Beyond the Barricades

2019 a look at the year ahead

With the Christmas and New Year break over inevitably the news will soon be full of Brexit yet again, the prospect of a no deal and barricades at Dover manned by the Border Force. Last year the word Brexit was apparently used on Radio 4’s Today Programme five and a half million times. The danger for those of us who need to take a wider international view of global security is that Brexit threatens to drown out all other news and thus skew our interpretation of world events.

A broader look at international reporting over the month of December paints an interesting picture at the strategic and tactical level. The US withdrawal of troops from Syria threatens to push the Kurds into an awkward alliance with President Assad in order to avoid destruction by Turkish forces and in so doing increase the regime’s leverage. Assad loyalists, Iran and Russia will inevitably gain while the West may lose a valuable ally in Syria and Iraq and thus change the balance of power in the Middle East.

On 30 December elections took place in the DRC with the results due to be announced in mid-January, despite claims of vote rigging, President Kabila’s proxy Shadary, looks likely to lose which brings with it the threat of further conflict in this already brittle country ravaged by civil war at the heart of Africa.

At the tactical level on 11 December Strasbourg experienced a shooting attack by a lone actor near a Christmas market leaving five dead and twelve people wounded. Then on 17 December two Scandinavian female travellers were executed by Islamic extremists in Morocco with suspected afflictions of Islamic state.  Ten days later on 27 December an IED was detonated outside a church in Athens and the following day, 28 December a man attempted to enter the Basilica in Barcelona with a suitcase full of ammunition and two Vietnamese nationals were killed and twelve other people injured in an IED attack on a tourist coach in Egypt.

Then closer to home a lone actor struck on New Year’s Eve in Manchester stabbing three people including a British Transport Police Officer. Detained under the Mental Health Act he declared his motivation as support for the Islamic State.

So, what can we draw from these recent events? Well the world remains an unpredictable and dangerous place for the uninformed and ill prepared. At the strategic level the wider security picture in the Middle East and Africa looks unlikely to improve.

At the tactical level the nature, locations and victims of terrorist attacks remains diverse, involving guns, knives, IEDs and vehicles with victims from a range of countries, Vietnam, Denmark, Norway and Britain, the only common denominator being the fact that they found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, we need to keep informed and be well prepared at the individual and organisational level to identify and respond to the range of global threats that we face and look beyond the talk of barricades at Dover and the threat of a hard Brexit.

David Curran MA FCIPD MSyl

Everyone a Human Radar

Why your staff should be the first line of defence

Suspicious Person Observation Training (SPOT) should now be a priority for security managers of crowded and public spaces in order to improve the ability of their workforce to detect suspicious behaviour.

So, what exactly is SPOT and what are the benefits?

As a former Assistant Chief Constable, I had the portfolios not only for Crime and Operations but also Counter Terrorism. There was always a need to ensure organisers of events and those responsible for the safety of large crowds such as shopping malls and stadiums, had the very latest information on best practice and were encouraged to embrace strategies and tactics that were proven to reduce risk.

Often however, the focus was on physical structures and placement of CCTV and Control Rooms, quite an expense bearing in mind they also had to adhere to certain standards and build quality.

Thankfully for security managers, SPOT is a low-cost high impact tool to deploy, which can be introduced without employing additional staff.

The SPOT tool enhances people’s natural ability to identify a potential offender and crime in the making. Although designed with terrorists in mind it applies equally to those who seek to commit crime or cause problems. There are tell-tale signs and behaviour ‘signatures’ that suspects cannot hide well and are picked up by trained staff. Resources can then be deployed to monitor and deter before the suspect has a chance of even preparing to commit crime.

Prior to SPOT, security guards were often simply deployed at key points such as entrances and communal areas, and left to their own devices to reduce risk, usually simply by their physical presence. Occasionally they would be made aware of certain individuals who were ‘known’ and to keep an eye out for them.

These are valid tactics, but they have their limitations and are predominantly reactive as opposed to preventative. Security managers want an early indication of potential threats and they will only gain this by having the capability to identify suspicious behaviour as early as possible.

SPOT is based on behavioural detection methods that have been developed over the past few years in America and the UK and drawing on human behavioural science and can easily be imparted to all with some basic training. SPOT can be delivered at your location or in a training environment. In addition, the training itself will assist security on the day as it takes place at the coal face with classroom requirement of only a few hours to explain the system and then put it into action.

I remember as a police officer there were always those who were good thief catchers, those who could walk into a crowded area and pick out those who were up to no good. They had a feel that something wasn’t right. This was often borne out of many years of working the streets and using their experience and intuition. SPOT can impart that skill to all your staff and make everyone a human radar.

If you are responsible for crowded places or events and are serious about risk reduction SPOT can add an effective tool to your armoury and is a cost-effective solution. Prevention is always better than having to respond to what need not have happened.


Bob Pennington MEPS

Policing and Security Advisor

Edson Tiger


SPOT the Difference

Detecting suspicious behaviours

In our high-tech world, it is easy to overlook the simpler and more obvious human solutions to the challenges we face and nowhere is this truer than in the security arena and the protection of crowded and public spaces.

Technology has a role to play of course, be it the provision and monitoring of CCTV, sniffer detection systems, access controls including body and bag scanners and so the list goes on. However, we should not overlook the contribution that staff who work in these spaces can make. Collectively providing a powerful mass observation tool that can be mobilised with just a little training. We refer to this as turning everyone into a human radar through use of the old fashioned but highly effective MK 1 eyeball coupled with our instinctive ability to know when something is not right or ‘sixth sense’.

So how can we best exploit this latent security asset? The answer is by enhancing our staff’s situational awareness skills, encouraging them to engage in active observation and giving them simple but effective guidance on what constitutes suspicious behaviour. We can enable them to quickly identify and disregard the normal but home in on the abnormal then quickly assess what they see and if appropriate engage or report the event to the appropriate authority.

It works too, it constantly amazes us how quickly non-security personnel can be taught to actively observe, assess and to develop an understanding of what does and does not constitute suspicious behaviour using a simple assessment framework. We have developed our own system based on what we teach to students on our Complex and Hostile Environment Training courses.

We call it Suspicious Persons Observation Training (SPOT) and it is designed to be used by security and non-security personnel alike. The system provides a methodology for identifying what’s normal, we call this the baseline, and it focusses on profiles and behaviours. In addition, we also look at other generic factors, proxemics, biometrics and kinesics. To put it simply, this is how individuals and groups interact with each other, physical signs of stress and body language.

This system can be taught in just a few hours and mobilises your workforce into your first line of defence. As a result, you will see detection rates increase for everything from petty criminals to those with more serious intent.

There are of course challenges not least ensuring that there are not too many false identifications and that all resulting interactions with the public are conducted diplomatically, thus, avoiding any negative impact on your customer base or the wider general public. This requires soft skills training for those who are required to interact with the public as part of the process.

It is also important to maintain your staff’s level of awareness over time, this is more challenging but can be achieved through frequent security awareness campaigns, regular staff meetings and briefings and the use of internal communications to illustrate activities that have been disrupted due to SPOT. In addition, exercises using role players to conduct suspicious activity then recognising those who successfully identify it, can be used to introduce an element of competition and reward.

For more information about behavioural detection techniques and training including the SPOT system contact us at

David Curran MA FCIPD MSyl

A Room with a View

The Terrorist Threat to International Hotels

We are often asked about hotel selection and occasionally room selection too. Where we choose to stay is of course a key decision when planning an overseas trip. Thefts from hotel rooms account for one third of all travel insurance loss claims and poor food hygiene in hotel kitchens is a major cause of illness while travelling.

Then of course there is the issue of terrorism. Complex attacks on hotels are relatively rare but on the increase. Since 2002 there have been over 50 resulting in more than 1,000 casualties across 19 countries. Those affected include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Somalia as one would expect, but also Thailand with 7 attacks and Indonesia with 5. The list also includes Kenya, the Philippines, Egypt and of course Tunisia where 30 UK nationals were killed.

There were 19 such attacks across the African continent alone. Hence the threat is not limited to high threat locations but to medium level, complex environments too.

Having studied these attacks some common characteristics can be identified:

Time of day: attacks are more likely to take place in the early morning or early evening when the lobby and public areas of the hotel are at their busiest as guests check in and out and populate the restaurants and bars.

The main assault is often pre-empted by a shaping event; an initial attack designed to distract security and cause general confusion. This is often an IED. The main assault follows, a marauding terrorist firearms attack by one or more gunmen sometimes operating in pairs.

Direction of attack: this is often the main entrance then on into the public areas on the ground floor where the maximum number of casualties can be inflicted. The attackers then move up through the building and onto the accommodation floors.

They then attempt to gain access to individual rooms by persuading those hiding behind locked doors to come out claiming to be room service, hotel staff or security.

Duration of the attack: this can be lengthy as the security forces in many countries are ill equipped and not adequately trained to deal with such an event, so they often develop into long drawn out affairs lasting many hours or even days. The Taj Hotel in Mumbai was under siege for 72 hours in all.

So, what does all this mean for the international business traveller?

Well, firstly, when travelling to such destinations, hotel selection is important and should no longer be based on the size of the pool or the bar menu but also on security. Key factors are its general location and the local security environment, perimeter security and vehicle controls. Then look at the internal measures, front of house security and controlled access to the accommodation floors.

Room selection is another consideration. If you can state a preference, and most people don’t, you’ll probably get what you want. Ask for a room on floors 3 to 6, not too far from an emergency exit which takes you out of the building but away from the main entrance.

On arrival check the security features in your room then orientate yourself to the hotel. Identify all the potential escape routes and exit points, not only from your room but from other key locations in the hotel that you might use. If staying with a party, try to be located on the same floor if possible and have an evacuation route mapped out, at least in your head.

At night before going to sleep pack your key personal items away and leave some clothes and shoes ready by your bed so you can make a quick getaway if you have to; not only in the case of an attack but also if there is a fire or some other form of emergency.

Experience suggests that some basic research followed by simple planning and preparation can make all the difference and help keep you safe.  To find out more contact us at 

David Curran MA FCIPD MSyl

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Countering the threat from Lone Actors

There has been a steady growth in so called ‘Lone Actor’ attacks by individuals inspired by but not directed or controlled by extremist groups like Islamic State. Influenced by other radicals within their immediate community and on-line propaganda, they employ everyday items such as vehicles and knives to carry out so called simple attacks requiring little if any preparation or planning.

They are much harder for the police and security services to counter. The lack of pre-event activity and little if any association with known extremist networks makes early identification and disruption of their plans difficult if not impossible for the authorities.

Lone Actors therefore present a particular challenge and the emphasis is therefore on all of us to use our eyes and ears to identify suspicious behaviour at the tactical level, particularly when in crowded and public spaces, and to identify these individuals during their target reconnaissance or when they are preparing for the attack itself.

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The Pen is mightier than the Sword

A critique of public information security initiatives

There have been an increasing number of public information initiatives of late in response to the recent terrorist attacks across Europe and the real threat of further terrorist attacks in the UK. These campaigns rely on the power of a few words to convey a strong message in an attempt to capture the public’s attention, influence behaviour and shape their responses but how effective are they? Can the word really be mightier than the sword?

The most recent of these initiatives is ‘Action Counters Terrorism’ (ACT) which uses a range of on-line media in order to communicate with the general public. The campaign asks people to take note of and report a range of suspicious activities and behaviours relating to attack planning and preparation.

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Left of Bang

The importance of Situational Awareness

Situational awareness, like cultural awareness is much talked about but all too often misunderstood and poorly applied in any practical sense. Recent events have caused many people to ask what can I do to better equip myself in order to avoid bad situations. The answer is situational awareness and alongside it, what we call tactical awareness.

Situational Awareness is a process that helps us identify potential threats early on and allows us to take early evasive action and avoid the threat. The term Left of Bang is used by the US Marines to refer to this pre-event activity. Military timelines run left to right so left of bang means activity before the bad event or the bang we wish to avoid.

The US Marines call it Combat Profiling. The programme is intensive and lasts several weeks. I was similarly taught situational awareness during my training as an Intelligence Officer before being posted to high threat environments overseas. Clearly the average business traveller can’t spend several weeks undergoing such training but a few simple techniques can be taught in a relatively short period of time and change how people see and interpret the world around more

Cornwall comes to Devon

Edson Tiger on Royal Duties

We were recently asked to provide security for a visit by HRH, The Duchess of Cornwall to Plymouth where she opened the new BBC South West Regional Centre. We were of course very honoured to play our small part in this event working closely with our client the BBC and our friends at Devon and Cornwall Police. Our role was to act as the advance party, control access and provide over watch of the venue and surrounding area in support of the principal’s close protection team.

This was a rather unique assignment but we do provide complete close protection services in the UK and overseas for a number of clients ranging from celebrity protection at high profile media events in the UK to client protection teams working with the United Nations in Africa.  But whatever the environment it’s important that operators have the right core skills and experience.

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Bursting the Balloon

The Asymmetric Threat from Islamic State

Islamic State (IS) continues to lose territory in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq this amounts to nearly fifty percent of the ground they once held including the key cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. In Syria they have lost around twenty percent and Raqqa itself is now under threat from a coalition of anti IS forces. As well as ground, they have lost valuable oil revenue and conditions inside IS held areas are deteriorating with shortages of basic supplies becoming common.  If Raqqa falls IS will lose not only its symbolic capital and centre of leadership but its main logistics base.  So how will IS respond to this change in fortune?

When conducting counter insurgency operations in Afghanistan we used to talk about squeezing the balloon. You put pressure on the Taliban in one district and they would simply withdraw only to re-emerge elsewhere. And so it went on like a balloon half filled with air. We would bring pressure to bear in one tactical space but the Taliban threat would simply be displaced to another as we lacked the resources to apply pressure equally across the whole of Helmand Province.

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There’s a Ghost in my House

The increased threat from technical surveillance

Technology tends to bring opportunity and risk in equal measure, better defence and detection systems but at the same time a wider range of technical surveillance options available to those that might wish to eavesdrop on us. So how has the threat changed over the past few years?

Firstly device technology, microphones and cameras are smaller, better quality and commercially available and at high street prices. This means that technical surveillance options are available to all not just to security and intelligence organisations, law enforcement and high end commercial espionage providers. Today they can be easily obtained by the man in the street, on-line or from a commercial spy shop. So the opportunistic competitor, disgruntled employee or a clandestine voyeur can all easily obtain technical surveillance equipment.

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