Envoys learn of new threat at security seminar

This is an archived article. From 1 April 2015 the Diplomatic Protection Group merged with the Palace of Westminster to form Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP).

David Varney

Envoys learn of new threat at security seminar

David Varney of the newly-formed Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection (PaDP) gives an overview of this year’s Diplomatic Protection Seminar, in the first of a series of security columns for Embassy.

This year saw the first ever seminar under the banner of the new ‘Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection’ (PaDP), held at the Counter Terror Expo (CTX). On 1 April this year the Diplomatic Protection Group (DPG) merged with the previously named ‘Palace of Westminster’ that is responsible for policing and security at the House of Commons and House of Lords.

Business as usual
With the Diplomatic Protection Group (DPG) coming to an end after 41 years, the delegates at the seminar were pleased to hear that in terms of their protection, it will be business as usual and that the name change is just part of internal change programs within the Metropolitan Police Service.

My role as a security adviser to the diplomatic community has not yet changed, so I was able to organise our annual diplomatic seminar where we provide the diplomatic community with the most current and informative presentations that will assist in keeping diplomats safe while working and living in London.

Changing threat – new terrorist methodology
Presentations focused on the current threat from terrorism (the threat level increased to ‘severe’ last year, meaning an attack is highly likely).

The presentation looked at new threats and the changing methodology that has been borne out of recent ‘Islamic State’ (IS) ideology, which appears to have made terrorist attacks more ‘personal’.

There has been a shift from large-scale spectacular attacks that were planned in detail and inspired by Al Qaida, whose aim was to cause mass casualties, to individuals or ‘lone actors’ armed with just a mobile phone and a bladed weapon.

These attacks are more gruesome and have attracted media attention. IS uses this inspire a new breed of terrorist to commit similar acts as the methodology is easy to copy.

Change in attitudes towards security
This change in threat has meant that diplomatic protection officers have adapted. We now have a sense that these attacks could happen anywhere, at anytime. Whether an attack is directed towards diplomats or not, they could be caught up in it and this is changing the mindset of diplomatic missions too.

With large-scale attacks, there was sometimes an attitude of ‘it won’t happen to me’, or ‘there’s little I could do to prevent that’. But this ‘low-tech’ and sometimes spontaneous approach has made us more aware that it could happen to us (in fact two ambassadors have already been targeted, in Denmark and in Seoul). This shift in attitude has prompted diplomats to take their security more seriously.

Responding to ‘active shooters’
The next presentation explained how to respond to an attack by an ‘Active Shooter’ – a term used by our US counterparts to identify individuals and groups that engage in mass killing by utilising various weapons and firearms.

Such a style of attack was brought to prominence by terrorists in 2008 that attacked various commercial and tourist targets in Mumbai, but has since been used as a method of attack by other groups, including those that attacked the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi and more recently, the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

If such an incident was to occur in your building, what would your actions be? What would you do and do you know if your staff would be prepared? The presentation featured a ‘Stay Safe’ video, which outlined some basic steps to follow and some lessons in how to prepare for such an incident.

Contingency plans
While such an attack is rare, planning and preparing for an emergency situation is essential. By developing your contingency plans, you increase the chances of you and your staff staying safe by mitigating against identified risks and possible threats.

Part of being prepared is developing your business continuity plan and the final presentation outlined this in very simple terms; ‘planning for tomorrow, today’.

Business continuity is not just about dealing with a terrorist attack, it could also mean dealing with a loss of staff through illness, or a loss of power or the interruption of supply chains for equipment. In preparing for these issues, you will have a structure in place to deal with a more serious incident.

Security advice
As security advisers to the diplomatic community in London, our security liaison unit can assist you in staying safe. We can provide you with a security survey of your site, assist with contingency planning as well as attend your mission and give further presentations on various aspects of security and safety.

We hope the diplomats and staff that attended the seminar came away more informed and motivated to review their existing security. As long as our own internal changes don’t affect the way we work too much, we look forward to seeing you again next year (see info box on the opposite page for contacts).