International Security Expo: Safe and Secure
Ahead of the International Security Expo, Counter Terror Business talks to Chris Tsikolis, head of Security & Business Resilience at the Victoria & Victoria Westminster Business Improvement Districts, about collaboration and business continuity
This year you are speaking in the Crisis and Business Continuity Conference. In your view, how is crisis management changing and how can businesses improve communications during a crisis?
The core principles of good crisis/reputation management remain largely unchanged. However, in today’s hyper-connected digital age the requirements and capabilities continue to evolve. It is actually the application of the rules that have changed dramatically in concert with the changing speed and expectations of this digital age. The need for speed is far greater today as opposed to 10 or even five years ago.
Business organisations can improve response to a crisis by investing in better communications with their staff, neighbouring businesses and suppliers/external stakeholders. Organisations need to maintain an active readiness capability that is equal-parts experienced and agile. Information and speed are of the essence. Businesses could benefit before, during and after a crisis by harnessing the technological advancements to push out information and communicate in a timely fashion using a variety of channels. This of course means that they need to look at planning and establishing platforms of communication that incorporate these characteristics.
You will be speaking about building a resilient London on day two of the show. Immediately following the spate of attacks in 2017, MI5 and Counter Terror Policing launched a number of reviews and Lord Harris undertook a report on improving London's terror preparedness. Do you think enough has been done over the last few years to quantity better preparedness in the capital?
A number of projects has been undertaken over the course of the last two years. However, there is always space for improvement and more can be done; public bodies and law enforcement agencies need to step up their game to keep pace with the evolving nature of threats and technological advancements. The ACT product suite is a useful tool and so are the more specific products developed by CPNI (eg. SCaN). The 'educational' element if you like has progressed significantly. The CT Step Change Programme is another promising initiative as it was opened up to the business sector and some interesting projects are already underway.
Part of your job role at the Victoria Westminster BID involves liaising between law enforcement agencies, government bodies and the business community. In what way can these links be improved to ensure that all are prepared for and ready to respond to a terrorist attack?
The BID acts as a collective voice for businesses and is also the nexus between law enforcement agencies (LEAs), the government and the business community. Over the past couple of years public bodies realized the value and expertise the BIDs can add to a number of projects from contributing to the development of educational/awareness material or new workshops, to the roll out of more specific projects like Project Servator. BIDs can contribute to the enhancement of business resilience through a number of ways and LEAs need to see them as trusted working partners and a vehicle to a sustainable security culture. It is a slow process but a number of steps towards the right direction have already been taken. It is not just for responding to a terrorist attack but addressing a number of different major emergencies and civil contingencies. The communications channels are in place; all LEAs have to do is use them…
Could you explain more about the Emergency Notification and Crisis Management platform for Victoria Westminster Business District?
The Victoria Emergency Notification System (Victoria ENS) is an app based platform that combines SMS alert notification, SMS to voice, mass emailing and two way in-app messaging which forms a very complete mass alert system. As an emergency notification system the 'Multi-Alert' feature is used to flood alert the phone numbers and email addresses of our business members in case of an emergency in the area, regardless of whether they have the app installed on their devices. It is linked up with a government department which gives us the advantage of having access to critical information in a timely manner. By having access to critical information you can reduce the severity of a crisis, trigger your business continuity plan and take all necessary steps to protect your staff and organisation if need be.
Victoria ENS allows the BID to communicate with all its member businesses in a matter of seconds. The BID team can also send out yes/no questions (e.g. Is your building on lockdown?) and see the responses in real time. Members can also be grouped by industry, which means that BID can support hotels, night time economy, retailers etc. with alerts that are relevant to them, rather than a blanket mass message. The software engine is called SENTINEL (developed by YUDU Media) and it was white-labelled and branded as the Victoria Emergency Notification System (VENS). Business Members know that this is a local, Victoria-centred initiative from their BID, who are giving them this platform as part of their membership service.
Since implementing VENS in January 2019, we have sent 80 broadcasts to members. We were able to minimise the impact of 2019’s political and environmental protests by alerting our 255 members to disruption to traffic and local businesses. The most notable event was the Extinction Rebellion 10 day protest in April 2019 across multiple Westminster locations; we were able to use Victoria ENS to keep our members informed with key messages and mitigate the impact on the area.
In the recent London BIDs Against Crime (LBAC) 'Safe and Secure Report', it has been recommended that 'to protect visitors, commuters and businesses in urban areas across the UK in the event of a major emergency - The Home Office are encouraged to consider developing a version of Victoria BID’s Emergency Notification System to a national standard'.
The UK has maintained it’s SEVERE level of threat, meaning an attack is highly likely. What would you say is the current state of security in UK? And, specifically in London, are businesses ready for an attack?
In my opinion it is highly unlikely that the threat level will go down to Substantial. Since March 2017, 22 attack plots have been foiled which means that the threat is still out there; and it’s probably evolving or examining different ways to inflict harm. Seven of those plots were right wing which is another worrying aspect of the terrorism spectrum and this is on the rise…Because of these two elements the security across the UK is heightened; especially in cities like London and areas with high profile targets. Despite the heightened state we had the attack at London Bridge and Borough Market in June 2017. It was then when businesses started realizing more seriously that they have a part to play in protecting their people, their assets and their communities.
BIDs can play a vital role in this as they bring businesses in a specific geographic area together. In other words, there is a paradigm shift happening from silo thinking to collective security. Some businesses are more ready for an attack, some others are less ready. What matters most in these cases is the power to recover from an attack or a crisis and businesses can recover more quickly if they work in partnership.