Terrorism advice

In the wake of the Manchester attack (a phrase which has already been used all too often already this week), the UK Government has advised businesses to review their security and preparedness for a terrorist attack. Given that the threat level is “critical”, meaning “an attack is imminent”, it’s perhaps not a bad idea.

Their advice stretches to well over 10,000 words, and while I certainly haven’t read it all, contains some really interesting things.

Stuff like what to expect if you are caught up in a terrorist incident to which armed police are deployed:


  • Point guns at you
  • Treat you firmly
  • Question you
  • Be unable to distinguish you from the attacker

…which is actually perfectly reasonable, but is worth knowing before you actually may need to know it.

And the HOT protocol to recognise a suspect package:

The HOT protocol may be used to inform your judgement:-


  • Has the item been deliberately concealed or is it obviously hidden from view?

OBVIOUSLY suspicious?

  • Does it have wires, circuit boards, batteries, tape, liquids or putty-like substances visible?
  • Do you think the item poses an immediate threat to life?

TYPICAL Is the item typical of what you would expect to find in this location?

  • Most lost property is found in locations where people congregate. Ask if anyone has left the item.

Again, common sense when you think about it. But… had you ever thought about it?

There’s stuff on what to do if there is a VBIED (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices) or a VAAW (Vehicle As A Weapon) attack (like the Westminster Bridge incident earlier this year).
These can be mitigated by deployment of measures such as Hostile Vehicle Mitigation (HVM) and Vehicle Security Barriers (VSBs).

There’s also section 15.10, which I reproduce here:

15.10 Vulnerable/Dangerous loads

Operators should alert drivers to vulnerable loads or high-consequence dangerous goods and issue them with a vulnerable load/high-consequence dangerous goods card for these loads.

  • If a vehicle is stopped by uniformed officers in a marked police vehicle or Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) officers, drivers should display the card and follow the instructions on the reverse of the card to verify the identity of officers from the police and DVSA.
  • During security alerts, operators and drivers should follow the advice given to them by their local police force. (Keep up to date using news media, the MI5 website and relevant associations).

These are defined as “goods which have the potential for misuse in a terrorist event. As a result, severe consequences might ensue: mass casualties, mass destruction or mass socio-economic disruption.”
But… verification of identity of officers? The MI5 website?
Wow. It’s all very James Bond, isn’t it? (And yes, I know he works for MI6.)

We once accidently stumbled across such a convoy, leaving Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. The first indication that something was going on was the presence of several gentlemen carrying scary looking sub-machine guns, standing next to a number of black BMW cars parked at junctions in the countryside just north of Cape Town.

None of them pointed their guns at us, questioned us or treated us firmly though, so we continued, passing a convoy of what were presumably high-consequence dangerous goods as went on our way.

People not reading

Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries.

Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, 2007

(Actually, that line doesn’t quite work here, but I trust you’ll get the gist.)

After the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, there was (even more) outrage at the apparent and alleged disproportionate coverage given to those attacks in the media, compared with that given to similar atrocities in other parts of the world – Beirut and Baghdad the other parts of the world in question on that occasion.

At the time, I suggested:

On that, perhaps stop watching Western media, in much the same way that I stopped watching ‘Look North’ when I got fed up just hearing what was happening in Leeds. I’m quite sure that Iraqi, Lebanese and Middle Eastern media generally have disproportionate reporting as well. Go watch them for some of the time. But honestly, don’t watch Western TV news and use Western-based social media the day after the biggest attack on France since World War 2 and expect to hear about much else.

And I stand by that.

But then after more attacks in Istanbul, Brussels and Lahore over the last few days, the situation has raised its ugly head again, adding further insult to already galling injury and wholly unnecessary death. I was rather surprised to hear that people felt that way about the Istanbul attacks – I thought that they were well covered in the Western media. I’m less able to comment of the media coverage of the events in Lahore, as I was away with no TV, no radio and I was only accessing the internet sporadically (and with that sort of cheery news waiting for you when you do go online, who would?). But then this morning, I saw this piece from “Social & New Formats Editor for the Guardian” (woo!), Martin Belam. He argues that some coverage of events like Lahore is there, it’s just that people choose not to read it:

It’s undoubtedly true that there is less coverage, but it is also regretfully true that there seems to be less of an audience.

Why? He laments and hypothesises:

I find it a bit depressing really, but unsurprising.

It’s harder to get mainstream reader empathy and interest in terrorism attacks that occur further from our shores. Many, many of our readers will have visited Brussels or Paris. Far fewer will have ever ventured to Pakistan.

For most of the UK’s population, Europe’s capitals are much closer culturally and logistically.

Not. Rocket. Science.

Yes, we should be (and, I’d argue, we are) outraged and disgusted by innocent lives being taken in these sort of despicable acts, wherever they may occur, but I am also unsurprised by the fact that we appear to “care” more about events closer to home. I’d wager that the same situation (albeit obviously reversed) exists in Pakistan and their media coverage and public interest in the attacks in Lahore and Brussels.

Sure, it would be “nice”, if we were to care equally about all of these horrible incidents, but it’s simply human nature to empathise more with those we feel are closer to us, for whatever reason and to whatever degree.
For the most part we’re not ignoring what’s happening elsewhere – and actually, nor are the “Lamestream” “Western” media – it just seems less relevant to us in the same way that we might pay less attention to stuff happening in Windhoek than in Cape Town.

I don’t think we should beat ourselves up or allow ourselves to be shamed by certain self-righteous individuals on Facebook (you all know who they are on your timeline) over feeling this way.