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Showing resilience

18 April 2017

Jon Hall talks about how the principles of training people to manage their own and others’ safety and security in hostile environments can usefully be applied to everyday, homeland settings.

THE DUTY of care owed by both employers and those responsible for facilities management and occupancy extends to all reasonably foreseeable circumstances and events. A simple analysis of current (reasonably foreseeable) threats is well rehearsed in the National Risk Assessment. Cyber security, weather-related incidents, natural disasters and terrorism all feature strongly.

Events such as those that occurred in Westminster recently don’t alter our risk horizon but they do start to shift our understanding and perception of the likelihood. They also increase our knowledge of the likely impact on our people, the facilities they use and, ultimately, our business continuity.

Our perspective of what constitutes a hostile environment is changing. There was a time when we would only use this phrase for war zones and areas of cataclysmic disaster but increasingly, what in one moment seems like a normal domestic, or homeland working environment, sporting event, shopping trip, or tourist outing can be plunged into terrible chaos in seconds through the act of a single individual.

With this sobering fact in mind, it’s apparent that many of the principles and practical approaches of ‘hostile environment’ behaviour are equally appropriate to the safety and security of people and assets within a more domestic or homeland setting, such as offices, schools, or retail outlets.

Our baseline assumption is changing, highlighted by how different our answer to the question “what constitutes a hostile environment?” would be now compared with 10 years ago ‒ or even just six months ago. Recent events have and, I would suggest, should have changed our perception of risk.

The occupants, workers and public caught up in recent terrorist attacks close to home would certainly have described their environment as ‘hostile’, as do those affected by severe weather events, such as the storms and floods of last year.

Indeed, anyone who witnessed the civil disturbances near cash dispensers when the banking system went down in Cyprus a few years ago, and even the annual rush for Black Friday sales bargains, may rightly have considered their immediate surroundings to be hostile and, at times, downright dangerous!

Hostile environments

So how does our approach to risk management vary if we simply redefine our notion of what constitutes a ‘hostile environment’ as one that can rapidly, and without warning, become an ‘extremely dangerous place’?

This simple shift in how we understand our environment changes our perspective of when we might need some of the skills generally covered on Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) courses and introduces the concept of ‘Homeland HEAT’.

Employers and those responsible for facilities used by the public, or for work purposes, need to recognise their legal duty of care towards those using these facilities. Duty-holders are legally obliged to ensure employees are properly prepared for what are increasingly becoming foreseeable catastrophic events, and that they receive the necessary support both during and after such occurrences.

New and emerging threats (external) and vulnerabilities (internal) must be addressed as part of an organisation’s mitigation/control systems. This will lead to a more accurate assessment of risk and, subsequently, development of appropriate training for employees and/or facility users, which will enable them to recognise, assess, avoid and mitigate emerging risks as far as possible.

Training considerations

HEAT training has largely been developed by those involved in the policing and military security world, so the language it uses could lead many to dismiss it as irrelevant to ‘civilian’ settings. The lexicon of hostility makes it sound rather alien to normal people living normal lives in normal places. For example, ‘trauma training’ sounds unnecessary in civil application ‒ until you consider what members of the public are called upon to do in the first few minutes following a so-called lone-wolf attack. The concept of taking a ‘grab bag’ to work seems abstract ‒ until you ask yourself what you would have wanted in your pocket or handbag had you been working in Parliament Square when the recent attack took place.

Just by changing some of this language, we start to see that the ‘hostile environment’ world may have much to offer us in these troubled times. Hostile-environment awareness training, for example, seeks to help people unlearn the behaviour of complacency and instead instill behaviour that can quickly be recalled in the event of a change of circumstance. In other words, it provides basic and very simple advice on what we should do. It teaches us not to dwell on an event once it’s taken place but to use it as a learning experience to ensure proper planning is done in advance of any future event. An excellent example is provided by the latest CitizenAid campaign and App at http://citizenaid.org/

Communication is vital when the world around us ceases to function as normal. In the very early stages of an attack or disruptive event, there is every chance that we will lose mobile-phone networks ‒ initially, due to demand outstripping bandwidth and, later, more likely by design, as the airwaves are prioritised for emergency use. We need to be prepared for this and understand what options remain open to us in such an event.

Trauma medical training and equipment designed to preserve life until medical services arrive on the scene don’t mean bulky dressings or specialist devices; they can simply be a purse or wallet-sized pack with instructions containing enough material to prevent someone dying from blood loss in those first few vital minutes. The ACT pack is an excellent example: www.act-program.com/

HEAT training talks about document management, multiple channels of access and information security. In the civil setting, we need a form of identification that will enable authorities to identify us and our loved ones in the event of us becoming incapacitated. It seems obvious but is often overlooked. Simple solutions will include a driving licence, passport, or utility bill. Keeping this information secure is another component of the training but we still want it to be readily accessible to authorities.

It is also important to understand the negative impact that witnessing a catastrophic event can have on our sense of well-being. People will need emotional support post-trauma, so some assistive measures ‒ that may feel counter-intuitive at the time – should be prescribed.

Blended learning

Recognising all of the above and with the intention of making HEAT training accessible in the homeland and domestic settings, Blue Mountain Group and Digital Training Systems (DTS) are both established experts in the field of hostile environment awareness training. DTS specialises in online experiential learning, providing a particularly realistic immersive experience for those unused to operating in less than friendly environments. Blue Mountain specialises in providing practical training in more functional aspects, such as personal-safety protective behaviours, kidnap avoidance and trauma management.

Together, they have created a blended training solution designed to improve the ability of everyone in an organisation ‒ the CEO, directors, managers and staff ‒ to cope with foreseen but unavoidable extreme events. For the employer and/or facility manager, it provides a mechanism by which to demonstrate succinctly and clearly how you have prepared your staff for foreseeable events by increasing knowledge and preparedness across the entire workforce. Ultimately, as we have witnessed so many times recently, managing safety and security during such events involves looking after yourself and those around you.

DTS has developed a pioneering approach to training for agencies deploying aid-workers into extreme environments during and following conflict and disasters. With the help and support of government aid bodies in both the UK and US, they created a ground-breaking and innovative learning approach that uses the unique Near-Life video engine. This allows users to experience immersive, role play-style engagement to enhance knowledge retention. The software uses live-action video to create an entirely customisable role-play journey, taking staff into credible but hazardous situations that would simply be impossible with more traditional approaches.

The broader associated content management platform can accommodate supplementary resources, including documentaries, audio clips, written material, quizzes and questionnaires specific to location, context or policy, ensuring that it complements other in-house training.

After participants reach appropriate ‘milestones’ in their interactive journey, an automatically generated ‘report’ is produced explaining how their decisions affected the outcome. Feedback also provides links to relevant material so that staff can better understand why certain actions were wrong or right, how these might differ in different circumstances, and what were the most important things to be aware of.

Many companies, organisations and facilities will already have their own safety and security professionals, managers or advisors. It is to these individuals that you turn to ensure your house is in order. But always remember that, often, we simply don’t know what we don’t know.

Jon Hall is managing director of the Resilience Advisors Network