Paris Terror Attack and Lessons Learned

            “Je suis Charlie.” The phrase, which simply means "I am Charlie", has caught on as the slogan to show solidarity in the fight against radical Islamic terrorists. 

            By now, you’ve seen the news and coverage about the brutal terror attacks in Paris. When I was in law enforcement, it was common after a tragedy to review what had happened, especially if it involved an officer safety issue, and look for lessons that could be learned so future police officers in that situation would respond differently and survive the incident. 

            So what lessons can be learned from the events in Paris? To get the most benefit, take a very broad approach, looking for general ideas to prevent a similar tragedy, not just duplicate this exact case, as every situation will be a little different.

            First, these suspects were known to have terrorist ties and were on a no-fly list. Once persons are identified as having terrorist ties, authorities should monitor what they are up to. Of course, this is an ongoing and challenging issue, but society needs to set some barriers to anyone who promotes violence or has ties with those that do. This same type of issue played out in Australia when one person held multiple hostages. That suspect has allowed into the country for political asylum, but was involved in the murder of a domestic partner, accusations of sex assault in 40 cases and had terrorist ties as well. Unfortunately, most of us have no control over this piece, unless the threats are coming from an internal source.

            Second, take threats seriously. One of the most common security mistakes is that of not taking dangerous situations or threats as seriously as we should. In this case, a police officer was assigned to protect the magazine’s editor after threats were made. However, the police officer was not able to stop the attack. Even if he were armed, it was not enough to match the terrorists, who had rifles. If the threats were taken more seriously, the officer should have been able to monitor the approaches to the building and control access before the terrorists could enter the building. Being able to set up a perimeter, either with cameras or an actual physical presence would have helped create an early deterrent or obstacle for any attack. In this case, the terrorists actually went to the wrong address first, and then were stopped by a locked door until an employee was forced to open it under duress. Early warning would have possibly given time for the would-be victims to escape, hide or barricade themselves behind shelter.

            Third, any group that could be a target of terrorists should focus on building security awareness amongst employees and educate everyone to be on the alert for suspicious activity. Any attack follows a surveillance stage. The surveillance stage is really the best opportunity for security personnel or other employees to identify the pending danger. Persons taking photos or loitering around a target location could easily be gathering intel. Attackers will often try to take pictures of security cameras and their locations, as well as watch security personnel making rounds or conducting patrols. Sometimes, an attacker may call in a bomb threat or other type of threat to see what the response is and help identify how many security personnel may be at the site and get an idea of the response protocols. Other ways that a terrorist may test security is by trying to enter restricted areas or parts of a building that are normally for employees only. 

            Fourth, take action. Once these warning signs or even a combination of some, are seen, it is critical to take some action to thwart or divert an attack. In the case of the Paris attack, the death threats may have been the first warning. If employees or security had noted activity around the premise, it is likely that some of the surveillance stages would have been seen. If that had happened, the next step would have been to increase the presence of armed police or security officers, both visible and plain-clothes, to deal with possible attack.

            Of course, the real challenge is our own internal human nature. It seems to be natural to make excuses for threats and deny that anything bad is really tied to the suspicious activity. And the cost of extra protection measures is another big deterrent. 

            That brings me to the last lesson learned. Every organization should create a plan in advance on how to deal with a variety of security issues, including what the response will be when a threat is received. The plan should include awareness, training and a response component, combining all the above lessons learned. 

            Bon sécurité.

Combining his law enforcement and corporate security experiences plus a love of martial arts, Eric Smith created Business Karate, LLC, a Colorado-based security consulting firm. His new book, Workplace Security Essentials, outlines how any business, school, hospital or organization can master the art of self-defense, reduce losses, avoid liability and build a safer workplace. Visit for more. Follow on Twitter @businesskarate

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