Securing property in an age of global terror

Terrorism has come to dominate the news and political agenda ever since the fateful September 11th attacks, when images of hijacked planes flying into the World Trade Center were broadcast to horrified audiences across the globe.

But the world has changed dramatically in the past 15 years, and with it, the nature of terror. As the tragedies in France, Belgium, Turkey and elsewhere have demonstrated, anyone anywhere can become a victim.

Commercial property landlords need to be aware of the types of threats they now face, and take adequate precautions to ensure their assets, tenants and the general public, are protected as far as possible and that site specific ‘stay safe’ emergency plans are developed and implemented to mitigate the risks and react as necessary should an incident occur.

A history of terrorism

The term terrorism was first coined at the end of the 18th century to refer to the mass violence during the French Revolution

Terrorism, although seen by some as a relatively recent phenomenon, has a long and varied history.

The term was first coined at the end of the 18th century to refer to the mass violence during the French Revolution, when tens of thousands of people were publicly beheaded.

Closer to the modern understanding of terrorism would be the wave of bombings that gripped Europe during the early 20th century, as anarchists, nationalists and other radicals targeted the political establishments of their time.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Marxist-Leninist groups like Baader-Meinhof in Germany and the Red Brigade in Italy carried out assassinations and kidnappings, while the escalating Israeli-Palestine conflict generated a number of atrocities. The U.K. suffered its own domestic terrorism in the form of the IRA, with both mainland Britain and Northern Ireland suffering significantly.

Following 9/11, most have come to associate terrorism with Islamist organisations like al-Qaeda and the Taliban. ISIS, born out of the collapse of Iraq and Syria, has exploded onto our television screens over the past five years, capturing the media’s attention with their extreme forms of cruelty.

An evolving threat

Anti-terror strategies will also have to adapt and evolve to the increasing focus on ‘soft targets’

In addition to well-produced videos showcasing their crimes, the 2015 massacres in Paris by ISIS operatives highlighted a fundamental shift in terrorist tactics which will undoubtedly continue to evolve.

Previously, security forces had focused their efforts on protecting obvious targets like transport hubs or iconic ‘national’ landmark buildings and this of course will continue. But following the murders at the Charlie Hebdo offices, the Bataclan concert hall and the more recent tragedies in Nice, it is clear that anti-terror strategies will also have to adapt and evolve to the increasing focus on ‘soft targets’, and commercial landlords, along with all of us, will have their role to play.

Places most at risk will continue to be the ones that have unrestricted access, heavy footfall and large amounts of public realm, such as shopping centres, where it is difficult to establish a secure perimeter.

In addition to the physical threat – cyber-terrorism poses a growing danger, especially as digital connectivity increases and we become ever more reliant on technology for everyday transactions. Worryingly, it is an area where many still assume they are not exposed to a huge amount of risk, but this mind-set is slowly starting to change.

Criminal techniques are now so advanced that cyber-attackers can hack into any device with a central processing unit (CPU) to gain wider access to company or personal devices. They no longer need to directly access your main computer server to cause disruption.

What can be done?

Traditional evacuation procedures will need to be continually reviewed and adapted

Fundamentally, the best protective strategies come down to prevention through continued vigilance. The security forces will thankfully continue to thwart the majority of plans to carry out attacks but everyone has a collective responsibility to remain vigilant and to have a clear idea of how to act and respond when the worst happens. The ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ approach has been publicised in the wake of attacks in Kenya and Paris and everyone should give some thought to what their actions would be should they find themselves caught up in a terrorist incident. Traditional evacuation procedures will need to be continually reviewed and adapted.

Most new property developments now incorporate physical defences into their design. In addition to traditional barriers and bollards, ‘hardened’ external landscaping such as seating and planters double up as barriers to prevent vehicles being driven close to or into properties, and can also be retrofitted easily to increase the perimeter security of existing buildings. Planning guidance is available and the Royal Institute of British Architects has its own dedicated advice on designing for counter-terrorism without turning the nation into Fort Knox.

However, physical defences would not have prevented the lower-level ‘lone wolf’ types of attacks witnessed in France and elsewhere. Heightened vigilance, improved surveillance and regular interaction with the police and other security services, such as live simulation exercises, are all increasingly important and may have to become as common as fire drills.

In a free and open society, no security infrastructure can ever remove all risks

Following terrorist attacks in Turkey and Kenya, equipment normally seen at airports, like X-ray machines and metal detectors, can be found at shopping malls. Some venues in the U.K. have also introduced restrictions on what visitors can bring in with them and it is likely that this will unfortunately become more common place for the foreseeable future. However, if we want to live in a free and open society, then no security infrastructure can ever remove all the risks.

Limiting the impact from a cyber-attack similarly comes down to an awareness of how we as individuals, or our businesses, could be affected and how best to react and respond. Prevention will always be the best form of defence but it will never be watertight, working in conjunction with your insurance adviser to reach an informed decision on how best to manage and mitigate the risk is key.

The role of insurance

In the U.K., cover for damage caused by acts of terrorism and any subsequent loss of income is readily available and widely purchased. This will continue to be the case and in relation to the physical asset itself, remains fairly straightforward. Less straightforward is insurance for any financial downside linked to terrorism or the threat of terrorism.

The role of insurance brokers and insurers should therefore be seen more as one of working alongside and offering guidance and risk management advice to their clients, rather than offering a specific insurance policy to cover the risk, should it even exist. The following key questions should be asked in relation to the threat from both physical and cyber terrorism, be it in relation to physical assets or people:

  • Identify the threat – that means taking proper advice from people in the know
  • Establish what you want to protect and what is vulnerable
  • Identify the security improvements that would offer enhanced protection
  • Review and rehearse regularly to make sure you have got it right


Click here to learn more about comprehensive cybersecurity from Willis Towers Watson.

mark-preston_300Mark Preston is a Divisional Director in the Real Estate Practice of Willis Towers Watson UK, based in London. He has over 25 years in the insurance broking industry, 15 of which have been in the Real Estate insurance sector. Mark works with number of major Real Estate clients which includes the provision of terrorism insurance and assistance with risk management and mitigation.

Categories: Cyber Risk, Global Risks, Real Estate, Terrorism | Tags: , ,

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