Businesses and organisations wondering about ways they might have mitigated the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris, are going to need to concentrate hard on the basics. The challenge for security managers is finding ways to protect businesses and sites that need to be accessed by customers, contractors and staff.

In Paris, parallel attacks were carried out by radical Islamists who claimed to be members of Islamic State and Yemeni Al Qaeda. They killed 11 staff at the office of satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, as well as killing a police officer. Meanwhile, an accomplice killed another police officer and later 4 customers at a kosher deli in a Jewish district. The attackers used automatic weapons and military techniques. 

SEN generally focuses on products and applications, we don’t delve too deeply into security management. But post-Paris January 2015, it’s impossible not to wonder about ways electronic security solutions might be used to mitigate small-scale terror attacks on small and medium-sized premises. At Charlie Hebdo, the access control system was neatly side-stepped when attackers forced a staff member to key in the building’s access code at gun point, before heading to the second floor and opening fire on journalists and administration staff. 

In the case of Charlie Hedbo, access cards and biometrics would have been equally vulnerable to a threat-based entry. Only a panic code triggering a delayed entry and an audible tone inside the offices might have given staff time to access a safe room, flee to a roof top protected by secure doors, or to evacuate the building. Surveillance with a large display of the main entrance visible from the central work space may also have bought time. 

Concentric layers are the best form of defence against such attacks, including fences, gates and manned gate houses, turnstiles, access controlled lifts and access controlled internal doors. But all are vulnerable to forced or coerced access using violence or threats against a staff member. Aside from significant onsite armed response, secure lock-in or a crash evacuation to secure or external locations seems the best way to get staff out of danger for that vital 5 minutes before law enforcement arrives. 

Something else to think about is working on communications links to local police forces and security response companies. This might include multiple panic buttons that direct a monitoring station to call for immediate police assistance. Another thing worth bearing in mind is practising procedures. Sadly, this sort of thing takes place in schools in the U.S. and security managers should begin to think about it here. 

Defending retail outlets and public space is a much tougher ask. You can do bag checks and metal detection but unless you have boots on the ground there's not much staff or customers can do when facing automatic weapons, even if they detect them as the attackers enter a store. The option many countries turn to, including France, which has 10,000 troops on its streets charged with domestic security duties, is the military. 

We face a violent future

While it’s tempting to argue not every organisation challenges religious viewpoints in the manner of Charlie Hebdo, the Lindt Café siege and the more recent murder of a police administration worker in Sydney suggests the victim profile has a broad base. As seems to be standard in the wake of Islamist attacks in the West, the dialogue quickly categorises such incidents as being the work of mad men and/or the victims as being deserving targets. But thoughtful people know that violence is always an irrational argument and that no irrational argument can ever be true. There are no mitigtating circumstances.  

Upping the stakes is the fact that despite the attacks, Hebdo has again printed the image of Muhammad, an act described by British hate-preacher Anjem Choudary as "an act of war". More concerning is that the respected Dar al-Ifta, which issues religious edicts from Egypt, has called on the French government to "announce its rejection of this racist act that attempts to raise religious strife and sectarianism, and deepen hatred."

Across the world, Muslim commentators have begun calling for the application of global blasphemy laws which would make denigrating religious figures illegal. Given mainstream Muslims see the stings inevitable with freedom of speech as being racist and a deliberate attempt to raise religious strife, and with no chance the now-roused French will relent from their historical position of muscular secularism, additional attacks are inevitable.

In my opinion, the same freedom of speech laws that protect Hebdo’s right to depict Islam’s alleged prophet (crassly or otherwise), also protect the Quran’s and al Bukhari's right to publication despite their relentless vilification of and threats against apostates, unbelievers, polytheists, Jews and Christians. A blanket ban on all criticism of any religious belief or religious unbelief, applied vigorously to all forms of publication, would mean the destruction of monotheism as we know it. Arguments for the sanctity of one god are predicated on explicit doctrinal criticism – and in some cases direct threats of violence against – all other metaphysical bald assertions (there are about 3500 religions in the world), as well as a rejection of thoughtful scepticism. 

Regardless of your position in relation to these arguments, security managers and integrators in Australia should soberly consider that a significant minority of believers of a number of religious persuasions hold literal views of all or parts of their holy texts. If such doctrines are benign, as well as personally and socially empowering, they contribute greatly to social cohesion and provide a powerful conduit for good works. But doctrines that vilify out-groups and make threats in the present tense that may be open to literal interpretation provide a conduit for the divine sanction of violence.

Considered from a global perspective, an avalanche of empirical evidence suggests believers are not joking when they make threats against host societies. In the face of such explicit threats, electronic security is no joke, either. ♦

By John Adams

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