What does the increase to the UK Terrorism Threat Level mean for the rest of us?

09 September 2014

On August 30, 2014 the United Kingdom (UK) announced an increase to its terrorism threat level to ‘SEVERE’.  This is their second highest threat level, and means there is no specific threat of a terrorist attack but by definition ‘it is likely to occur’. 

The United States, Australia and other Western countries are yet to increase their threat levels, as most countries have fewer levels than the UK. Yet governments around the world believe that the current terrorist threat is real, active and growing. But why, and what does it mean for those in the private sector, especially critical infrastructure organisations?

The sophistication of ISIL, born out of the power vacuum throughout the Middle East and North America has governments increasingly worried. The call to arms emanating out of Iraq, demanding an Islamic State is drawing middle class, well-educated young people from around the world. They are being trained in everything from bomb making to executions and perhaps, what is most concerning, many of them fight and die with the full support and blessing of their parents and families back at home in nations such as the US, Canada, UK and Australia. 

These trained and battle hardened insurgents / terrorists / extremists / Islamic fundamentalists (whatever you want to call them) are currently causing massive security concerns for countries such as Egypt. Egyptian security forces are currently facing a massive increase in the number and size of terrorist attacks, conducted by Egyptians who have learned their craft in Syria and Iraq and have been deployed back to their home countries by ISIL, with the ultimate aim of bringing about the collapse of Egypt's secular regime. 

Western countries are now faced with a growing number of citizens trying to get into Syria and Iraq to be part of ISIL and then trying to return home, trained and indoctrinated, which is troubling to say the least. 

In 2003, whilst serving at an Australian Counter Terrorism unit, I wrote my Master’s Thesis on how the international community could respond to suicide terrorism. My conclusion was that those who chose to become suicide terrorists felt they had no other option in life. Poverty, oppression and no hope for the future led them towards believing that martyrdom and all the promises that come with it, was the only way to feel their life had meaning. I pointed to examples of how the families of martyrs were given money, houses and an education. My recommendation was to focus on reducing poverty and increasing a sense of empowerment for the “at-risk” nations and communities. My thesis is now woefully out of date.

The Al Qaeda threat in the post 9/11 world was infinitely easier for Western Governments to counter, for the simple reason that very few Western citizens felt compelled to join up. Now it is different. The numbers of real and wannabe ISIL members from the West are significant and growing. 

For businesses terrorism was a big deal in the post 9/11 world. Businesses were scared into action, in part because 9/11 didn't hit governments; it hit the employees of businesses. But as time has gone by, mitigating a potential terrorist attack - even for critical infrastructure organisations - has become less of a priority. This is understandable. Security and Risk Managers, like every other line manager, have had to fight for budget in a difficult economic climate. But it is time to dust those plans off and, without going over board, ensure that your business is resilient in the face of this modern threat from home grown, but battle hardened terrorism. 

Some questions to ask, within your organisation include:

1. If the government of countries where we have operations increases its terrorism threat level, what does it mean for us?

2. Where are the vulnerabilities within our organisation?

3. Is there anything we can do, in a practical and measured way, to better mitigate the risk of an attack?

4. If there is an attack in the general area of our operations, how can we ensure business continuity?

5. Are our business resilience systems built on an all hazards approach? For example: An attack may not cause damage to your business, but it could cut your water supply for a considerable period or scare your customers away from shopping.

Let's not run around like Chicken Little claiming that the sky is going to fall. That would be disproportional to the current threat. But this is real. It is real for the likes of Australia, Canada, America and the UK and it needs to be taken seriously... in a business resilience sense. 

- Anthony Moorhouse, Founder and CEO, Dynamiq

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