Advice to employees caught up in a terrorist attack

Following the latest Paris attacks, the need to plan for the possibility of a marauding firearms attack by terrorists has been rammed home to those responsible for public safety. The police and the CT authorities bear a significant responsibility in such a scenario and they are already actively planning and rehearsing for such attacks. But those responsible for employee safety, especially in big buildings or campuses in large cities, also need to consider what they should do to ensure the safety of those within their care.

The National Police Chief’s Council has taken the unusual step of releasing a video advising citizens what to do in the event of an armed terrorist attack in a public place. The four minute video called ‘Run, Hide, Tell’, advises what to do in the event that you are caught up in a firearms and weapons attack, and advises that you should first of all run if you can, if not then hide and tell someone what is happening to you.

Specifically they advise:

  • RUN to a place of safety. This is a far better option than to surrender or negotiate. If there’s nowhere to go, then…
  • HIDE. It’s better to hide than to confront. Remember to turn your phone to silent and turn off vibrate. Barricade yourself in if you can. Then finally and only when it is safe to do so…
  • TELL the police by calling 999

I want to consider what steps employers can take in advance to improve the safety of their team during an attack on a crowded or public place. Since the Paris attacks, almost every client that I talk to mentions the issue and they have one concern above all else. That is to be able to know where their employees are in the field at all times and to be able to contact them to check if they are safe and need help.

I have talked to a global media organisation, a City based financial intelligence agency and a US investment fund in recent weeks. All three had staff in Paris at the time of the attacks and were thrown into a panic by not being able to contact them with the mobile phone networks under severe strain.

Of course, social media can come into its own in such situations. Moments after the news broke about the attacks, Facebook activated its Safety Check feature for Parisians to reassure friends and family that they were safe. The system, first used earlier this year during the Nepal earthquake, targets users it knows to be in or around the affected area and asks them to check-in and confirm that they are safe.

Whilst Facebook Safety Check can be a fast and effective way to reassure family and friends you are safe, and is ideal in a natural disaster scenario, there are some issues with it for work use. Many people see Facebook as a place for family and friends, rather than work, and will not want work colleagues to access and view their pages, so they may well resist signing-up for the app. Another, more serious, issue is the problem with identifying your physical location on social media during a terrorist attack where there are armed insurgents looking for victims to shoot. There may be privacy settings in place, limiting the post to your own contacts, but you could be potentially broadcasting your location in a public arena. Once you have told dozens, or even hundreds, of people where you are, you have lost control over what they do with that information. Some of them may well pass it to others, including the mainstream broadcast media to use as part of the developing story.

A more appropriate workplace tool would be one of a number of emergency mass notification mobile apps that is on the market. These apps provide a secure private network that can track an employee’s location using GPS and receive a message from them using a combination of e-mail, SMS and push notification. This vastly increases the certainty that a message will get through, even if the mobile network has crashed. If they are not getting in contact themselves, then a message can be sent to them, which they must acknowledge if they can. All of these functions should still work if the mobile phone has been turned to silent and no vibrate, as the NPCC suggests.

Richard Barnes
Consultant – Crises Control
Former Deputy Chair Metropolitan Police Authority and Chair of the London Resilience Forum

The full version of this article has been published in the Spring issue of City Security Magazine.