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Protect Duty is coming: What might it mean for security teams?

In the wake of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, an inquiry was undertaken to establish how such an atrocity was able to happen just 10 years after the London 7/7 bombings. As well as documenting the various failings that collectively exposed a route for the attack to take place, the subsequent report provided a series of recommendations for owners of large organisations and operators of public spaces and venues. One of these was a new Protect Duty.

What is the Protect Duty and what will it include?
Though yet to be enshrined in law, the potential scope of the Protect Duty is far-reaching and expected to mandate that UK organisations and operators to engage with security and counter terrorism measures in new and profound ways.

A now closed public consultation considered three different areas that a Protect Duty could apply to: public venues that can accommodate an audience of more than 100; large organisations employing more than 250 people; and public spaces.

Further detail is still light, but one suggested recommendation is that there be a duty to implement more specific risk assessments and mitigation measures proportionate to the venue/organisation and its environment. As well as whatever the nature of the terrorist threat is at that time.

How might Protect Duty impact the UK's legal requirements?
It’s difficult to say at this stage, but we do know that the government is proposing to enforce the Protect Duty through a blend of advice, enforcement notices, and civil penalties.

Rather than a total overhaul, the new Protect Duty will complement existing duties on organisations and operators of public spaces. With the likes of risk assessments already a staple of many duty holder’s risk management procedures, the Protect Duty is not predicted to impose any additional burdens. Instead, it will produce a parallel system with civil but with the threat of considerable reputational damage in the event of a breach, ever present.

However, where a breach of duty exposes people to risk, criminal consequences such as fines will likely remain and if deemed serious enough, prosecutions could be brought under legislation such as the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act.

What could Protect Duty mean for the security profession?
In the subsequent inquiry, one of the key criticisms levelled at the security teams on the night of the Manchester Evening Arena bombing was their lack of preparedness and proactiveness. The threat level at the time was not sufficiently appreciated and existing risk assessments and threat mitigation procedures were deemed to be substandard. The Protect Duty aims to ensure this is never repeated.

It will do so by recommending the following:

Employee training and empowerment
Those managing security teams employed to safeguard locations falling under the remit of the Protect Duty will need to methodically review their training schedules. They will also need to provide evidence that all third-party security staff have the requisite skillsets before the signing of any contract.

Security personnel will feel more empowered by both the establishment of professional standards and an increase in the frequency of training programmes to identify threats and respond to them. A renewed confidence and readiness to react to suspicious behaviours is critical for avoiding a major incident. This risks being undermined by unqualified and untrained personnel.

Though various agencies in the UK such as Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) and the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) provide eLearning courses, these should supplement the training of security personnel, not form the basis of it. Practical 'prevent and respond' training, encompassing first aid and physical restraint techniques should take priority and be completed regularly.

Consider new and unforeseen terror vulnerabilities
While much of the world was placed under lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, terrorist incidents in the West did decline. The threat though, has not gone away.

Many public venues and spaces that attract large crowds, such as music concerts and sports events, continue to experience large, external queues with measures such as temperature checks taking place at entrances. This creates an opportunity for terrorists who would use vehicles as weapons.   

Significant consideration must be given to this threat and carefully planned anti-terror measures, such as the installation of temporary, approved perimeter security solutions, may be necessary.

Create, review and enforce plans
It is expected that the Protect Duty will recommend that initial risk assessments be followed by the creation of a ‘Protect Plan’. These plans will be developed to identify measures that mitigate risks and vulnerabilities, be regularly assessed and reviewed, and be configurable so they can flex with whatever the threat level is at the time.  

Threats such as those posed by terrorism will also require risk assessments to be subject to external reviews, rather than be monitored in-house. Likely, this grade of risk assessment will also need to contain certain standardised criteria, be appropriately differentiated for the venue or event to which they apply, and be stamped with an official kitemark of approval.

Plans and risk assessments will also be expected to go through rigorous review processes, be adjusted to meet evolving threat levels, and accommodate the emergence of new, threat-mitigating technologies and strategies.

Security teams should also be prepared for both planned and unplanned inspections of the sites or venues they are managing. Inspections will likely be altered to cover licensing checks with the message made clear that any breaches will invite enforcement consequences as serious as those relating to Health & Safety legislation.

Though the new Protect Duty is yet to be finalised, let alone enshrined in law, it is coming and will impact how security teams in the UK operate. To prevent rushed procedure changes and the stresses and mistakes that can follow, preparations for its enactment must begin now.

Depending on what the Protect Duty mandates, some of the measures outlined in this article may not be necessary, but it is advised that all are implemented where possible. When it comes to the matter of public safety, exceeding requirements carries far fewer risks than failing to meet them.

Written by Iain Moran, director at ATG Access, the leading innovator of road blockers, bollards, and vehicle barriers.

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