Terrorism, like the rest of the world, is changing. And as the threat evolves, so must our response. In the past, attacks have often focused on ‘hard’ targets such as well-defended critical infrastructure including airports, government buildings and military bases.
Yet recent years have seen terrorists take a less predictable and arguably more damaging approach by attacking the vulnerable and unassuming general public — often known as ‘soft’ targets.
As terrorist tactics have shifted focus, governments and security professionals around the world have, therefore, had to adapt their responses to help prevent future attacks…
A symbolic event
On the 11th September 2001, the world watched on in horror as two hijacked planes took down the Twin Towers in the heart of New York’s Financial District – while another crashed into the Pentagon in Washington. The fourth highjacked flight crashed in a field in Pennsylvania: its intended target was believed to be the White House or the Capitol Building.
9/11 was one of the most symbolic events of our time – proving that advanced security solutions were needed to protect against the evolving threat of terrorism. The response to the attacks was swift. By November 2001, the United States had signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which authorised the creation of the TSA – a new federal government agency specifically designed to strengthen the security of the nation’s transportation systems.
By the end of 2002, the TSA had hired, trained and deployed nearly 60,000 employees including screening officers at airports, armed Federal Air Marshals on planes and mobile teams of dog handlers and explosives specialists.
The TSA also implementedmore thorough screening procedures for passengers and their baggage including walk-through metal detectors, x-ray screening for carry-on bags and explosive detection systems for checked baggage.Similar security measures were put in place globally across other airports following the 9/11 attacks.
It has been almost eighteen years since the events of 9/11 shook the world. Since then, a great deal has changed as terrorists increasingly shift the focus of their attacks to unprotected ‘soft’ targets.
In 2016, two suicide bombers detonated large suitcases of explosives in the departure’s hall at Brussels Airport, while an explosion in the foyer of Manchester Arena killed 22 people as they were leaving a concert in 2017. Both attacks occurred outside of the designated securing screening zones.
Following the attacks, the threat level in both Brussels and the UK was raised to critical. There were also calls for tighter security controls, as governments and security agencies looked to increase the use of safety checks such as bag searches and body scanners.
Then in 2019, we saw the Sri Lanka Easter bombings. On the 21st April, during Easter mass, a series of explosions occurred at three churches and three hotels across several cities in Sri Lanka, killing 253 people. In response, Sri Lanka’s president imposed a state of emergency, which gave security forces sweeping powers to arrest and detain suspects for long periods of time, as well as to enforce night curfews.
These recent attacks have further highlighted the challenges facing security agencies today. It is becoming incredibly difficult to predict when and where such attacks are going to be carried out, and how to put security systems in the right places. After all, how do you protect a constantly moving target?
One thing is becoming increasingly clearly: attacks can happen anywhere. No longer limited to ‘hard’ targets such as airports and government buildings, the recent attacks in Brussels, Manchester and Sri Lanka raise uncomfortable questions about where to draw the line with security.
Out of necessity, many large office buildings, shopping centres, luxury hotels, public transport hubs and high-profile tourist attractions in countries such as India and Pakistan already have security protocols in place. However,in many other countries where these types of security safeguards have not previously been necessary, security in public places now also needs to be a foremost consideration.
Terrorists will continue to adapt their tactics – finding new ways to bypass or take advantage of lax security measures in order to inflict maximum damage and loss of life. As such, greater efforts need to be made to implement at least minimal security for soft targets – especially among those categories that have proven to be particularly appealing to terrorists in the past.
Looking forward, advanced technologies such as rapidly deployable and mobile security screening systems will be imperative to help protect the public. However, intelligence gathering and analysis will also be crucial when it comes to thwarting future ‘soft’ target attacks.
The UK Government has already released an updated counterterrorism strategy which cites intentions to use quantum computing and AI together to enhance anti-terrorism tactics; for example, by analysing characteristics of previous attacks, AI can identify terrorists in crowds through their body language.
2X Systems offers a comprehensive portfolio of products and systems to meet the demanding requirements of security screening in this evolving world. To find out more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org