Exclusive Interview with Stuart Harrison, Crisis Management Consultant

By March 26, 2015 No Comments

The Mackenzie Institute interviews Stuart Harrison, a crisis, risk and security consultant, on the changing global security environment. 

1. Can you tell us a little bit about what you currently do? Has the current security situation globally resulted in an increased demand for crisis management and risk analysis services?

At present, I major on providing consultancy services to both Government and Corporate clients in the field of Crisis Management (CM) and Risk Analysis, with the majority of my time spent looking at CM issues.

I have a facility to run Hostile Environment Training (HET) courses and undertake Red Teaming security audits, but while demand for these services is steady, it is the CM side that seems to be most in demand. Before 2010, I spent most of my time in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and North Africa, as well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but now I seem to be working a great deal on issues in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and former Soviet States. I would say that there has always been a demand for such services. I have not noticed an up-spike in current demand just a slight change of focus and an increased urgency to see current projects through to completion.

2. Have new threats to global security changed or evolved the services you provide?

Yes, very much so. The increased instability of Middle East regimes, the new flexing of power dynamics in the “Russian sphere of influence” and the drawdown of conventional military forces in providing sizeable Peace Support Missions have caused an increased awareness of threat and risk vulnerabilities in both Government and Private Sector arenas.

In essence, this has provided me the bulk of my work over the past five years and I see it continuing to do so into the future. Governments and Corporate bodies basically want three things in a crisis situation: 1) Good intelligence and assessment procedures designed to predict the likely issues that might impact their security upstream so that they can prepare, act to prevent, and take steps to mitigate impacts; 2) When crisis strikes, they want the very best situational awareness in order to make appropriate decisions designed to influence outcomes and steer towards a beneficial end state that preserves their reputation for competence; and 3) A plan for a speedy return to normality, the ability to identify lessons and from those lessons, a fast change of working methodology.

I believe that ‘Duty of Care’ issues following the Charlie Hebdo attack and related incidents in Canada, Paris, and Denmark will increase demand for corporate security reviews, but to date, I have no concrete evidence of this, and the heads of some organizations seem either asleep at the wheel or unaware of the risks they bare.

I have for some time thoughts that the roving “active shooter” type attacks of the sort practiced in Mumbai, Canada, Paris and Denmark will be the biggest concern to Governments in the coming few years, and that we will very likely see more of this type of attack. Mitigation measures to protect staff and customers from such events will in all likelihood be an area of increased demand, and I am actively looking at what options might be available to enable clients to cope with the unthinkable.

3. Both Canada and the UK currently have extensive strategies aimed at preventing terrorist violence from occurring (“Prevent” – UK, “Countering Violent Extremism” – Canada). Given the growing threat of terrorism in the west, how well do you think these types of strategies work?

Laudable, but pretty ineffective might be the byline? It’s a difficult thing to do well, but the received wisdom on the subject seems to have little impact on the ground. In European culture, there seems to be a predisposition against integration and assimilation with a corresponding greater acceptance of multiculturalism as the only game in town. I think that European governments will need to revisit this aspect of public policy. “When in Rome do as the Romans do” might be a trite response, but I believe it offers a better prospect for public safety than our current approach.

4. What changes to policy do you feel are required to ensure public safety in countries like Canada and the UK?

That’s a big question. I could write a book on that, but for starters, confronting the ideology directly, without fear of misunderstanding, wherever it is found is clearly required. That might mean more intervention at home in diverse communities with a message that is clear, concise and not open to interpretation. It might also mean accepting that despite public intervention fatigue overseas, credible threats to our stability need the deployment of multinational forces to confront the armed groups’ intent on attacking ‘Western Values.’ More controversially, it might also mean creating a truly a level playing field when it comes to legislation. Holocaust denial is in many countries a crime, whatever freedom of speech might mean, it might not incorporate the right of individuals or groups to insult a concept or belief just because they can. “Je suis Charlie” aside, is it right to potentially encourage the abuse of a religious minorities’ beliefs on the grounds of freedom of speech alone?

Despite much lauded international co-operation against terrorist groups and transnational organized crime organizations, the true nature of international co-operation is, to my mind, pretty unimpressive. We talk it up, but there is a long way to go before the concept is made an effective reality. However, my misgiving’s aside, on the whole I believe that current policy responses in countries such as the UK and Canada are reasonable and proportionate to the threats posed.

5. Governments are quite often the target of terrorist violence, but what sort of risks are posed to private companies operating in the west and in conflict zones?

Overseas, kidnap and ransom is a larger problem than many assume, trans-national crime is probably a greater threat to large companies than terrorism, and that goes for the situation even inside conflict zones. Reputational risk is probably the biggest threat to private companies who are generally good at protecting their employees in conflict zones, but less good at protecting their products or reputations.

If companies wish to continue selecting and employing high standard individuals with the innovative skills and drive to take their business on to even greater success, then providing them with adequate security and a degree of confidence in their safety is an important part of their employment package. With the availability of “pattern of life” information that millions provide openly on social media sites, the opportunities for developing the insider threat has never been greater.

6. What steps can private companies take to ensure safe operation in the west and in conflict zones?

Hostile Environment Training Courses, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), simple do’s and dont’s training, GPS tracking packages, due diligence use of pathfinders ahead of employee deployment, exfiltration and medivac planning and support.

7. What do you feel are the largest threats to public safety in the west at the moment?

As in my previous response, roving active shooter attacks at multiple locations, the potential for insider attacks at closed locations and transnational crime networks.

8. Given your area of expertise and your time as a Military Liaison Officer at the Association of Chief Police Officers, how would you advise the general public to protect themselves from terror threats?

Go about your daily business, be alert but not afraid you are more likely to be struck by lightning than become the fatal victim of a terrorist attack. Understand the use of cover in the event of a spontaneous active shooter attack, and report anything suspicious.

9. With the PanAm Games coming to Toronto in 2015, what security issues need to be considered by governments and private Companies? What lessons can be learned from the London 2012 Olympics?

IED’s, insider attacks, and roving active shooter attacks. Low profile active covert protection is as good, if not better, than large quantities of overt static passive defensive protection. Walls, not guards. Also, a properly briefed and engaged public are your best source of overall security.

10. What kind of cooperation do you need from the public in order to effectively implement public policy? In your experience, what is the biggest push-back from the public and how does this impact public safety?

Transparency and as great an openness as is operationally acceptable is, in my experience, the best way to gain the wholehearted support of the public. If they understand the threats posed, and mitigation measures required, then the job of public policy makers is made that much easier. A lack of understanding is the greatest obstacle to a supportive public. An uninformed public is a vulnerable public. Knowledge promotes security.