Pen's Perspective On... Terrorism Risk
Published On : 24 Feb 2021
Whether it’s sport, schools, or desirable destinations to live, we love a league table in the UK.
With their promise of risers and fallers, winners and losers, a ‘top ten’ ranking will always make for a quick, compelling news story.
And the shifting fortunes of those ranked can be something we set significant store by.
But when it comes to terrorism threat, we must help our clients guard against any complacency, even when the relative risk appears to have reduced and the global effort remains firmly focused on the pandemic.
Earlier this month Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the UK’s terrorism threat level was being downgraded from ‘severe’ to ‘substantial’ – a very much mid-table position in terror threat terms.
And in October, the World Economic Forum’s annual ranking of ‘Regional Risks for Doing Business’ saw terrorism tumble down the list of top concerns for business executives – by nine places on a global basis – removing it from the headline concerns completely.
Unsurprisingly, infectious diseases had simultaneously soared up 28 spots to second place, globally, while in the UK specifically cyber-attacks retained the top spot. This was followed by fiscal crises at two, extreme weather events at three, infectious diseases at four and failure of climate-change adaptation at five.
To put these ‘risks to trading’ in perspective, only 12 months earlier, UK business executives had placed terrorism as a risk to business continuity up in 4th place.
But absence from a ‘top ten’ league table does not mean a risk has gone away. In many ways, terrorism – viewed as a risk to doing business by finding yourself caught behind a security cordon and/or denied access to premises even in the absence of physical damage – remains an ever-present threat. Not in the targeting of individual companies, but in the potential for disruption and lost trade.
So as risk management specialists, insurance providers and trusted advisors, we need to ensure that this risk remains on the radar of our clients.
Sadly, there is also some speculation from the authorities that the all-consuming distraction of the pandemic, and the isolation of individuals, could inadvertently be increasing the risk once more.
Speaking following the November launch of a new ‘ACT Early’ safeguarding website, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu warned that a surge in online extremism, during the ongoing isolation of Covid-19, has created a “perfect storm” for radicalisation.
And while the vast majority of counter terrorism work is still focused on the threat from Islamist extremism, he pointed to right-wing extremism as the UK’s fastest growing threat.
Which brings us to another important point about how we must support our clients in becoming as resilient as possible should their premises or people be impacted by an incident of terrorism: evolution is everything.
We must continually review, refresh or rebuild our risk propositions to ensure they not only offer protection, but that coverage will be effectively triggered by realistic scenarios as they relate to shifting profiles and motivations of perpetrators.
We need broad definitions of terrorism – ones which, for example, include sabotage and attacks committed by groups or lone individuals and for a wide range of purposes – as well as key cover extensions, and effective dovetailing with underlying policies to prevent gaps in response.
So while the UK terrorism threat level has been downgraded from the ‘critical’ rating we saw back in 2017 and the ‘severe’ rating elevation that came after last November’s attacks in Vienna, Nice and Paris, it would be wrong to presume that the risk of incidents, with all the commensurate disruption and denial of access, has gone away.
As Priti Patel said on 8 February 2021: “Terrorism remains one of the most direct and immediate risks to our national security. Substantial continues to indicate a high level of threat, and an attack in/on the UK is still likely.”