Australia recently upgraded it’s national public terror alert to HIGH. A capital city has activated one of it’s highest security levels, welding shut all public rubbish bins. Airports, shopping complexes and sporting events are also increasing physical security measures. What does this mean for business and leisure travellers to Australia and the Australian population? Is it safe for tourists, business travellers and domestic travel?
We examine the facts, the hazard, the risk to life safety and security and provide advice to managers and travellers on recommended response to these recent events and likely changes to come.
The latest description and guide to the updated terror alert can be found at Australian National Security
Land Mass and Population Density: Australia
Approximately 90% of Australia’s population lives in their major capital cities and second tier cities/towns. See below for a visual display of how this population density is distributed across the country. As you can see from the below image, a significant portion of the country is very sparsely populated or uninhabited.
The current terror alert is a nationwide, all cities, all towns alert. There is no segmentation or distinction between one location or region from another.
When the country or specific locations experience natural disasters or crisis [earthquake, flood, bushfire, etc] , only the specific affected area is categorised as a “state of emergency”.
Comparable Events: Thailand Coup
The recent political unrest, protests and subsequent coup in Thailand was largely confined to a few locations [physical disruption, delay or hazard] within the capital, Bangkok. See below map and link for a specific view of the intersections and roadways affected during the height of the disruptions, including those areas under threat of explosive devices, bombings, shootings and other physical violence.
The Thai government did not qualify the events as a nationwide, all cities, all towns alert or threat. However, the Australian government did issue a travel advisory, categorising the entire county “at risk” and recommending to defer travel for business and leisure travel. The US government issued a similar advisory. Does this mean that countries should be issuing a ‘do not travel” advisory’ for Australia, as a result of this heightened alert and possible threat?
Tactics and Threats
There have been claims and reports that suspected terrorists and terrorist groups have been planning, or are capable of conducting, bombings and public shooting attacks [e.g. Mumbai terror attacks].
See below for recommended safety distances [likely affected and danger zones] for explosive and bombing style attacks. It does not take into consideration that buildings and other urban obstacles will reduce these ‘effective ranges’ significantly, nor the amplification afforded by affecting the structural integrity of a building, causing it to collapse beyond the range of the device/blast.
Recent safety warnings affecting the nation’s fuel transport providers, where trucks have in fact exploded and lead to loss of life, did not result in a nationwide safety/emergency alert nor trigger national fears of mobile, explosive devices on nearly all major road networks.
Very, very few threats would affect an entire city, to the same degree. Let alone all the capital cities in a single country at the same time.
Without obstructions and a clear line of fire, a 7.62mm bullet [used by military machine guns and some assault rifles] will travel a total distance of 2,750m. The size of this bullet, is about 25% of the size of a standard pencil. This means, that you need to have a lot, to cause any large scale damage, at any range.
Gun fire is very ineffective in built up areas [outside of the directly affect area, which could be packed with commuters, shoppers, etc] and certainly does not impact other cities, across and entire country.
The most deadly and prolific mass shootings around the world [US High Schools, Mumbai and including Australia’s Port Arthur massacre, were neither terrorism [political] motivated nor religious in basis.
Less people to participate, less support and likely less impact from resulting attacks, but much harder to detect. Unlikely to threaten an entire city, let alone a country.
The USA’s “Washington Sniper” did not require either a lot of support, nor a lot of ammunition to achieve an effective state of “terror” within a community.
You have a citizen that has potentially criminal [violence, murder, etc] intent and/or capacity in which to carry out intentions. There are existing rules, laws and policing/intelligence resources for this already in affect.
In it’s most basic form, it is about creating fear in a large body of people or community. The recent change in the terror alert within Australia has indeed struck fear and uncertainty in the hearts of many Australian citizens, tourists and foreign nationals. Without even committing a successful, violent attack, there will be groups and individuals relishing in the result and studying the events for replication or repurposing at a later date.
Social Amplification of Risk
When a topic is widely discussed, on every news channel and constantly on the minds of a significant number of people, the actual hazard and/or risk can be amplified by this social focus and ‘feeling’. Recent shark attacks, compared with the actual threat, and the subsequent response to the hazard are a good example of how this has affected other issues in Australia recently. It does not mean that the hazard has increased, just the awareness and subsequent concern for the impact it might have.
Terrorist and terror groups have come a long way from the days of just physical, violent attacks. Many now use social channels, ‘launch’ strategies and commercial marketing tactics as part of their overall campaign. The leveraged result of national and international media ‘slingshot’ affect on the news, adds further benefits to such campaigns. In much the same way fictional characters in the pop culture hit movie Iron Man utilised social media, demonised leadership and graphic real/imagined events, the result forces governments to respond and conveys a message of fear to targeted communities/demographics.
What the change really means
While the change in alert seems rather obvious and clear, what it really means is not yet understood by most. In short, “They are here, they have criminal intentions and they have the ability to carry out their threats.“ would be the most succinct way to qualify the circumstances that lead to such a change.
It is more of an ‘administrative’ reclassification, permitting a change in policing and alerting supporting government and commercial entities to increase their protective practices.
Failure and Ineffectiveness?
If a local or national body increases a terror alert level, is it an admission that regardless of national gun laws, stringent immigration controls, customs screening and the patrolling of coasting board has failed, or just ineffective? Is ‘more of the same’ in terms of controls, policing and physical security likely to correct this current status?
Coincidence or a Planned Sequence?
The national terror alert changed just days before new reforms and federal powers were increased to address alleged terrorist threats, a decade old story of missing rocket launchers is splashed across the local media, at a time Australia is deploying military forces in support of a far away threat and one of the nation’s largest ever coordinated police raids are conducted on suspects and alleged terrorists.
Travel Advice for Australia
Like many countries and major cities around there world, there is a current, credible threat from terrorist attack/s within Australia.
There has been for some time.
This does not mean every street, road, suburb, city and location has an equal threat.
Australia has a significantly developed, trained and resourced anti/counter terrorism infrastructure. It is not however completely infallible.
The size and dispersion of Australia and it’s urban environment means that any, even a series of sustained and coordinated, attacks would not have a city, state or national wide safety impact.
Most likely areas the pose a hazard, in the event of capable, specific targeting would be limited to central government facilities, major sporting events, populous retail/commercial centres, transport hubs and niche/demographic specific icons such as mosques, temples, etc.
Expect increased physical and procedural safety and security measures at the above locations, in the short term.
This current alert level, and any subsequent changes up or down, are likely to be in effect for months, even years to come.
Tourists, travellers, business and leisure travellers should continue with current and planned journeys, following a personal review of their own inherent risks, location and the activity undertaken.
In the event of a more specific alert, warning or notification, activate your change management protocol and review the status of your journey. Proceed if risk level is acceptable to the individual and business unit.
In the event of a bombing, shooting, attack, etc, activate your immediate response procedures and follow your priority decision processes until immediately clear or removed from the hazard. Be prepared for sympathetic triggers and altered surrounding security measures that may contribute directly/indirectly to your journey.
Tony Ridley [Certified Anti-Terrorism Specialist]