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Smart City. Smart Counterterrorism.

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

Evolving terror and counterterror tactics

The tactics and aims of terrorist organisations have evolved over the decades. Earlier, their goal was to garner attention and sympathy for their cause by carrying out targeted attacks aimed at taking hostages and subsequently releasing them when their demands were met. The Iranian Embassy siege in London in April 1980, for example, lasted six days and was meant to draw attention to the treatment of its Arab minorities by the Persian majority. It ended with all but one of the terrorists being killed in an assault by a special forces team after one hostage was executed.

Today, terrorists no longer look for sympathy or support for their cause from the general population but want to attract ideologues/believers while oppressing the general population with violence aimed at creating a climate of fear. They resort to random mass killings and indiscriminate bombings, usually by lone wolfs or small teams, causing maximum destruction, especially within urban centres. There are numerous examples of these types of attacks, e.g. the Mumbai attacks of 2008 that led to over 174 fatalities and hundreds more being injured. This attack has set a gold standard for how a small group of suicidal fanatics can paralyze a major city, attract global attention, and terrorize a continent.

Moreover, their actions damage the credibility of the government and the security establishment.

With the evolution of terror tactics, counterterror strategies have also had to evolve. While specialist intervention units (e.g. Special Action Groups of NSG or the German Police’s GSG9 or the US Delta Force) are necessary in incidents such as the hostage situation at a supermarket in Trebes, France, their importance has dwindled because of the need for swift neutralisation of emerging threats before they can cause excessive damage or destruction. Thus, there is an increased requirement for well-trained and well-equipped Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs)/Special Weapons and Tactics Teams (SWAT) within each city/district. Such teams must be capable of responding speedily and neutralising the threat.

Incorporating counterterror strategies into infrastructural development

All counterterrorism (CT) strategies aim at risk mitigation by simultaneously reducing threat and vulnerabilities. Threat reduction includes measures that prevent terrorism by tackling underlying causes and pursuing and neutralising terrorists and their supporters. These measures are primarily in the realm of intelligence acquisition, data analysis and dissemination, force deployment and tactical responses. Vulnerability reduction requires steps that focus on protecting assets and people, while simultaneously preparing to deal with the consequences of a potential attack. These are passive measures that focus primarily on infrastructural development and related aspects to make cities safer.

In this context, the developed world, especially the US, has made rapid progress in establishing robust CT strategies, both in the active and passive domains. They have also introduced statutory guidelines to incorporate CT design features into existing and new infrastructure and “crowded spaces” development. “Crowded spaces” are sites to which members of the public have access, e.g., streets, shopping malls, cafes, stadiums, open air parks, office/residential buildings, and schools. Such sites are viable targets given their crowd densities.

CT strategies that impact infrastructural development require these crucial elements:

- Municipal Preparedness

A city disaster management cell must be put in place, which should have a section dedicated to dealing with curative and preventive actions. There should be a support system to identify the typology of CT incidents (to be planned), attend to emergencies and follow up. On the preventive side, it is necessary to conduct massive awareness drives and educate vulnerable groups, to enable local modules and support to specific groups.

- Municipal Action Plan

A municipal action plan should be prepared based on (a) above. It must cover implications on individual services and necessary precautions to prevent potential attacks. Services such as water supply, roads and waste management need preventive measures to be incorporated in the planning stage.

- Risk Assessment

CT protective security measures must be proportional to the level of threat. Because threats vary, it is necessary to assess the likelihood of the threat, the vulnerability of the target and the impact such an attack would have if it were to occur. We have five levels of threat:

(1) CRITICAL: attack is imminent

(2) SEVERE: attack is highly likely

(3) SUBSTANTIAL: attack is strongly possible

(4) MODERATE: attack is possible but not likely

(5) LOW: attack is unlikely

For low-level risks, contingency plans are usually sufficient, and they can be managed locally.

- Risk Neutralisation/Mitigation

CT design principles must aim to:

(1) Deter: by physical and electronic security measures coupled with good management practices

(2) Detect: by providing alarms and visual-detection systems along with verification.

(3) Delay: for a sufficient period of time to ensure that quick response teams can react effectively by putting in place physical security measures.

Suggested measures

Given the guiding principles, the following are specific protective measures that can be incorporated into the infrastructure design planning:

(a) Build better blast resistance by incorporating external barriers and a strengthened perimeter in vulnerable areas to prevent a penetrative or close-proximity attack. The devices must be aesthetically designed to merge with the surrounding constructions. Moreover, it is incumbent that the building material used should reduce the risk of fragmentation, including the use of blast-resistant glazing. Techniques with respect to structural design must be incorporated to reduce the risk of building collapse or fire.

(b) Improve building management facilities by designing better entrances and better access control systems to resist hostile entry, and implementing fire-resistance measures, e.g. separate electrical and ventilation conduits and hazardous material storage.

(c) Improve vehicle management systems to mitigate the risk of hostile vehicles approaching the proximity of the building without screening or at high speeds.

(d) Increase lines of sight around the building by using CCTV and access control, regulating entry and maintaining litter-free surroundings to ensure that suspicious objects are easily located.

(e) Ensure fool-proof arrangement for safe water supply. The treatment plant should have regular checks for quality control and management.

(f) Design roads with adequate scope for movement of safety vehicles, e.g. fire trucks.

(g) Train municipal employees to act on short notice.

(h) Improve coordination with local police.

(i) Supplement security systems by community policing.

Credit:, BusinessInsider, Politico

© De Angelis & Associates 2019. All Rights Reserved.


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