As painful as it is to replay in our minds the recent terror bombing in Manchester, crisis planners are obligated to study it.
Two lessons jump out:
Lesson 1: Outside perimeters, by definition, are not secure
Without having to pass through any sort of security screening, terrorists view outside perimeters of buildings, auditoriums, stadiums, crowded sidewalks and malls — public places where lots of people gather — as easy, “soft” targets. The Manchester suicide bomber chose his target site accordingly, and crisis planners need to closely consider this vulnerability.
We need to scrutinize areas just outside our security perimeters when assessing potential crisis scenarios. Imagine, for example, how some disgruntled and deranged ex-employee might target our building’s lobby or the sidewalk just outside our security check-in area just as our employees and customers are crowded together in the morning or evening rush.
In its reporting on the Manchester bombing, the New York Times wrote on May 23: “Investigators say the explosion at Manchester Arena occurred in a foyer just outside the venue’s doors, a space that connects the arena to the nearby Victoria rail station. SMG, the company that manages the arena, said that it is not responsible for policing that space.”
While our organization may not be technically responsible for safety just outside our secure zone, we would unavoidably still be part of the crisis response if an attack were to occur there. We must therefore plan for an outside-our-perimeter attack in close coordination with local law enforcement, fire department, emergency medical units and city officials. High-ranking officials from these entities need to be active participants in any crisis exercise we conduct that focuses on this type of scenario.
Lesson 2: Coordinate crisis communications
In the Manchester crisis we saw an international rift occur between the U.S. and the U.K. over an alleged mishandling of information some considered to be classified intelligence. Clearly there was a failure to coordinate communications. In these types of situations, particularly where public safety is at issue, crisis planners need to be acutely aware that the local first responders and/or local elected officials may want to tell the public one thing, our organization might want to tell the public something else, and the news media, both mainstream and social, still something else. For security’s sake as well as for the sake of coherent messaging and accurate news coverage, crisis-related communications must be tightly coordinated with all local authorities. That could mean, as was the case in Manchester, cooperatively finding a balance between what is public information and what might be construed by some to be classified intelligence. Whatever the decision, all parties must have the goal of consistent messaging. An already challenging crisis situation could be made much worse if contradictory announcements, particularly ones relating to public safety, were to be made.
Crisis planners need to adjust their plans and conduct their exercises with Manchester’s lessons in mind.