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Vantage Point: 7 Ways Business Owners Can Educate Their Teams About Terrorism

The Pentagon in the days after the 9/11/01 terror attacks.

When we hear the word “terrorism,” many of us still recall the tragic events of September 11, 2001. However, such highly orchestrated incidents requiring the cooperation of a large group of individuals is no longer the norm. Events such as the 2009 Fort Hood shooting or the 2015 attack in San Bernardino illustrate that more often than not, terrorist incidents are carried out by only one or two people.

Unfortunately, this can make it all too easy for others to overlook the warning signs that an attack might soon occur. This is especially true of businesses, which are often considered “soft targets”due to lax security policies.

Regardless of how much of your budget you can use to improve your physical security practices, you canmake a difference by emphasizing situational awareness among your employees. The following are some of the best ways that business owners can educate their teams about terrorism. When your employees know what to look for and how to respond, disaster can be avoided, and lives can be saved.

1) Risk Analysis

Many businesses aren’t fully aware of the potential dangers they face. Indeed, while you may (rightly) assume that your business is somewhat at risk, you yourself may not be aware of all your vulnerabilities.

A physical security risk assessment identifies the greatest threats to your business, while also offering suggestions as to how you can avoid these hazards. While these assessments cover issues ranging well beyond terrorism, many of the problems identified during a risk analysis could also influence your location’s perception as a “soft target.”

Most importantly, such assessments will help you identify specific employee or management behaviors that need to change to ensure greater security. Taking corrective action is an important first step in creating positive change in the eyes of employees.

2) Promote Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is key to identifying and mitigating potential terrorist threats. Though this trait is often associated with movie spies like Jason Bourne or James Bond, these skills can also be developed by you and your employees.

Situational awareness doesn’t mean you have to instill a sense of paranoia. Rather, it is based on the idea that everyone at your company can become fully aware of their surroundings and stay on the lookout for anything that could threaten their well-being. In other words, it’s developing the ability to recognize anything out of the ordinary.

This trait isn’t exclusive to identifying terrorist threats. Indeed, situational awareness can be as simple as knowing not to stare at your smartphone when walking on a crowded sidewalk. Learning to improve one’s own situational awareness is an important baseline for identifying and responding to terrorist threats.

3) Identifying Suspicious Behavior

It’s one thing to develop situational awareness, but it’s another to know when unusual activities could be related to a potential terrorist threat. So which activities should your employees watch out for?

As the Department of Homeland Security notes, terrorist attempts are often preceded by observation or surveillance of the target location. An individual may loiter outside your building for an excessive period of time or be observed taking notes of the building. Some suspects are even more bold, entering the building and questioning those within about its personnel and security procedures.

It is essential that your team be especially alert for these behaviors — such actions typically play a crucial role in the planning of a terrorist attack.

4) Be Alert for Internal Threats

Attacks against a business don’t always come from an outside force. All too often, mass shootings are carried out by employees who already have insider knowledge of the building and its occupants. Indeed, the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack was carried out by an employee

of the facility that was attacked.

While these individuals won’t be watching the building from outside, there are still warning signsyour employees should be aware of. A coworker who frequently engages in intimidating behavior (including verbal threats), demonstrates an obsession with weapons and displays poor social skills could lash out in a dangerous attack. Early identification and intervention could easily prevent such an incident.

5) Reporting Procedures

Regardless of whether employees observe a suspicious individual surveying the building or are concerned about a coworker’s behavior, it is important that proper reporting mechanisms are in place for your company to respond to the threat. You should provide employees with a clear chain of communication to ensure that concerns over potential terrorist activities aren’t ignored.

Those who receive these reports should also be aware of when to go to the authorities. While some workplace violence incidents can be avoided with counseling and peaceful intervention, other behaviors should be reported to local or federal law enforcement. Outside assistance will provide crucial resources that could make all the difference in stopping a terrorist attack.

6) Evacuation Policies

Nobody likes to plan for the worst, but it is essential that your employees know how to respond should a terrorist incident occur at your business. Emergency notification systemsprovide an immediate alert when there is a threat against your building, giving employees precious minutes in which to escape. Be sure that your notification method will reach everyone within your building in a timely manner.

In addition, make sure that all employees are aware of which exits are available to them should they need to make a quick escape. Consider periodically running drills so that team members know how to respond quickly and appropriately should a terrorist incident take place.

7) Be Alert for Suspicious Packages

Direct attacks aren’t the only terrorist threat businesses need to be concerned with. The recent string of package bombsthat impacted the Austin, Texas area show that suspicious packages can also be a highly effective form of attack.

Your team should be wary whenever an unexpected package arrives at your business. A lack of a return address, packages that are addressed to the business or a generic title rather than a specific individual and boxes that have been taped shut or seem to have strange stains or smells are often signs of a terrorist attempt.

Employees should never tamper with these suspicious packages — in most situations, reporting the incident to law enforcement and evacuating the facility will be the safest course of action.

Awareness Makes All the Difference

Do not take these points for granted and assume your employees know what to look for. Employer sponsored training is the key. When your employees know what to look for, they will become more actively engaged in ensuring the safety and security of your company. With this increased involvement, you can have greater confidence that you’ll be able to mitigate potential terrorist threats.


Joseph Delia is the Senior Director of Security Consulting for Whelan Security. He specializes in security risk management, physical security assessments, corporate investigations, workplace violence training/mitigation and other specialized security needs. Please feel free to contact him. He can be reached at (314) 644-3227 or

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