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Dealing with the Immediate Aftermath of a Terrorist Incident

on Thursday, 22 June 2017.

The experiences of the pupils from St John's & St Francis Church School in Bridgwater, who were on a trip to the Houses of Parliament during the Westminster attack, and the more recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London...

... have brought the need to plan for the unthinkable into sharp focus.

Whilst everyone hopes that they and their families will avoid such an incident and people rarely expect to be involved, it is incumbent on all schools to have in place a proper and well-planned framework to enable them to manage any incident affecting pupils, staff and/or premises.

This does not need to be specific to terrorist threat. Indeed, it is sensible to ensure that you have policies and procedures that will be triggered in response to any critical incidents affecting the school.

1. Identify the Risk

We recommend that you start by identifying what you mean by a critical incident triggering such procedures and suggest that a critical incident is defined as:

"A sudden or unexpected incident, crisis or a sequence of incidents or events which could result in injury, harm or illness to pupils, staff, or anyone else affected by a school's activities and/or which could cause serious disruption to the running of a school or its activities."

This is not limited to acts of terrorism and encompasses a wide range of incidents:

  • Serious accident or injury affecting pupils or staff
  • Serious security breach, such as an intruder on the school site
  • Significant damage to school property, such as flood or fire damage
  • Damage to a school's reputation and/or adverse PR/media attention
  • Formal investigations by the police or regulatory authorities

You are likely to have crisis management policies, plans and procedures in place to enable you to respond to all such incidents effectively as part of your health, safety and welfare procedures, arrangements to demonstrate effective leadership and management and if a boarding school as part of your plan for foreseeable crises. However, the increased terror threat is a timely reminder of the need to review and test these with this particular threat in mind to ensure that you have in place adequate procedures to respond to such incidents.

2. Assess the Risk

Having defined critical incidents, we suggest that schools then undertake an assessment of such a risk materialising and keep this under review.

As far as terrorism is concerned, the MI5 assesses the current risk and publishes the national risk. The current threat level for international terrorism in the UK is SEVERE and from Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Northern Ireland is SEVERE and in Britain is SUBSTANTIAL. To receive updates to MI5's threat level, subscribe to threat level alert RSS feed.

Schools can then develop their own assessment with reference to local risk. There are several resources which can help with this, including:

  • MI5 general guidance re location risk:
    "Terrorists often try to attack official personnel and property, such as diplomatic missions and military forces... Terrorists target the police and military as they easily associated with the state, and their public-facing nature makes them fairly accessible for low sophistication attacks. However, terrorist cells also target less well-protected places frequented by Westerners. These could include locations where crowds gather such as social and retail venues, tourist sites and transport networks (rail, road and airports)... The effectiveness of randomly targeting a public place comes from the likelihood of low security and the element of surprise. Depending on the location, public venues also offer the chance for maximum casualties".

  • Your local 'Counter-terrorism local profile' (CTLP) which, since 2009, has been commissioned to identify the threat and vulnerability from terrorism and extremism relating to terrorism in local areas. A CTLP helps the police and local partners understand and prioritise threat and vulnerability with suggested recommendations to address any risk.

  • The school's existing Prevent risk assessment about risks of radicalisation which is likely to have considered the resources mentioned above.

  • The National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NCTSO) provides some useful guidance on recognising the terrorism threat.

3. Communicate with the School Community

Careful consideration will need to be given as to communications surrounding the risk of terrorism, assessment of that risk, tests of emergency procedures and the management of such incidents.

This is likely to depend on the school and its location, the age and ethnic origin of its pupils, and on parental views.

If you decide it is appropriate to expressly reference what to do in the event of a security incident, including a terrorist incident, the Metropolitan Police video advising the public to 'run, hide, tell' may be helpful.

4. Managing an Incident

The NCTSO guidance provides useful material in how to address a terrorist threat and provides additional links to further information.

We recommend a designated and well publicised core team to manage and respond to critical incidents. Key decision makers must be available to deal with the immediate and pressing needs and staff should be clear about who is responsible for doing what.

All staff should also be trained to take appropriate action. We recommend regular briefings about what to do and regular tests of your procedures.

Those on the scene of any incident should seek to take immediate control, seeking advice from the emergency services as appropriate. They should then pass it on to designated staff in accordance with the school's policies and procedures.

Communication is key. The uncontrolled release of information from pupils and staff can result in rumour and speculation, which causes alarm and distress. It may be sensible to ask staff and pupils not to use their mobile phones or email, other than as instructed or agreed. They should also specifically be reminded that they should not be sharing information on social media. We suggest that a nominated member of staff who has specifically been trained to do so, should deal with communications to pupils, parents, staff and the wider school community, as well as with media enquiries. It may be sensible to seek legal and/or PR advice and if so, we recommend this is done as soon as possible.

Once you have responded to the immediate priorities, it will then be necessary to consider medium to longer term strategies to deal with the consequences and implications for the school, its pupils, staff and the wider community.

If you would like any advice regarding dealing with critical incidents or security at your school, please contact Tabitha Cave on 0117 314 5381 or Natalie Wargent on 0117 314 5433, both within our Education team.

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