Reluctance to accept attack in crowded places within the UK?

28 Nov 2016

The threat posed by anyone intending to cause carnage with a firearm is extremely difficult to predict or plan for. Clearly there is a wider range of people or groups who could potentially use firearms as part of an attack on a crowded place within the UK including people with mental health issues


Recent terrorist attacks within mainland Europe, primarily our neighbour, France have indicated a change in attack methodology.

We in the UK have witnessed the development of small dynamic teams of well-armed and equipped extremists targeting crowded places and inflicting high numbers of causalities including many fatalities in a fairly condensed period of time before any credible and effective response has been mounted by the Police.

Whilst we are all aware of what has taken place and the deadly nature of this type of ‘pop up’ attack, there still appears to be a sort of lethargy or reluctance for organisations and businesses to invest in the development of their capability to respond or react to an attack of this nature within their areas of responsibility.

This short narrative is an extract from a wider paper written by Chris Dickson who is a security consultant working within Covenant and who has conducted a significant amount of project work aligned to emergency incident response planning and training with a diverse range of client groups including local authorities, the education sector and media organisations. The aim of publishing this is to encourage some discussion relating to the subject.

Perceptions of Likelihood

I am of course acutely aware that proportionality must play a key part of balancing out the overall likelihood associated with an active shooter style attack or incident within a crowded place such as a shopping centre, sport or entertainment venue, major transport hub or commercial building. I also acknowledge that, to date, the UK mainland has thankfully not suffered a significant attack by terrorists or extremists (domestic or otherwise) employing firearms as part of their attack methodology.

Whilst we all hopefully accept that an attack of this nature within a crowded place would have the potential to result in many casualties and fatalities and create large-scale fear throughout the UK, we use the risk likelihood ‘yardstick’ to reassure ourselves that it remains highly unlikely.

Interestingly, the government has instructed the Police Service, over the last few years, to invest heavily in the development of their firearms incident management strategies and supporting tactical response capabilities.

The investment in equipment, doctrine and training has resulted in the UK forming a more capable and mission ready armed response aligned to an evolving threat.

This preparation and the substantial investment in training and equipment is clearly based on more than just enthusiastic guess work. The UK Government, and the Police Service are obviously led by credible intelligence provided by the intelligence community and security services. This information is ably supported by a clear assessment of threat and risk involving the examination of the likelihood and potential impact within our communities.

This is a clear indication that the overall evolving ‘future’ risk of a significant firearms style attack within crowded places in the UK has been considered to be much higher than previously thought.

Likelihood is organic!

It is not surprising that those responsible for security and safety within the commercial sector are not readily accepting that the threat and associated risks aligned to an active shooter style attack within their areas of responsibility is something that is evolving and more likely than before.

Unfortunately, the ‘buying in’ to any services such as awareness training or the enhancement of emergency response procedures has always been a challenge. Some of the feedback I have been given for not wanting to invest into or for them to explore planning and training options has included:

  • The likelihood remains very low, as firearms are illegal in the UK!

  • We don’t want to scare our people!

  • Our existing emergency procedures will suffice!

  • We don’t need to prepare, as the police will deal with this!

  • Clearly, it is not advisable for those operating as security and risk specialists to ‘over egg the pudding’ when providing clients with an assessment of risk aligned to their location, processes and people etc. It is however important to include the word ‘evolving’ into our vocabulary when discussing threat and risks aligned to a potential active shooter style attack.

    We may be able to highlight the fact that the threats we refer to are ‘organic’ by their very nature and can change, multiply or spread faster than we are perhaps able to respond to or prepare for.

    The theory I tend to employ is that, if I can explain why this type of attack is evolving and becoming more commonplace then the client may begin to realise that this has the potential to impact on them and their organisation and is therefore to be accepted as credible. To that end I try to highlight:

  • Why organised terror cells and radicalised individuals these may select this as an effective attack option?c
  • Why it is such a difficult attack option to counter within a crowded place?

  • Why the Police will find it a difficult incident to deal with in the short term?

    A professional Duty of Care

    Whilst the risk of terrorists or radicalised individuals using firearms on the streets of London or any other major city or town within the UK was extremely unlikely ten years ago, targeting, planning, resourcing and attack methodology has significantly ‘evolved’ and become a more refined option.

    Today, I would argue, Government agencies aligned to intelligence gathering and state security will have significantly elevated the potential for a person or group to mount such an attack within the UK.

    The mantra that ‘Knowledge Dispels Fear’ is something I try to encourage when providing clients with protective security services. It is better to know and understand what has the potential to impact on us than to disregard or not acknowledge at all. Ignorance is not an excuse at an inquest or enquiry!

    Security specialists working alongside clients clearly have a duty of care to promote threat and risk awareness as part of the services we provide. Yes, proportionality is very important and no, we should not be using fear as a means of promoting our services. We do however have a duty of care towards our clients, the organisations they represent and their people to ensure they have clarity concerning what could present danger to them in the future.

    I have personally found that clients are more willing to explore information on services designed to develop or promote response capability or staff awareness relating to the active shooter threat if it forms part of an assessment of their protective security measures and emergency response plans, management and procedures.

    The good news is that there is a defined sea-change within the commercial sector regarding their willingness to acknowledging the threat aligned to an active shooting style attack happening in the UK.

    We are now finding that, once we have broached this subject with clients during initial phases of protective security work with clients, they are showing a willingness to explore options for making staff more aware, developing response drills and tying this into their emergency response plans and procedures.

    We have recently worked with a number of forward thinking organisations that have been most receptive to enhancing their emergency response procedures by including Active Shooter training and a drill aligned to their dynamic lockdown, in-vacuation and evacuation procedures.

    Perhaps this is the way of progress. It may well be that security specialists can encourage corporate buy in to working towards preparing staff in the event of an attack of this type by introducing it as part of, or a key component of a wider service?


    Clearly, this is a short overview of what is, a fairly complex subject. This short narrative merely highlights that there may well be a reluctance for many individuals, organisations and businesses within the commercial sector in the UK to acknowledge the evolving threat aligned to a shooting style attack on a crowded place or environment as a real possibility.

    Whilst we strive to improve protective security within the various sectors in the UK, we must also be prepared to challenge and influence people’s perceptions of threat and risks relating to their on-going security and safety.

    The responsibility falls upon the people who specialise in the delivery of protective security and risk guidance on behalf of their clients. It surely forms part of our responsibility to ensure we are strive to influence the client’s perceptions of threat and risk using proportionality as our measure alongside realism and an awareness of how today’s threats to our safety and security can evolve quickly.

    It is perhaps time for the commercial sector to invest in measures designed to enhance their protective security alongside making their people aware of the threats and the responses that are designed to provide them with an enhanced capability of surviving such an attack within a crowded place.

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