Australian terror threat: National strategy to protect crowds unveiled

An AFP officer armed with an SR-16 stands guard to the front of Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 23 October 2014. Photo: Andrew Meares
An AFP officer armed with an SR-16 stands guard to the front of Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 23 October 2014. Photo: Andrew Meares
An AFP officer armed with an SR-16 stands guard to the front of Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 23 October 2014. Photo: Andrew Meares

An AFP officer armed with an SR-16 stands guard to the front of Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 23 October 2014. Photo: Andrew Meares

From architects to bar staff, Australians involved in managing crowds will be urged to plug security into their everyday thinking to prevent terror attacks under a national strategy that will embed long-term changes into the country's public spaces.

The major blueprint gives detailed advice to owners and operators of places that attract crowds on how to cut the risk of car and truck attacks, homemade bombs, knife and gun assaults and chemical attacks.

The strategy, which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will unveil on Sunday, follows a rising tide of mass-casualty attacks particularly in Europe and comes just days after the latest carnage in Spain. An Australian seven-year-old boy is missing after a van ploughed down a popular tourist boulevard, killing at least 14 people.

Underscoring the shift in thinking that will be needed for what the government says will be an enduring threat, the strategy covers everything from building designs that incorporate decorative barriers, to encouraging venue staff to have prearranged messages and codes to communicate during a terror attack.

It makes clear that governments are responsible for making sure the private sector has the best possible information but operators themselves have to step up and do much of the groundwork. They'll be helped by new, formalised partnerships with police and security agencies.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said it would help operators put in place "appropriate, proportionate" protections against terrorism.

"The strategy will leave the worrying to the experts, so Australians can continue to enjoy our freedoms and our way of life," he said.

Mr Turnbull ordered the strategy be compiled after last year's Bastille Day attack in Nice, in which 86 people were killed after a man whom the Islamic State claimed as a member drove a truck down a crowded promenade.

It underscores the range of places that need to be considered - stadiums, public transport stops, shopping centres, pubs, clubs, hotels, places of worship, tourist attractions, cinemas, parks, pedestrian malls and festivals.

In a clear signal the government expects action from operators, the strategy says they have a corporate and social responsibility to secure venues, and adds their reputations are "prone to serious and permanent damage" if they don't, which will in turn hit their finances.

Operators will be given self-assessment and audit kits with checklists on what they are doing right and wrong. Security should be a "permanent feature" of bosses' thinking, the strategy states.

The heaviest emphasis is on using infrastructure to protect crowded places against vehicle attacks and training venue and event staff to spot threats and respond if an attack happens.

The report goes into considerable detail, stating for instance that vertical features designed to stop vehicles need to be at least 90 centimetres tall, while sloping features should be no gentler than a 50 degree angle.

Buildings could also be designed with explosives in mind to stop them easily collapsing and to reducing the risk of glass injuries through window glazing.

As well as vehicle attacks, which have spiked since Nice, the strategy's focus also recognises the suicide bombing at Manchester Arena, the potential for gun attacks shown by the Lindt caf??, Parramatta and Bright shootings, and the alleged hydrogen sulphide gas plot uncovered in Sydney three weeks ago. But it also acknowledges that terrorists' tactics will evolve.

Operators should teach staff to look out for suspicious behaviour ranging from unusual perspiration and pacing, to drawing diagrams and asking about security measures.

They are also encouraged to have staff carry out regular "white level inspections" - basic visual searches for anything unusual or suspicious. However it acknowledges this can be a "matter of context" and stresses that potential assailants can't be identified "on the basis of appearance, nationality or language".

Operators are told to hold regular rehearsals so that key staff know their roles and "are able to perform these actions in a high stress and dynamic environment".

The strategy stresses any changes need to be proportionate and operators should get specialist advice, including from professional private security firms.

It also includes advice for the general public on what to do in a siege, bomb attack or chemical attack. And it warns people that police may not be able to distinguish them from the attackers and "could point guns in your direction". It cautions people to "avoid quick movements or shouting and keep your hands in view".

This story Australian terror threat: National strategy to protect crowds unveiled first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.