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Donkin on Work

July 2005 – Security awareness training for employees

For a few minutes last week on the day of the bomb attacks on London I felt a sense of relief that I was working from home and had no pressing need to be in the capital.

Most Thursdays I am travelling around on the tube to various appointments that I make in order to stay in touch with the people whose work informs these columns. But this day my diary was clear.

The relief could have turned to smugness or a self-centred belief that home working is one answer to the terrorist bomb. We cannot be harmed if we retreat to our personal castles. Instead I thought the opposite. I missed the solidarity that arises in shared adversity. You cannot stand up and be counted if you are working in your home retreat.

All those company e-mails about safety procedures, transport problems and the state of alert mean nothing when your greatest personal concern is the need to run to the shop for some printer ink.

Londoners, meanwhile, had discovered something worth preserving – a determination to stand together. Rarely can a city have experienced such a shift from celebration to mourning. The Olympic confetti still littered the ground as explosions rocked the streets. Within minutes we were witnessing something in which the UK can take great pride: the efficiency and expertise of the emergency services.

Some countries are known for the quality of their cheeses, their oil supplies or their ship-building. The British are good at emergencies. So good, in fact, that UK security skills have become a significant overseas export.

The lesson had been underlined to me a week earlier in a visit to a private training facility that is channelling UK security expertise to markets all over the world. Alan Hatcher, the founder of The International School for Security and Explosives Education (ISSEE)* based in Tidworth, Wiltshire, has developed a business selling a growing range of security training in a market that has grown significantly since the destruction of the World Trade Centre in 2001. Co-incidentally it ran its first course on aviation security on September 12 that same year.

Mr Hatcher has one of those CVs that you could not make up. It charts his rise through the ranks of the army before making a rare inter-services transfer to the RAF to work in bomb disposal that gave him a comprehensive knowledge of explosives. While studying for an MBA at Henley Management College five years ago, he identified a need for training in specialist bomb disposal-techniques among companies and organisations engaged in mine and ordnance clearance.

“You would be surprised what there is in the UK alone. It is not unusual to find on a museum shelf a grenade or a Napoleonic cannon ball that still contains explosive material,” he says. So much buried or discarded ordnance remains, particularly from World War II, that the business runs courses for archaeologists should their scrapings uncover an unstable grenade or bomb.

Beyond the UK the worldwide market for landmine clearance is vast with some estimates suggesting there are upwards of 100m active landmines around the world. Cambodia alone still has about more than 4m mines responsible for some 10,000 injuries and deaths every year.

Before the formation of ISSEE, says Mr Hatcher, most of the academic training within the UK covering security and explosives issues could only be obtained as components of military or police training. Today the Tidworth-based centre, shortly to transfer operations to the former munitions site, RAF Chilmark, is providing academically accredited courses to military, civil and corporate clients in different parts of the world, including China where ISSEE experts have advised the Ministry of Public Security.

Some of the company’s most popular courses that have become worryingly relevant are aimed at helping people deal with a security incident involving a hoax bomb or the threat from an improvised explosive device. To ensure that the more detailed advice gets in to the right hands course attendees are subjected to security vetting.

“It is important that security personel are aware of terrorist techniques. When the Bali bomb was triggered there was an initial explosion designed to cause panic and drive people in to the street where a secondary device was waiting to be exploded,” says Mr Hatcher.

“The potential for a terrorist bomb may need some revision of evacuation procedures. In fire alerts staff are sometimes guided to the stairwell but supposing a suspect package has been planted near the stairs? What then? There are still people out there who think the best way to deal with a device is to put it in bucket of water. Companies owe it to their employees to ensure they have the security staff who are competent to deal with such situations.”

Mr Hatcher believes that some governments are focusing too heavily on technology investment when they should be encouraging greater investment in security awareness across the workplace and in public places. “Since 9/11 the US has spent billions of dollars on upgrading security equipment. A lot of that money would have been better spent training people and in less technical responses,” he says.

“Flight attendants are trained to recognise passengers who may be troublemakers. Similar training could be extended to staff at underground stations to make them aware of suspicious individuals.

“Other investment could be channelled in to the training of search dogs to detect explosives. It is amazing what dogs can do. Too often, however, we are using high tech solutions for a low tech problem. The terrorists are not using high tech equipment.”

Most of the ISSEE training is supplied by accredited consultants who can be called in to run courses on demand ranging from the knowledge needed to guard a door to the specialist skills required to recognise and disarm an improvised bomb.

The bombs in Madrid and London have demonstrated that the days when companies could trade in blissful ignorance of security concerns beyond that of the fire drill are over.

The need now among employers is to ensure they have sufficient security awareness without panicking themselves in to creating a corporate fortress. “Every single employee could be given rudimentary awareness training. It is not enough to ask people to report suspicious packages to their supervisor,” says Mr Hatcher. “What is suspicious?”

In the long term more companies might seek to review their staffing policies to determine how necessary it is that some staff are in the workplace. If some work could be undertaken just as easily outside a city centre, employees should be given a degree of discretion over their choice of workplace.

Looking through my diary I am beginning to revise my own working arrangements, pairing down the time I spend in London and clustering appointments on certain days.

This has less to do with security and more about making better use of my time. If it also provides a little bit extra peace of mind, then that’s a bonus.


©2006 Richard Donkin - all rights reserved