Panic at Oxford Circus Tube Station: What can we learn?

Oxford Circus

On Friday 24th November 2017 there was a terrorist alert at London’s Oxford Circus Tube station just after 4.30pm. Oxford Circus is one of London Underground’s busiest stations as it is located at the junction of Oxford Street and Bond Street. the heart of London’s shopping area. Added to this Friday the 24th November was also what is known as ‘Black Friday’ where many retailers have sales with many items massively reduced in price and would attract even more shoppers than would be expected in the build up to Christmas.

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Oxford Circus Station on a normal day

At the initial stages it was reported there was gunshots heard in the Tube station and the police, rightly, treated it as a terrorist incident where Metropolitan Police armed officers attended the scene. Those in buildings were requested to remain while others in the street were requested to leave the scene immediately. As a result there was a mass panic and as people were leaving the station and the immediate area some were injured in the panic, with the injuries caused by some people pushing others down onto the floor.

As it tuned out, it was not a terrorist incident, it was two men having a fight in the tube station. There is no criticism of the police action, with the reports coming it was right they dealt with it as a terrorist incident as it is easier to scale an operation down rather having to scale on up. With the attacks that have occurred in London in 2017, it is understandable why we will see this type of police response to an incident.

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Two issues are worth considering in relation to this incident. One is the false rumours spread via social media. Social media is not always a reliable source of information, it is better to receive news from traditional news agencies.

The second issues is how to prevent injuries in an evacuation from an area especially where there is a high number of people to be evacuated. This has to be carried out with maximum safety. At the Parson Green Tube incident in September 2017 were a bomb failed to detonate on a train as people were running to leave the station there was another panic where people suffered crush injuries as a result of being pushed to the ground. The advice to  people in the vicinity of a terrorist incident is to ‘Run, Hide, Tell’. In relation ‘Run’ this is where you can do so safely without causing injury to others also evacuating a scene and in more open spaces this is possible. I have a concern where the incident is in confined spaces such as underground train stations, sports arenas, theatres etc. It is time to re-think and consider the advice to give people when caught up in an incident in confined areas. This will require staff at such venues to assist with the evacuation that must be in a calm and efficient manner that allows for the quickest evacuation possible without causing panic or, importantly, injury to others.

It is understandable when we have witnessed terrorist attacks, where amongst many others, like that seen in Nice July 2016, Berlin Christmas market, December 2016, Borough Market, London in June 2017 individuals do want to literally get away as quickly as possible to save their own life. These are literally terrifying events to be in. As well as the authorities and staff at certain venues having a responsibility to keep people safe, so do we all. I suggest measures re put in lace where there is a large volume of people in confined spaces to ensure an evacuation is carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible to minimise any injury.

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I discuss this in more detail in my interview with the BBC (24th November 2017 2hours 33 minutes 2 seconds in) and Sputnik News (27t November 2017).

 

New York Terrorist Attack: What measures can be taken to prevent vehicle attacks?

new-york-terror-truck attackSaipov

In the late afternoon on Tuesday 31st October 2017, Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek citizen who arrived in the US in2010 and became a legal US resident, drove a truck down a cycleway in lower Manhattan, New York, killing 8 people and injuring 11 more. After crashing the truck, Saipov emerged from the vehicle wielding a pellet gun and paintball gun. NYPD officers shot Saipov who received serious but non-fatal injuries and was arrested. The cosmopolitan make-up of New York was seen in the victims where five of those killed were Argentinian and another victim who died was Belgian. Within an hour of the attack New York authorities declared this was a terrorist incident. Saipov left a note in the truck claiming he committed the attack on behalf of the group Islamic state (IS), adding ‘ISIS lives forever’. At the time of writing IS have yet to claim responsibility for the attack, but as I have said in previous blogs, IS do claim responsibility for many attacks where they do not give direct orders or have any direct contact with the attacker.

Möglicher Anschlag mit Lastwagen auf Weihnachtsmarkt

Once more we have witnessed an attack where a vehicle has been driven into people. We have seen a number of attacks of this nature in the last 18 months from Nice, July 2016, the Berlin Christmas Market, December 2016, three attacks in the UK in 2017, Stockholm, April 2017, Barcelona, August 2017 and now New York. In total these attacks have killed 136 people with many more injured.

This raises a number of questions, including if we should expect more of these type of attacks and, importantly, what can be done to prevent these attacks? To the first question it appears the answer is yes, we should expect more of these attacks to occur in the near future. It is an easy form of low-level attack to carry out that can have the maximum, impact in terms of casualties. In IS’ online magazine, Rumiyah, issue 3 contained an article detailing the best methods to use in preparing and carrying out a vehicle attack. Other issues have published articles on how to carry out the most effective knife attacks and in kidnapping western hostages. Even though IS has lost control of a lot of geographical territory, its propaganda media is still effective, especially in influencing individuals to follow IS’ narrative and carry out attacks in the group’s name. So, unfortunately it is highly likely that we will see more attacks of this nature.
In relation to whether anything can be done to prevent these types of attack we are approaching seasonal time of year in western states with events ranging from Thanksgiving celebrations in Canada and the US, Christmas Markets and other open air public events through to New Year’s Eve celebrations. It is of paramount importance that we all play our part in preventing attacks, not in leaving it solely to the security services and the policing agencies. Local governments and business should regularly review there contingency plans and where events are planned to ensure sufficient resilience has been built in to prevent terrorist attacks. This can range from ensuring sufficient and effective physical barriers as in place to having effective evacuation facilities.

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In the UK this comes under the Protect strand of the CONTEST counter-terrorism policy. With colleagues, I will be advocating this at the UK Security Expo 2017 exhibition that is being held at London’s Olympia exhibition centre 29th and 30th November 2017.

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I discuss the New York attacks and issues above in more details in my interview with BBC Radio Sheffield. The interview is 1 hour 9 minutes 10 seconds in