CTB Q&A: Pool Re and security in the aviation industry
CTB talks to Mark Susca, Senior Risk Consultant at Pool Re, and former Head of Resilience at Manchester Airport, on current challenges, vulnerability in the aviation sector and fundamental risk management principles
Mark, you recently joined Pool Re as a Senior Risk Consultant. Tell us a little about your background, your previous role and why you were attracted to Pool Re.
I recently joined Pool Re from Manchester Airport where I was Head of Operational Resilience, responsible for emergency planning, business continuity and crisis management. Before that, I spent eleven years as an airline pilot flying both regional and long-haul routes including VIP operations before diversifying into areas of preparedness, response and recovery. I was first introduced to Pool Re as the sponsor of my MSc course in Counter-Terrorism, Risk and Resilience at Cranfield University. I was impressed by Pool Re’s mission of building resilience against terrorism risk so when a position opened up, I leapt at the chance.
How would you say your previous experience feeds into your new role at Pool Re?
My operational background affords me a unique perspective on the challenges faced by Pool Re Members and their policyholders and allows me to explain things in a way they understand and is relevant to them. In my experience, one of the biggest challenges faced by risk, security or resilience managers is how to balance commercial business, regulation, and operations. Additionally, stakeholder management and development is crucial to ensure that resilience against terrorism is embedded within the culture, much like health and safety or conventional crime prevention. I’ve also seen first-hand how implementing terrorism risk mitigation strategies can have unintended but welcome consequences for the wider organisation. From improved crisis management, whether terrorism related or not, to more effective health, safety and crime prevention, and more efficient ways of operational working. Investing in an organisation’s resilience not only protects the business but support its growth, which is exactly what I tell businesses in my role at Pool Re.
Recent terrorist attacks in the UK have favoured lower complexity methodologies, for example the bladed weapon attacks at Borough Market, London Bridge and the murder of David Amess. Is aviation a realistic target for terrorism given this shift in methodology?
Yes, aviation will sadly always remain a target for terrorists as it provides so many attractive opportunities. Our expert threat analysts are currently working on a sector-specific risk report for the Aviation industry so I won’t give too much away but simply put, terrorists will always desire strive for spectacular attacks with the resultant mass casualties. There are many reasons airports and aircraft make such attractive targets: any site that is widely considered to be safe and secure will be seen as an opportunity for terrorists to demonstrate their capability to circumvent risk mitigation and security measures, often by using innovative and creative methodologies. This coupled with the guaranteed media attention offers the exposure and infamy terrorists often seek. As crowded places that attract large volumes of people, airports also offer a setting for lower complexity methodologies and non-conventional attacks too. Examples of this include the plots to use chemicals onboard aircraft in Australia or the effective use of drones to ground aircraft as seen with effectiveness at Gatwick in 2019 – albeit that wasn’t terrorism. There is often a belief that ‘it won’t happen to us’ but, as demonstrated with the attacks at Zaventum Airport in Brussels in 2016 and the foiled ink cartridge plot at East Midlands, it became very clear that this isn’t the case. I can certainly say the one thing keeping me up at night in my role at Manchester Airport was the threat of terrorism.
The aviation industry has clearly been very heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you think the aviation sector is more vulnerable to terrorism as a result of the pandemic?
It goes without saying that Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the aviation sector but two years on we are finally seeing a return to growth and almost pre-covid levels of travel. This, however, presents its own challenges as whilst airports have thankfully survived the pandemic, now they must manage the risk that comes with rapid and unprecedented growth. Like so many businesses, many airports had to reconsider their resourcing requirements during the prolonged lockdowns. As a result, the aviation sector is now dealing with greater exposure to vulnerability but doing so with an inexperienced workforce having replaced a lot of the experience and expertise lost during the extended lockdowns with inexperienced staff hastily recruited to cope with the peak in demand. It goes without saying that terrorists may seek to capitalise on this short-term vulnerability. In the more medium-to-long term, one of the biggest risks for aviation is the insider threat: the impact of the pandemic on people’s livelihoods and the soaring cost of living means the manipulation or radicalisation of vulnerable people is a very real prospect and one which the aviation industry is acutely aware off and working hard to manage. Whilst I’m pleased to say aviation has an extremely positive counter-terrorism culture it would be easy for this to slip as the priority of business survival and recovery becomes the focus for managers and leadership teams. The need to remain aware, cognisant and vigilant has never been greater.
And finally, from your experience, what are the fundamental risk management principles you would recommend to any risk manager?
When embedding resilience and risk management within an organisation, I found that working to six key principles helped focus not only the work but also the stakeholders, who are fundamental to the success of any risk management strategy. The six principles of resilience work to strengthen the business through supporting growth, identifying risk and opportunities, and enhancing the ability to respond to disruptive events:
• Anticipate – this is about horizon scanning and examining 'the what if’s'.
• Assess – understand the business, what is its appetite and approach to risk.
• Prevent – implement mitigation measures, minimum standards, processes etc.
• Prepare – have plans in place for the events you can’t prevent or mitigate against.
• Respond – ensure you can respond to incidents and events e.g., crisis management teams.
• Recover – have recovery and business continuity plans in place which are practical.
You can read an exclusive publication of Pool Re’s Aviation Sector Risk Report in the next issue of Counter Terror Business. Sectoral Risk Reports for the Public Transport and Retail and Hospitality sectors are available to view now.