The ongoing need for traditional security in a modern world

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As London played host to Operation Strong Tower – the major counter-terrorism exercise that was six months in the planning and involved 1000 police officers across the city – and with the country still reeling in shock following tragic events overseas, it is sadly clear that; no matter how much things change in life, some other things will always remain the same.

The threat of terrorism will undoubtedly remain with us. It is a reality of life that has always haunted humanity and always will. 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, and prevention will include diplomatic efforts to address the drivers where they are 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. But there will always be times when an attack is unforeseen because diplomatic and intelligence efforts fail, or simply because, like the recent events at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, some attackers are solitary and cannot be easily identified in advance. In these cases technology will never really present a strong solution.

So while ‘simple’ terrorist techniques will undoubtedly persist, so the ‘simple’ tried and tested security techniques will always have a hugely important role to play in public safety.

The advantage of human (and human/canine) feet-on-the-street security will always be the ability to respond instantly and deploy adequate and measured response 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 is embodied in today’s professional security operative. While the police and security services 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 can’t be expected to be know how to deal with such a shocking event. However, where security is in place – be it at an office block, building site, school, public park, holiday resort or 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 people. But this surely is the fundamental role of security; to imagine what can potentially happen and react to manage the situation if and when it does.

With the threat of terrorism – both organised and rogue – persisting and set to persist, and with budgetary cuts to policing, 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 is also an expectation from clients to get more value for money and service from their suppliers. The security industry has risen to meet this expectation and as a result the relationship between supplier and client is an increasingly strong and mutually rewarding one. But what about in the public realm? 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 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 20 years, so in the event of an extreme and unforeseen event, such as a terrorist attack, it is only to be expected that people caught up in the event should expect leadership from probably the only people in the vicinity qualified in how to react and respond. It is an expectation the security industry should also rise to.

As published in Risk UK

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