Going into the City of London on a weekend is like walking through a ghost town. Almost to the point you’d forget it is home to much of the London skyline. The weather is wet, windy and wild, the streets are empty, and most shops are closed. Members of Corps Security have congregated opposite the Gherkin to grab a cup of coffee before uniting with the emergency services to work on Operation Eastern Cluster for the first time.
Operation Eastern Cluster is a chemical attack drill which looks not only at the operations of the emergency services, but also the role of Corps Security as the appointed security provider for the Gherkin and how collectively they would deal with a potential attack from within the building. It’s a test of danger identification, a test of effective communication and a test of site knowledge to ensure all parties are prepared about how to act and react during an urgent incident.
As the appointed security provider for the Gherkin, Corps Security is always the first port of call in the event of any emergency. The drill began with calls to Corps’ security officers in the control room from building occupants complaining of trouble breathing and irritated eyes after a scheduled contractor accessed the 27th floor. Identifying the details of underlying issues requires knowledge and precision from Corps’ security officers to recognise any potentially troublesome signs, understand the possible implications and take appropriate action without jumping the gun and causing undue panic. The benefit of Corps staff practicing what to look for means they are better prepared to deal with a real issue in a high stress situation. In the drill, once Corps’ officers had identified the contractor as the attacker, Corps tracked the individual through the building and shared surveillance between the security teams on the ground and the facilities management team. Corps’ officers distributed information quickly, effectively and accurately to reduce the risk of danger to people within the building and determine whether the emergency services needed to be called.
As Corps is the primary communicator with the emergency services it’s our responsibility to include all the necessary details and ensure 100% accuracy. There could be significant consequences if the information conveyed is incorrect. Corps’ role here helps the emergency services assess the situation and decide how to address it. During the training exercise all emergency services including City of London Police, London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service were at the Gherkin within minutes and were fully appraised about where to enter the building thanks to Corps detailed briefing. The City of London turned into an array of sounds and sirens. Emergency services were met at the appointed fire door by Corps’ security officers who further updated them on injuries, fatalities, complications and the whereabouts of the attacker before the fire brigade made its way to the control room. These moments of effective, clear and accurate information sharing between Corps Security and the emergency services are pivotal to the successful outcome of an event. Communication is so crucial in supporting the emergency services respond to an attack and assessing how best to approach the situation ensuring limited casualties.
Once members of the fire brigade were in the control room, it was down to Corps to share updated knowledge of the situation and the building layout including the best routes to access the specific floor and the location of people still present inside the building. By this point in the exercise, the communication channels had multiplied – verbally between our security teams and fire fighters, via walkie-talkie between fire fighters and the command unit and then back out to other members of the emergency services. As the primary communicator for dealing with any incident within a building, the role of security is vital. Security officers must make a fast and detailed assessment and provide clear, accurate and direction to the emergency services and support teams. Comprehensive site knowledge is critical and could be the make or break of a real-life event.
Corps has been working with City Security Council and the emergency services since November 2019 to prepare for this exercise. The exercise lasted several hours in order to ensure the strategy between all parties is completely sound and response times are fast, should such an event occur. Corps Security looks after many high-profile buildings which could easily find themselves as targets to such attacks in today’s climate. It’s essential a good support network is cemented, and processes are fine-tuned.
Training exercises like these are vital practice for all teams involved. They could make the difference between success and failure in a real incident. We will continue to work with City of London Police, London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service and City Security Council to ensure the upmost safety of the people and premises Corps protects.
“Who dares, wins. Who sweats, wins. Who plans, wins.” – British Special Air Service (SAS)