After the shocking attacks in Manchester and London and the arrest of a man in Sussex town Shoreham by Sea, it could feel a bit like nowhere is safe from the threat of terrorism. Many people in Brighton, for example, believe that the city could be targeted, as a playground for fun and freedom. But the truth is, there’s no way of telling where, if, or when the next attack might happen.
We spoke to former head of the UK’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office, Chris Phillips. With 30 years of policing experience, the last 17 of which have specifically been in counter-terrorism, his experience is second to none. We asked him what we can do, and tell our children to do, to stay as safe as possible…
T: Firstly, we wondered whether it’s true that anywhere could be targeted, or are there specific locations that are more likely.
The honest fact is that people with terrorist sympathies are located across the whole of the UK. There is a tendency for them to copycat other attacks, but also a propensity to attack locations they know well. So yes an attack could happen anywhere, but it’s good to keep in mind of course that the chances of getting caught up in an attack are still extremely low.
T: Could danger strike anywhere or are there specific things that drive a terror presence?
If you understand that the current terrorist threat is aimed at mass casualty attacks, that ought to give you some guidance. That means that crowded places are always going to be attractive targets – and the most difficult to protect.
T: Should we be worried?
It’s hard not to be worried, but remember; every terrorist attack is bound to affect the psyche of the public. That is the point of it. Terrorists seek to terrorise. In fact the word terrorist comes from the regime de terror during the French Revolution, where the mass executions using the guillotine were designed to frighten the public into doing as they were told. Try to keep that in mind.
T: What should we do if we think there is a danger?
The best advice is to be aware of your surroundings and think ahead; think through what you would do in any given circumstances, and try to stay alert. Walking round with your headphones on is not conducive to being alert, for example.
Should you get caught up in an attack, then the best defence to any terrorist incident is to create distance between you and the threat. That said, when there is no opportunity to escape, hiding is the next best option. If you have no other alternative then fight the attacker with all your might, and use any weapon you can get hold of.
T: What about if we think we know someone who might be radicalised?
This is a big one – you need to contact the local police or the anti-terrorist hotline on 0800 789 321. There is no excuse for not contacting them. It could save people’s lives.
T: Is there anything else we can do?
The best piece of advice I can give is to think through various scenarios in your mind, and talk them through with your family. Things like; how to escape in an emergency; knowing some basic first aid and what you would do in the event of a crisis. Know your exits. Thinking this stuff through and having some ideas helps you to react in a positive way should an incident happen to you. You will feel more prepared.
HOW CAN WE SAFEGUARD AGAINST BEING IN DANGER?
The truth is you can’t always, but you can help your chances by being prepared. Here’s a few helpful tips…
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Be alert to the normal, and the abnormal
- Think through scenarios (what ifs)
- Have a plan for each scenario
- Know your exits (how you would get out in an emergency)
- If you feel uncomfortable then go to a place of safety (police station, hotel, shop or a house)
- Walk with confidence and a purpose
- Get distance between you and any threat (run away)
- If your exit is blocked then barricade yourself in
- If there’s no other option then fight, fight hard and use any weapon you can get hold of
Chris Phillips is the managing director of International Protect and Prepare Security Office Ltd (IPPSO) and is regularly on TV and radio commenting and advising on terrorism and security matters. Soon launching a new counter-terrorism training awareness package.