//Are BIDs geared-up to manage counter terrorism?
Updated: Mar 24
Communication channels between security agencies and businesses are inadequate and in times of crisis they are vital. Can Business Improvement Districts be relied upon to bridge that gap during, or in the immediate aftermath, of an attack? By Ben Stephenson, BAS Consultancy.
Systems of real-time information dissemination between the police and business are intermittent, overlapping and confusing. In London in times of crisis, the most trusted source of intelligence is the Met's Twitter account.
But as we saw in November 2017 when Oxford Street Christmas shoppers were caught up in a panic after a commuter mistakenly reported that they'd heard a gunshot on the tube platform, Twitter is as effective at spreading misinformation as fact. Additionally, on that occasion those that relied on the BBC news website would have found that the channel was reporting the gunshot rumour for some time after the police had declared the all-clear.
Businesses nearby need to know what's going on to implement their emergency plans. They also need advice and training to prepare for such incidents. So where do businesses in the vicinity of an unfolding incident go for reliable information?
Sources of info geared specifically towards businesses, such as Cross Sector Security Communications (CSSC), the National Business Crime Centre (NBCC), the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) are all good, but information is released at different times and messages can be inconsistent or insufficiently targeted.
In terms of outreach, Project Argus, Project Servator, Action Counters Terrorism (ACT), Business Crime Reduction Partnerships (BCRPs) and the advice of the Home Office's counter terrorism security advisers (CTSAs) are all further initiatives which provide CT awareness to business. It's a confusing array of sources of advice.
There is also the problem of engagement. Although efforts are to be commended, encouraging businesses to sign up to receive updates, regardless of the channel is time consuming and ineffective.
Small businesses are likely to be impacted during a terrorist attack. They are also unlikely to have a security lead. Frequent changes in staff mean the benefits of counter terrorism training can be instantly lost and more resource must be expended to reestablish it. For small businesses, attending a half day training course to prepare for something they believe is unlikely to happen on their street can mean lost income.
Are BIDs the answer to this problem? Can they improve access to training or act as effective mechanisms for disseminating information?
In recent years there have been a number of examples of BIDs becoming involved in dealing with the effects of terrorist attacks. The most high profile of these were the Manchester BID's response to the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017, Team London Bridge and Better Bankside's activity following the Borough Market attack in June 2017 and the South Bank BID's assistance on Westminster Bridge in March 2017.
We might legitimately add the great work of the Salisbury BID to the list above, following the work they did to mitigate the potentially disastrous impact on businesses in the town centre following the Skripal affair.
Clockwise from top left: Westminster Bridge, Salisbury, Manchester Arena, Borough Market
These responses typically involved liaising with businesses who were unable to access premises (in the case of Borough Market, for up to 11 days), acting as a conduit of information between the security services, the council and the business community, and providing support and training in the months after the attack.
Team London Bridge were involved in the coordination of sites for flowers to be laid, worked with Southwark Council on the charitable appeal, and tasked their officers to provide reassurance visits to businesses with focus on licences premises.
Better Bankside's efforts following the same incident at Borough Market included providing temporary offices for those businesses unable to access their premises.
In the case of the Westminster Bridge attack, the BID's South Bank Patrol service were some of the first people on the scene, and their radio network was instrumental in communicating information to nearby visitor attractions that assisted them in triggering emergency plans, later being thanked by the Borough Commander, Richard Wood for the role they played.
All these responses were put in place in real-time and delivered alongside the BIDs' everyday services. Long days were put in, vital new skills were learned on the job, and battles to recognise the needs of local businesses were hard won in the aftermath. These BIDs are to be commended for the work they did.
At the National Counter Terrorism Step Change Summit at the Olympic Stadium in May 2018, organisations representing businesses were asked to think about how they could contribute to the counter terrorism agenda. Presentations from BIDs suggested that they could be seen as a potential resource in responding to unfolding situations.
But is this practical? For the most part, the BIDs listed above are among the better-resourced. They are also part of the Business Crime Reduction Partnerships that link them into police work and CT training. It should be recognised however that many BIDs in the UK would not be sufficiently staffed to react in nearly as significant a way as these organisations did.
Few BIDs could be relied upon to communicate to their members in real time, particularly outside office hours. Nor can it be assumed that BIDs operate radio networks that cover retailers. If CT and security issues are low down the priority list when it comes to developing the five-year business plan, BIDs are less likely to fund CT training for businesses. Levy thresholds may mean BIDs aren't working with smaller high street traders.
However, given that BIDs are most likely to have the most up to date contact details of any organisation locally, there may be more that they could do to be prepared to carry out some basic tasks in the days following any event which leads to business interruption, including civil emergencies such as flooding.
This includes developing area-wide business continuity plans and amplifying messages from the police to levy payers. They can also be relied upon to get businesses together in public meetings, and it costs nothing for BIDs to have open channels of communication with local police forces and coordinate training and information.
But it may be worth working out a plan with police and the council's emergency planning team to figure out what the BIDs role might realistically be in such a situation, rather than either forgetting to call on them when needed or having unrealistic expectations of their capabilities.
After the last couple of years, it's now much easier to believe the police mantra that an attack could happen at any time and in any place. We know we all must take steps to prepare. However, there is work to do for both the security agencies and business representative organisations.
The communication channels between security services and businesses must improve, with a single point of access that is well publicised.
And for BIDs, as with private citizens who find themselves caught up in such attacks, we must recognise that sometimes there's no one else better-placed in that moment to do the job and we must do what we can to help, preparing our members no matter how unlikely the threat seems.
| BAS |