Poor Training Helps Terrorists

October 31, 2014

The Kansas City Star reports:

A surveillance video released Sunday shows that security measures at Islamabad's Marriott hotel succeeded in stopping a suicide truck bomb at the hotel's front gate, but thatsecurity guards seemed confused about what to do next before the truck exploded, devastating the hotel and killing dozens.

About three minutes elapsed between the dump truck crashing into a retractable metal barrier at the gate and the blast. During that time, security guards can be seen approaching the burning vehicle and then retreating, then returning, one with a fire extinguisher, before disappearing from the video, which ended, presumably, when the truck exploded.

Pakistani authorities on Sunday placed the death toll at at least 53. Another 266 people were injured.

"Pakistan's 9/11" the headline in The News, a local daily newspaper, captured the shock felt across the nation. The site of the Marriott, with a crater that measures 59 feet across and 24 feet deep and only a charred shell remaining of the hotel building, was dubbed the country's "ground zero".

The interior ministry chief, Rehman Malik, told a news conference that the bombing was the largest ever seen in Pakistan. He said the bomb included more than 1,300 pounds of TNT and RDX explosives and mortar shells.

The bomb also included aluminum powder that acted as a fire accelerant - indicating that the massive fire that engulfed the hotel was planned. Many of the dead were literally roasted in their hotel rooms, where temperatures reaching 750 degrees Fahrenheit overwhelmed the hotel's sprinkler system.

Malik said it was too early to pinpoint the culprits but suspicions fell on Islamic militants based in Waziristan, the wildest part of Pakistan's tribal border area with Afghanistan - where Washington believes that al-Qaida and Taliban fighters enjoy sanctuary. The sophistication of the Marriott bombing suggested al-Qaida's involvement, analysts said.

The video showed that after the truck rammed the hotel gates, there was a small blast inside the truck as the bomber apparently detonated his suicide vest. The truck began to burn. A security guard can be seen running off and coming back with a fire extinguisher, which he sprayed pointlessly at a growing fire ball. The video does not show the final explosion, and it was not clear if the guards had tried to alert anyone to evacuate the hotel.

Had the truck made it past the gates, the carnage would have been multiplied many times over.

Sadruddin Hashwani, the millionaire holder of the Marriott franchise in Pakistan, vowed to reopen the hotel in four months, a target that seemed highly ambitious given the scale of the damage. He also said that guards should have shot the bomber."If I were there and had seen the suicide bomber, I would have killed him. Unfortunately, they didn't," Hashwani said. "But we will have better training (in future)."

All the training possible, "in future" will not undo what happened. Based on the above report, it is likely the guards had not planned for this scenario, much less trained to deal with it. This is despite even the most cursory risk-assessment identifying the site as a likely terrorist target.

It is certainly conceivable that proper risk-assessment and guard training may have reduced or even eliminated the number of people killed by these terrorists. During a crisis situation, humans revert to 'habit'. What they will do under pressure, is largely dependent on their training, and the amount of repetition of this training.

The lesson is clear: Identify threats, develop means to reduce the associated risk, and train, train, train.

Contact Calamity for more information, or to develop proactive anti-terrorism strategies for your organisation.

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