I noticed this week that the last fugitive of a cult who planned and carried out the Sarin gas attack in 1995 on the Tokyo underground has been captured. Katsuya Takahashi, a member of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, had been on the run since the attack which killed 13 people and injured 6,000. When we look at the news, we normally associate bombs with Islamic terrorists and Al Qaeda and look at the international dimensions of terrorist attacks. It is easy to forget that across the world there is a long catalogue of home grown terrorists who carry out attacks for their own personal ideological reasons.
The attacks in Norway by Anders Breivik show that a single, extreme right wing terrorist can have the same impact and cause as much death and destruction as Al Qaeda. In 1999 David Copeland, a Neo-Nazi, set off a number of nail bombs in pubs across London targeting the black, Bangladeshi and gay communities. He killed 3 people and injured 129, four of whom lost limbs. Similarly, the Oklahoma bomb in 1995 claimed 168 lives, including 19 children under the age of 6, and injured more than 680 people. It was carried out by a group who had a grudge against the US federal authorities.
The Security Services of all countries are working hard to detect and deter terrorism but it is very difficult to identify small groups with no external links wanting to carry out attacks. What should we, as business continuity people, have in place to deal with potential terrorist attacks?
- Staff who open mail should have training to detect letter bombs and ‘nasty’s’ placed in the mail. Glass, needles and syringes have all been sent in the post to try and injure the recipient. It is often the mail room staff or PA who get injured by these attacks rather than the intended recipient. If possible, and when the volume of mail or the threat justifies it, all mail should be x-rayed.
- You and your staff should know how to react to bomb threats as these can cause massive disruption to organisations. It is advisable to be aware that threats can be phoned in for trivial reasons as the person would like to be evacuated so they can sit outside on a sunny day.
- You should check with your local police to ensure you are complying with planning distances in the event of an evacuation. For a small rucksack-sized bomb this can be 50m and for a large vehicle bomb this can be as much as 400-500m. In an urban environment this is a considerable distance and is most likely to be a long way from your fire evacuation point. Discussions should be had with the police in advance to decide on a suitable evacuation point for your building. In the event of a bomb in an urban area, it can sometimes be safer to implement an invacuation, where you go into the core of your building, which can often be safer than putting large number of staff on the streets where they could be caught by a secondary device.
- The IRA London bombings in the 1990s were designed to cause maximum impact on businesses. Although there was massive damage to the areas surrounding the bomb, the damage was not over a wider area. On the other hand, a dirty bomb (bomb containing radioactive material) may not cause massive damage, but may render a large area of a city uninhabitable for several years. This is one more threat we have to be aware of!