Terrorism training for a digital age

Counter Terrorism Police have joined forces with a major retailer to develop a pioneering programme to train over a million crowded places workers. Here, the organisation explains why

High Street giant Marks and Spencer has partnered with specialist officers to help spearhead and fund the initiative, which has been successfully trialled with 20,000 employees from its stores and other businesses operating in busy towns and cities. Called ACT Awareness e-Learning, the six main modules teach staff about the threat from terrorism and explain what steps they can take to help tackle it.

A seventh module offers supporting material and links for further information. The course, which is fully interactive, can be taken at times to suit business needs. Topics covered will include spotting the signs of suspicious behaviour and reacting to a firearms or weapons attack.

Police have consulted with other industry leaders in areas such as entertainment and hospitality and are now ready to make ACT Awareness e-Learning available free of charge to all qualifying organisations – private or public.

The development will not replace the role of specialist CT officers who liaise with and advise industry on security matters, but will help provide extra ‘eyes and ears’ to help defeat terrorism in busy, high-profile places.

Det chief Supt Scott Wilson, National Coordinator for Protective Security, explains: “We want to do everything we can to protect our crowded places, so welcomed the opportunity to work on this project with Marks and Spencer and others. There is no specific increased threat to the retail sector but the general threat level is at Severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. Developing joint projects like this is going to be a significant part of our CT Police’s protective security work.

“With increasing pressure on resources in all areas of business, we all need to collaborate more. M&S have shared their knowledge of operating day to day in busy shopping centres with specialist officers who understand the threat picture. Together we have been able to develop a product that can be used by a wide variety of organisations operating in crowded places.

“The demand for face to face briefings within crowded places companies was growing faster than courses could be arranged - and they come at a cost to businesses. Significant sums have to be spent in terms of employee travel, venue hire, refreshments etc. This product will vastly increase the number of staff we can brief in a relatively short period and at a much lower cost.

“And apart from the financial and organisational demands on group briefings, in a digital age we needed a digital solution. This course can be carried out in bite-sized chunks at times to suit. We will also have better analytics to keep track of who has undertaken what modules and have version control to ensure we are sharing the most up to date information.

“Already we are looking ahead to Version Two to ensure we stay up to date with emerging threats. The feedback from the staff at M&S and the other companies we have asked to trial the product has been overwhelmingly positive. Colleagues found the content informative and engaging.”

John Frost, head of Business Continuity from Marks and Spencer, also commented: “We were reviewing our training in this area so the timing of this collaboration was ideal for us. Obviously it is a priority for Marks and Spencer that we do all we can to protect our people, our property and our brand. Undertaking work like this is what our customers would expect of us.”

Security criteria
The ACT Awareness e-Learning initiative follows on from the successful launch of the industry self-delivery package two years ago. This enabled accredited trainers rather than police officers to deliver counter terrorism workshops. Over 400 companies and public bodies, with a collective workforce of two million employees, signed up - massively increasing the numbers of people able to improve their security awareness.

Previously, police-led briefings were reaching around 100,000 people per year. Moving to an online platform aims to open up the course to many more organisations who do not have qualified trainers within their teams and would otherwise have to buy-in the service – thus reducing costs and being more flexible for employees to fit in around their main work commitments.

Another key partner in the development of the course was Highfield e-learning – a global leader in compliance e-learning and a Queen’s Award winner for Enterprise. Highfield will register applicants for the package and, once approved by CT Policing, provide the necessary URL links so employees can log on and work through the modules in a timeframe to suit them and their businesses’ needs.

There is also a facility that allows organisations to host the package on their own IT systems, providing certain security criteria is met. This is available via a SCORM file. Police are hoping that a million or more workers will follow the modules.

The six key components cover: an introduction to terrorism, identifying security vulnerabilities, identifying and responding to suspicious behaviour, identifying and responding to suspicious items, what to do in the event of a bomb threat and how to respond to a firearms or weapons attack. The estimated completion time for all six sections is under one hour.

Material previously produced by CT Policing's National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO), such as the Run, Hide, Tell films have been re packaged to suit the modular format.

The availability of the product was announced at a recent summit of senior police protective security leads from around the UK. Each senior officer was invited to bring key business and local authority figures to the event held at the offices of Credit Suisse in London’s Canary Wharf.

The day-long seminar also included presentations on other current security issues such as hostile vehicle mitigation and CBRNe threats. However the main aim of the day was to encourage sign-up to the e-Learning package.

DCS Wilson adds: “The areas we cover in this step-by-step package could save lives. Industry specifically requested the development of this type of product to better prepare their staff and help protect communities and businesses. It won’t replace the involvement of CTSAs – they are still available if needed.

“All staff working in crowded places – not just those who have a security role – can follow the course and be in a stronger position to help protect themselves, colleagues and the public. The benefits go beyond the immediate work place. The course will equip all those who take it with knowledge they can apply in other areas of their daily lives.

“We hope many organisations will want to sign up and take advantage of this free product. Our CTSAs will be approaching their regional contacts to make them aware of the facility and explain how they can take part. We are grateful to Marks and Spencer who entered into this collaboration with us. They have shown true leadership in the sector in helping us develop the modules in a way that will easy for all sizes of company to use.

“This is our second major collaboration following last summer’s work with the Foreign Office and ABTA the Travel Association to provide briefing tools for travel industry staff and tourists. It is not about replacing police involvement but expanding our reach to raise awareness of the threat from terrorism with as many people as possible.”

Companies wanting more information or to apply for registration should visit the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) website.

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