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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 05:16 GMT
Firms 'unprepared on terror threat'
The Canary Wharf bombing
London businesses have been attacked before
Too many British companies are failing to prepare properly against terrorism because they believe nothing can be done to protect against attacks, says a leading think tank.

In a pamphlet being launched on Tuesday, the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC) says many firms have been put off taking precautions by the random nature of attacks in New York and Bali.

The report follows a recent survey of 5,000 UK companies suggesting only 45% of them had plans in place so they could continue their businesses in the wake of an attack.

The head of security at a leading insurer says companies ought to plan for far bigger damage than ever before, perhaps with similar effects on business as Chernobyl.

Indifference?

The preparations warning comes after ministers urged people to be particularly vigilant against terror attacks.

Bruce George, chairman of the Commons select committee and contributor to the report, said: "Despite the scale of the threat, it is truly amazing how many vulnerable enterprises do not appear to have been taking the risk more seriously."

Out of indifference or on a rational basis, companies have decided that little needs to be done, says Mr George in an essay for the pamphlet.

Bruce George, chairman of the Defence select committee
Bruce George says too many companies are doing too little
The picture varies between different industries, says Mr George, with some sectors better than others.

He points to US research suggesting business premises are more likely to be targeted than government buildings.

The FPC's Rachel Briggs argues the unpredictable nature of international terrorism should not deter companies from trying to prepare for attacks.

She says the random nature of the US terror attacks "have led to a sense that homeland security cannot defeat a determined terrorist threat".

But she says that thinking nothing can be done against possible flying bombs or chemical attacks means the lessons of 11 September are being missed.

"The death toll might have been far worse if the Twin Towers hadn't practiced evacuation procedures after the unsuccessful bomb attack to bring the towers down in 1993," she says.

Those companies with contingency plans, including alternative accommodation, were far more likely to weather the storm, says Ms Briggs.

Business staff need to form a new breed of counter-terrorist, she suggests.

Government link

Sally Leivesley, from Risk Analysis, argues in the report that a "one-stop shop" link is needed between companies and government.

That would help share information and intelligence, she suggests.

In another essay in the pamphlet, David Veness, assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, says financial institutions have responded well to such threats.

Mr Veness points to the way they worked in the past to the threat posed by the IRA.

Meanwhile, John Smith, head of group security at Prudential, underlines the potential risks companies face.

Truck bombs

It is prudent to plan on the timescales and geographic impact of a disaster like Chernobyl, suggests Mr Smith.

"Successful chemical, biological or radiological attacks may deny access to large segments of cities for significant periods," argues Mr Smith.

But Roger Davies, a former UK military counter-terrorism officer argues explosives remain the most likely weapon used by al-Qaeda.

Mr Davies says cities should be able to cope with simultaneous truck bombs detonated without warning.

Companies within 400 metres of an American, British or Israeli embassy should especially review their crisis plans, he adds.


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18 Nov 02 | England
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