FEATURE: What would YOU do if you suspected a terrorist attack?
An extremist group in the town of Sandford is known to have purchased a large quantity of peroxide - the main ingredient for making a homemade explosive. Their leader has been calling for violent extremist action against minority groups and it is believed an attack could happen soon.
The leader’s address is known.
Do you act now on the information you have to hand and risk alarming the public and alerting the extremists - or wait for further intelligence?
At 1pm the following day two bombs explode in the town’s busy shopping mall. Two people are killed, 26 are seriously injured and more than 100 people are being treated at the scene.
This was the scenario faced by members of the media and volunteers in a desktop exercise at Lincolnshire Police’s headquarters last Friday (September 28).
Thankfully, in this instance, the town and events were fictional - but the exercise showed just what sort of decisions the police have to make in extreme situations and how agencies and communities can work together to help defeat terrorism.
Terrorism will not be prevented without the help of the community
The initiative, called ACT (All Communities Together) NOW, saw us playing the role of Counter Terrorism Officers faced with snippets of intelligence on a possible attack.
As the exercise unfolded, we were drip-fed extra pieces of intelligence and debated on what action should be taken.
While the initiative has been rolled out to various communities, this was the first time the media in Lincolnshire had been invited to take part in the exercise.
PC Rizwaan Chothia, of the East Midlands Special Operations Unit for Counter Terrorism, led the two hour exercise.
He said: “In terms of what action you take you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
“These are all the challenges that the police face but the message we want to get across is the real crucial role that people play in the community.
“Terrorism will not be prevented without the help of the community.
“It is crucial to be in the position in the first place to be able to make that decision to act on the information.”
ACT NOW aims to encourage interaction between people from different communities, cultures and faiths to work to prevent terrorism.
The current terrorism threat level to the UK is ‘severe’.
It has been at that level for the past three years, with the exception of in the immediate wake of attacks including those at the Manchester Arena, Westminster and the recent Parsons Green bombing, when the threat level was raised to ‘critical.’
Assistant Chief Constable for Lincolnshire Police Shaun West, speaking after the exercise, said: “Lincolnshire is not immune to terrorism. We are far from complacent when considering that Lincolnshire is in safe hands.”
Following recent terror attacks the force recruited Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) staff who patrolled the streets of Lincoln, and the county’s coastal resorts, as well as putting an Enhanced Armed Response vehicle in Spalding.
The CNC are a special police force responsible for providing law enforcement and security around the county’s nuclear sites and guarding nuclear materials and submarines.
Equipped with guns, they were seen on the streets of Lincoln as the terror threat level was raised to critical.
Assistant Chief Constable West said the reaction from the public was mainly positive on seeing armed police on the streets.
He said: “I briefed the police personally myself and the image was to have happy, smiley faces. They were posing for selfies, giving high-fives to the kids etc.
“The feedback from the public and the community has been tremendous. The CNC fell in love with Lincolnshire as a county.
“There are occasionally a minority of people who were slightly disturbed (by the presence of police with guns) but we tried to keep the policing style as ‘fun.’”
The Home Office currently has a national agenda against terrorism called CONTEST.
It has four areas of strategy, known as the four ‘Ps’.
PC Chothia explained these are:
PURSUE - to stop terrorist attacks
PREPARE - where an attack cannot be stopped, to mitigate its impact
PROTECT - to strengthen overall protection against terrorist attacks
PREVENT - to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremists
Lincolnshire Police is backing the Counter Terrorism (CT) Policing’s safety campaign for children and teenagers which was launched last week.
The campaign includes a video featuring adventurer Bear Grylls and England footballer Jamie Vardy giving advice on what to do in a terror attack.
They warn that in the unlikely event of being caught in a gun or knife terror attack, do NOT stop and use their phones until they are safely away from danger.
Bear Grylls said: “I’ve tackled some of the most dangerous environments on earth, but in the event of a terrorist attack there is only one thing I would advise: Run, Hide, Tell.”
○ For advice and information on issues relating to terrorism, go to the website for the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) at: www.nactso.gov.uk
Other information is available at: www.homeoffice.gov.uk