Key Takeaways
“Soft targets”, “public spaces”, “crowded places”, whatever you choose to call them, it’s the people that visit them that need to be protected. Focus on reducing threat and risk is venue dependent. UN initiatives to improve counter-terrorism through public-private partnerships are good news for travel, tourism and hospitality.

Soft Target Protection – What’s in a Name?

On January 19, 2021, The UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (OCT), launched The Global Programme to Countering Terrorism Against Vulnerable Targets, developed in partnership with the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), the UN Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate (UN_CTED) and the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI). The programme is funded by Qatar.

For us at NorthPoint International, the launch of the programme was truly a welcome moment and a sign that through collaboration and partnership great achievements are made. Over the past several years, our managing partners have had the opportunity to contribute in a small way to many of the foundational blocks that helped allow this global program to reach the implementation stages. 

This included workshops with UNICRI leading to the publication of a handbook to assist the establishment of public-private partnerships to protect vulnerable targets. We contributed to workshops and attended the launch of the Global Counter Terrorism Forum Antalya Memorandum on the Protection of Soft Targets in a Counter-Terrorism Context and followed up by supporting the European hotel industry at the launch of the EU Action Plan on Improved protection of public spaces. I spoke at a Security Council Open Briefing on the subject in June 2019, we contributed to awareness raising workshops in South Africa as well as expert workshops and security council meetings held by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2019 and 2020. 

Following the official launch of the programme, the UN Security Council Counter Terrorism Committee, held a virtual open briefing on January 27 on protection of “soft targets” against terrorist attacks. 

One of the key questions and points of discussion every step of the way has been “how do we define “soft targets” (or vulnerable targets, or public spaces or crowded places). There’s an old Danish saying, “Et kært barn har mange navn”, that roughly translates into “a child that is loved has many names”. 

We ran into similar issues when the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Hotel Security Working Group developed a document that could help companies evaluate the safety and security of hotels. The question of what can be asked and answered, what is the right terminology was overcome by basically saying “here are the points of assessment and how you apply them”. The document, which was subsequently improved and refined, became a benchmark standard and one of the most used documents in the OSAC library.

A similar thought process can be applied to the question of countering terrorism. The use of “hard” or “soft” targets implies that one is trying to protect buildings or infrastructure. This works well when one is focusing on protection of critical infrastructures such as power grids, water supplies and telephony networks. Terminology can be tricky even in those areas though, as translation of “hard” or “soft” target is not always straightforward.

Here, however, the focus is on protecting people. Sometimes they will be in venues that can be controlled, patrolled and protected (sporting arenas), while at other times they will be in venues that are less possible to control access to and protect (hotel lobbies, cafes, parks).

Fortunately, although there is ongoing discussion on the subject of protecting people from acts of terrorism in different kinds of venue, this has not stopped the launch of this important initiative that will help UN member states develop national risk assessments, develop functional and practical public-private partnerships, and allow local governments, business owners and operators to access expertise that can contribute to make their cities and communities safer and more secure for all.

There is no question that threats and risks can be reduced nor is there any question that it is through practical partnerships that the most effective, affordable measures can be found. A good measure of this is the collaboration between the French GIGN and hotel security leaders following the attacks in Paris and Bamako. Within a few short months a template for terrorist response and hostage rescue had been developed and distributed to venues all across France, in good time to be adapted and implemented ahead of the UEFA 2016 soccer championships.

NorthPoint International applauds the launch of the global programme by the UN Office of Counter Terrorism and its partners, UN CTED, UNAOC, UNICRI and organizations such as OSCE and others. We’re committed to continue to support these and all efforts to countering terrorism of all kinds.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Does your country have a publicly available national risk assessment?
  2. What public-private partnerships do you participate in to make your community safer?
  3. What contributions have you made to improving the security of your community?