Schools, hospitals and offices should consider rehearsing responses to terror attacks, say officials after Reading killings

Fast-moving, violent incidents by ‘lone wolves’ have happened with increasing frequency in UK

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Saturday 27 June 2020 18:35
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Priti Patel on 'tragic' Reading terror attack which left three dead

Schools, hospitals and offices should consider rehearsing their responses to marauding terror attacks, the government has advised in the wake of the killing of three men in Reading.

These attacks are fast-moving and violent, and feature one or more assailants trying to kill or injure as many people as possible. They have happened with increasing frequency in the UK in recent years.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, warned this week that the threat from so-called lone wolf terrorists was also on the rise.

The advice warns that rehearsals are the “only way” to ensure safety procedures are effective in the event of a marauding attack.

Drawn up after a series of simulations carried out in 2017 and 2018, the guidance is described as “most relevant” to office buildings. But its principles can be “usefully applied” to locations including cinemas, hotels, hospitals, schools, shopping areas, shopping centres and theatres.

It is understood the advice had been published previously but was reissued this week on the gov.uk website, in a bid to ensure it becomes more widely read, especially as many buildings prepare to reopen after lockdown.

The move is not thought to be linked to any specific threat or incident, however, it comes days after three men were stabbed to death in a suspected terror attack in a park in Reading.

Most deaths usually occur in the first few minutes of a marauding attack, before police are able to respond.

However, the simulations found that the method of alerting people to a nearby attack was crucial to minimising the risk to life.

The advice, from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) and the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, warns against the use of the word “firearm” over a public address system during an attack, because it can be misheard as “fire alarm”.

Warning the public of a “security incident” also did not have the desired effect, and many people did not understand the imminent threat.

A repetitive, pre-recorded announcement wasn’t regarded as “credible” by those who heard it, the simulations found, and was not as effective as a live announcement.

The CPNI said the simulations showed there was merit in encouraging members of the public to take a moment to assess the situation, using their own senses, before acting.

Many people did not usually take the time to do this, it found.

The guidance adds: “This approach would be similar to the [pedestrian road safety] Green Cross Code – Stop, Look and Listen (although is not an ideal phrase, as it implies that this cannot be done whilst on the move).”

It continues: “Rehearsing the response to a marauding terrorist attack is the only way to ensure that the procedures and technical systems function as expected and to highlight areas for improvement.”

Labour has welcomed the reissuing of the guidance.

The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said: “Clearly, it’s deeply worrying that there has been a number of eerily similar terrorist attacks on our streets.

“We are committed to working on a cross-party basis to try to address these challenges, so will look at this guidance closely. There are real questions that need to be addressed, to see what more we can all do to help avert tragedies like this in the future.”

The London Bridge and the Westminster Bridge attacks in 2017 are both classed as marauding terror attacks.

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