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Paris terrorism attacks spotlight multinational security exposures

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The terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month shocked the world and served notice to companies in the West the urgent need to ratchet up security for their employees.

Risk and security consultants who assist U.S. multinational firms in anti-terrorism risk management say terrorism should be considered a fact of life in Europe. While it is unpreventible in some instances, employers need to reevaluate their security measures and terrorism insurance coverage to be prepared for targeted attacks like the ones against journalists at Charlie Hebdo's offices and Jews at a kosher grocery store.

“There is an evolution in the way terrorist activity is manifesting itself,” said Scott Bolton, London-based director of business development and network relations for crisis management with Aon Risk Solutions.

The recent attacks highlight the issue of Muslim extremists worldwide using social media to indoctrinate followers and encourage jihadi attacks. “People think of (terrorism) as a bomb going off; now it's more of a people risk.”

Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the Jan. 7 massacre by two gunmen at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 people dead. Meanwhile, police say the shooter who killed a Paris policewoman and later four people at a kosher market belonged to the Islamic State, a jihadi group that broke away a few years ago from al-Qaida.

In terms of insurance, the Paris attacks are not market-shifting, said James De Labillière, London-based head of war, terrorism, and political violence insurance for the specialty insurer Hiscox Ltd.

“The threat of ISIS is not a new threat; we link it to Islamic extremism,” he said, referring to a specialty coverage that deals mostly with property damage and business interruption stemming from terrorist attacks. “For businesses who have not considered specialty coverage, it demonstrates the importance of giving consideration when planning for risk management.”

Aon's Mr. Bolton said there's another way multinational companies can look at such terrorist attacks — as they would workplace violence or a lone-shooter incident.

“You have to take away the dialogue that they used to justify this and think about it as a shooter attack,” he said. “There's nothing they can do to stop a terrorist attack, yet they can take steps to handle an active shooter.”

The real concern is the shifting landscape for what can happen and when it can happen, said Pamela Fox, London-based divisional director of credit and political risks at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

“We have for a number of years seen terrorist actions,” she said. “The problem is terrorism isn't limited to nasty foreigners. We are all seeing homegrown people who are becoming indoctrinated.”

Tim Holt, the London-based head of Intelligence at Alert: 24, a subsidiary of Willis Group Holdings P.L.C.'s special contingency risk unit, called it “jihadi cool,” as “social media networks allow the rebranding of fundamentalism as fashionable.''

Mr. Holt cautioned that the recent attacks in Paris are an extension of a pattern that has been emerging since the well-orchestrated Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. “The trend is low-tech,” he said. “In the U.K., people have been aware of this for a long time.”

Yet in instances such as shootings at workplaces and schools, and perhaps lone terrorist attacks, there lies a gaping risk management hole — the collection and dissemination of information, said Rick Shaw, CEO and founder of Lincoln, Nebraska-based risk management advisory firm Awareity Inc.

Companies ought to have a central place where suspicious activity and threats can be reported, he said.

“For example, if someone came in (to an office) and asked a series of questions or made threats,” he said. “People see things and hear things; (perpetrators) announce what they are going to do on social media, for example.

“In multinational companies if you have this type of incident you call this person or that person, and therein are silos and disconnects that are keeping the right people from getting the information at the right time,'' Mr. Shaw said.

In his analysis of the events at Charlie Hebdo, Mike Ackerman, CEO of the Miami-based Ackerman Group L.L.C., a firm that specializes in counterterrorism and risk mitigation for multinational companies, said he does not think the Charlie Hebdo attack was well-planned. He cites several instances of sloppiness: the hijacking of a getaway car following the shooting, the robbing of a store for gas money.

It is, however, a sign of the times, he said. “The problem of terrorism has been with us for a long time, yet this is a new wake-up call.”