes people will continue to show up for games in the same numbers they always have.

“I think people have confidence like they do when they fly. We have worked hard to have a balance between the fan experience with safety and security, so I would think that fans are comfortable,” he added.

Marciani believes that improving security at stadiums starts with increased vigilance not just on the part of security personnel, but everyone who works or attends an event at a venue.

“I think the forerunner of planning or anything else is vigilance and we’ve done a good job with that. Every spectator that comes to a game today is really a first responder and that’s important,” said Marciani. “As we go forward, we can’t separate people, processes and technology and I think as technology evolves, maybe we can even do a better job because we’ll have capabilities that we don’t have today.”

In addition, Marciani said it’s important that stadium security plans continue to evolve and adapt with the changing threats to make them harder targets moving forward. Marciani is also a big proponent of pushing parking lots further and further out from venues to reduce the risk of vehicle-borne explosives.

“We keep improving our comprehensive security and emergency response plans, working with local agencies – law enforcement and public safety – to ensure we are prepared to respond to the issues that face us,” he said. “From vapor wake dogs to checking for IEDs and bomb response, all of those plans are critical to making sure we have plans, we practice the plans and are ready to assist and aid in that seamless environment for fans.” 

About the Author

Joel Griffin | Editor-in-Chief, SecurityInfoWatch.com

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of SecurityInfoWatch.com, a business-to-business news website published by Endeavor Business Media that covers all aspects of the physical security industry. Joel has covered the security industry since May 2008 when he first joined the site as assistant editor. Prior to SecurityInfoWatch, Joel worked as a staff reporter for two years at the Newton Citizen, a daily newspaper located in the suburban Atlanta city of Covington, Ga.