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Failed terror plots prompt security concerns

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Counterterrorism and risk management experts say the recent failed attacks in the United Kingdom have reinforced the need for vigilance and preparedness.

British authorities discovered and deactivated two car bombs in a busy nightlife area of central London late last month. A day later, individuals connected to the London car bombs crashed an explosives-laden vehicle into a terminal at Scotland's Glasgow International Airport.

One of the would-be bombers, whom authorities said was believed to be the driver of the vehicle, sustained serious injuries in the airport crash.

The British government said at least eight people who had links to the medical profession were questioned in the terrorism-related incidents. Britain's Home Office initially raised the nation's terrorism threat level to "critical" and later lowered it to "severe," indicating another attack was considered "highly likely."

Meanwhile, authorities in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia increased security at airports, while U.S. observers noted that the thwarted attacks could boost efforts to extend the federal backstop for terrorism coverage (see stories, page 21). People reportedly with links to the failed U.K. attacks also were questioned in Australia.

"People remember the (London transit bombings of July 2005), and the threat of terrorism has been bubbling away since then. Risk managers and companies have had it on their agenda, but the recent attacks brought the threat back to the fore," said Alan Staniforth, principal consultant at AS Risk Management in Chesterfield, England, and chairman of the business continuity group of the Assn. of Insurance & Risk Managers.

One observer said the nature of the U.K. attacks may signal a shift in terrorists' approach.

Justin Priestley, executive director of Aon Corp. unit Aon Crisis Management in London, said "though the attacks were smaller and failed, they showed that the intention to mount attacks is still there, but that the capabilities are perhaps not as strong as they had been."

Mr. Priestley noted that it is important to understand "that the threat of terrorism is still with us, but it's a new type. It's less coordinated....People in our own society will be mounting these attacks."

"Terrorists will conduct reconnaissance, and if they find a (well-protected) target, they will shift their attention to a soft target, such as hotels and transport centers," Mr. Priestley said.

Cobham, England-based David Ketley, insurance manager for Cargill Europe and Asia Pacific, said that, "each and every one of us should be more aware of what is going on around us--what doesn't fit in, what looks suspicious."

Mr. Ketley said risk managers should advise employees and contractors to be "extra vigilant."

Steve Swain, London-based head of the counterterrorism section at consulting firm Control Risks Group Ltd., said organizations need to have good systems in place to control access to company buildings and must encourage "guard force awareness," whereby the security staff is trained to look beyond the immediate perimeter of the company's property.

In addition, he said, companies must remain vigilant about screening mail. "Companies ought to have a secure room where mail staff can investigate unusual parcels," Mr. Swain said.

Hank Chase, director of homeland security practices at Baltimore-based Smart & Associates L.L.P., said organizations also should evaluate employee travel during times of increased terrorism threats.

International business travelers need to understand the threat level of their destination and have general security awareness training, Mr. Chase added.

Barry Scanlon, senior vp and partner at James Lee Witt Associates, the crisis management and preparedness arm of GlobalOptions Group in Washington, said terrorism threats underscore the need for businesses to have a good working relationship with the public sector.

"Corporations really need to have insight into how to work with the public sector," as public entities make decisions that affect businesses, such as closing off certain areas.

Advisers at JLWA help companies develop their own system of alert levels, Mr. Scanlon said.

The Department of Homeland Security's color-coded system is "of little or no use to a company," Mr. Scanlon said. The appropriate response to various threats should rather be tailored to the individual business' vulnerabilities. "If you're in manufacturing, you don't care if Chicago is shut down. You care about whether the highways are shut down."