Raised Terror Threat; What Should I Do?

Oslo bomb, 2011

Oslo bomb, 2011

So, we’ve raised our security alert status to the blindingly obvious but with no apparent intelligence on specific threats or advice to what it means for and to individuals. Meanwhile in France, the security alert states has been raised from run to hide. There remains some way to go though, their alert states are graded Run, Hide, Capitulate, Collaborate. 

On a serious note, the threat of terrorism both from organised groups and “lone wolves,” is omnipresent in every society. I have quoted a former director of special forces several times over recent years who stated in a very matter of fact way that security forces expect an attack using WMD in a European city in the next few years. Threats are as varied as is the imagination and sophistication of the terrorist and range from “dirty bombs,” the so called “mubtakkar devices,” (typically lethal gas devices released in subways / metro’s), chemical attacks, attacks on the food chain, infrastructure attacks, assassinations, attacks on the public using bombs or individual weapons, (guns, knives etc) to kidnappings. It’s not an exclusive list of course but does give an idea of the broad scope of threat faced by our security services. It’s easy to allow fear and paranoia to take grip and lose perspective. It’s just as easy to be phlegmatic and discount all risks to zero by assuming a fatalistic view of the world. There is a middle path for the individual though and it’s all about awareness.

If a threat exists to a specific individual there is a world of heightened precautions and actions to be taken but in the context of the government’s general warning on Friday, I’ll keep this fairly general and it is in fact an update to a piece I did a couple of years ago.

Its perhaps surprising that apart from the Lee Rigby murder, the UK has not been hit by a terrorist strike since the tube bombings of 2005. More people face a daily threat to their peaceful existence from common criminals than they do from the terrorist. Individuals though, should nevertheless have a constantly updating contingency plan in their minds should a bad thing happen.

When disaster hits things happen very quickly. Typically, belief is suspended for a short time before panic erupts and people attempt to flee the scene. Smoke, fire and noise can disorientate and feed the frenzy. Injuries can be multiplied as a result of trampling and smoke inhalation. Power is often lost as a result of damage or cut for safety and lifts will be reserved for emergency crews. Bridges, tunnels, tubes and important transport nodes are frequently closed or just jammed. Telephone usage soars and mobile networks are often overloaded as news ripples out.

It is important to always maintain an awareness of your surroundings and to be in a mind-set which is alert to potential threats. Denial, ignorance and complacency consist of one well practised approach and indeed, our government particularly like to invoke the “blitz spirit, business as usual,”  mantra whenever a busload of citizens are blown up. Of course they have to, there is no other option for a government but there is for the individual. Personal security is a personal responsibility.

Equally, if we went about our daily business looking for a bad guy in black behind every corner we would be a nervous wreck by lunchtime. It’s important to emphasise that a relaxed state of vigilance and alertness is possible because it becomes a way of thinking that can be ratcheted up rather than a mindset one steps into when the alarms go off. Simple plans and awareness of the local environment go a long way to aiding preparedness.

Terrorist attacks incidentally are rarely spontaneous. They usually go through a distinct six stage attack cycle which includes planning and reconnaissance. Appropriate awareness of your environment can help citizens spot terrorist surveillance with things or people that are out of place, suspicious and which may represent a threat. This also represents an obvious vulnerability to the terrorist.

Here then are some points to note for the individual,

  • Learn to be a people watcher. It’s actually a very interesting hobby and helps pass the time wherever you are. Learn to evaluate people from their dress, mannerisms, pace, mood, eye movements, gestures and so on. Most people, especially the British, do this subconsciously. Make it a conscious process though and you’ll surprise yourself with what you can learn about those around you.
  •  Difficult to do as a commuter but best to avoid or at the least don’t linger in congested areas, queues (especially outside high visibility targets), crowds, international hotel lobby areas and so on. If by the way, you happen to be staying in a hotel always avoid booking a ground floor room or a room at the front of the hotel but not one that is too high for fire ladders to reach.
  • If you happen to be close to a cordoned off area resulting from a bomb scare / warning then leave the area immediately. The default position these days seems to be for everyone to take out their mobile phone and start filming ready to upload their five minutes of fame to YouTube. Don’t bother; get away. If you can see the bomb, the bomb can see you. That is, if you have line of sight to a device then you are likely to be hit if it detonates. Police cordons are hardly ever large enough in these situations; (there can be barely a policeman still serving who has been at the scene of a terrorist device detonating).
  •  My instructors always used to talk about the “hairs on the back of your neck.” That is, your intuition kicking in when perhaps your subconscious notices subtle changes in the local environment or behaviour patterns. Never ignore a “sixth sense,” or premonition. One part of the brain may simply be processing something the other isn’t accepting or not catching up on. There may be nothing other worldly or spooky about it and everyone has some personal or family story to back it up the syndrome; I know I do.
  • Always have a Personal Contingency Plan. Wherever you are, in your own office, at a meeting, shopping, commuting; ask, “what if?” “What is my escape route, where will I go to, how will I communicate.
  • If out in a family group always have an emergency rendezvous point for family members. “If we get split up, meet here,” and have a back up RV in case the first is affected by the bad thing.
  •  Contact is important, especially for those outside the disaster area. Remember, mobile networks may be down but often text messages still get through as might emails.
  • When a bad thing happens people can quickly become disorientated. The shock of the event, possible injury, deafness, limited visibility can leave them wandering aimlessly not knowing what to do. Having a predetermined plan, however simple, gives the individual something to grasp and work around and in doing so shakes of denial and or shock and increases the chance of survival. An example here would be the Clapham rail disaster. Many casualties were caused not by the crash but by a passing train afterward; people were simply overcome with shock and stopped thinking.
  • Note, it may take time for emergency services to be on scene. The aftermath of a device detonating in a built up area is particularly dangerous. Not only is the survivor at risk from injuries sustained from crowds but also from falling masonry,  glass, (especially glass that does not have protective ballistic film). In fact, immediately following a detonation get under cover and stay there for at least two minutes.
  •  If inside a building avoid anything electrical and stay away from windows, mirrors, glass partitions and so on. If outside, avoid the pavements; glass will continue to fall from high rise buildings for a long time. Do not shout, unless as a last resort, you will inhale potentially damaging or lethal dust. Cover your mouth and nose with any fabric to hand rather than nothing.
  •  If caught up in a bad thing, you must constantly evaluate and maintain flexibility. Do you know which streets the fire exits in your building exit into? What is the quickest route away from your area and out of line-of-sight? Might is be safer to stay put? It wasn’t on 9/11 but the terrorist will often plant secondary devices along the most likely escape routes or the point where the emergency services are most likely to set up their command post, (Warrenpoint).
  •  Think about what you would do in an active shooter scenario or knife wielding mass murderer. Sounds like something out of an X Box game doesn’t it but it’s been an all too frequent reality in recent years for citizens from Norway, the US and China in the very recent past.
  •  After a terrorist strike you must be prepared to help yourself. The authorities will be overwhelmed with the seriously injured, containing the incident and preparing for follow up attacks. If you are lucky enough to be unharmed or walking wounded follow your escape plan and don’t stop thinking. The crowd are no more likely to flee in the direction of safety than they are into further danger. Moreover, don’t expect emergency services newly arrived on the scene to know much more than do you.
  •   If you are slightly hurt, head to the hospital furthest away that you can reach. The closest ones will be mobbed.
  • Any survival instructor will tell you that survival is all about the will to live, not skills and not kit. The pyramid above is the one my instructors constantly referred to and its applicable to any situation. There are though some obvious bits of kit that one might contemplate carrying in a briefcase, bag or keeping in a desk drawer that would be of significant help in a “situation.” The most obvious is a smoke hood, with it a high powered small torch, some paracord and cash. Most people sitting at their desks reading this would be slightly embarrassed at the thought of ordering a smoke hood, carrying a torch, and always having a spare cash clip on their person. I am too but the thing is, who else exactly is going to help you at the moment of crisis? The problem with the hood of course is not buying or carrying it but using it when you are at risk of other panicking survivors ripping it off. It’s not coincidence that most survivors from plane crashes are young males aged between 18 and 30. As with everything, individuals have to make their own plans and decisions. Most do nothing.

The terrorist threat will not evaporate if the jihadists go away. We have lived with terror threats for the last 44 years and the Islamists will simply be replaced, displaced or augmented by others. The universe of potential threats is simply too large and dispersed for it to be anything other way. As I said at the beginning, individuals are most likely to be at risk from fire or “grab and run” common criminals than they are from terrorist strikes, (the risks from street crime of course can be eased with similar street awareness and changes to dress and behaviour). A little bit of forethought, planning and awareness though can further mitigate more serious risk.

In summary,

  • Have a dynamic plan, (in the sense of constantly updating to suit your changing environment)
  •  Try and develop a sense of relaxed awareness as a way of life
  • Always ask “what if?”
  • Minimise and mitigate risk
  • Be very aware of post incident risks; eg crowds, falling debris, secondary devices

Just common sense really,

Douglas Carswell MP Defects To UKIP

Douglas Carswell defects to UKIP

The jumping ship thing is perhaps a little unfair to Carswell. He does appear to be a thinking politician of conviction and has left the Tory party citing the dependency on pollsters, lack of real change, blocking of parliamentary reform and a desire to shake up the Westminster clique. 

So, UKIP have their first member of parliament and No 10 have a real "Oh bugger," moment. You can hear the hurried conference call happening now, "No Prime Minister, we're not aware if the 'slippery bxstard' has been to Rotherham or not..."

Actually, if his actions rock the galloping and disconnected sense of righteous entitlement that pervades Westminster then its for the better. I wish the man well. Interesting times.


Rotherham; Lacking Leadership

Rotherham; Abdication of leadership

Let's stand back from the continuing furore for a moment and reflect on what our political leaders have said on the subject,

"                                                                                                                                                         "                                                                                                                                  David Cameron


"                                                                                                                                                         "

                                                                                                                                  Ed Milliband  


"                                                                                                                                                         "                                                                                                                                    Nick Clegg

That is just an astonishing abdication of leadership promulgated I have no doubt, by pointy headed PPE policy wonks, Australian and American media guru's and Boss-suited electoral consultants. You can hear them now, "Well, best to say and do nothing in case you are tainted politically in the minds of the swing voter in the key marginals just by being on the same news segment. We'll get you on Marr this Sunday and you can do the reflective, mature statesman thing....................."

I'm afraid gentlemen, it won't do. It won't do at all

One more thought. The media are on their traditional witchhunt for the odd responsible individual to resign. My more radical contention, (see below), is that central government needs to sweep in and take over with the sort of special measures to reform and rebuild that are successfully applied to schools. The scale of the cover up however, has been so vast that I can't help but wonder if organised crime might be sitting behind some of this. I'd mostly be sending the National Crime Agency up there to have a look see....... just in case.

beggers belief



Critical Debate Averted!

Future of the UK is too important to be left to these clowns

A 90 minutes brawl between two shouty middle aged men was reported to have been witnessed by several hundred people in the vicinity of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow last night.

Apparently an informed public debate between two senior politicians on the future of the United Kingdom will now not be taking place before the referendum which is scheduled for the 18th September. Pathetic and bewildering in equal measure.

Craigellachie Hotel

Craigellachie Hotel

Craigellachie Hotel

I recently stayed at the newly refurbished Craigellachie Hotel on Speyside. Under the new ownership of London based private club owner Piers Adams the hotel, which had reached the sad and forlorn stage with an indifferent reputation, is enjoying a fresh rush of investment and enthusiasm. That manifests itself throughout the operation, for it is a drilled operation, in a designer-evident interior rebuild, menu’s and service. All though, is not yet perfect.

Without wanting to be trite or sour one or two pretty fundamental issues quickly came to light on arrival. No television in the room, (“awaiting delivery” although a small one was later found),  only one bathrobe in the bedroom, sketchy and intermittent WiFi, ("persistent BT problem, we’re using a dongle,”) nowhere for guests to relax before dinner, (“the refurbished whisky bar will be opening soon), a fine 2 metre view of a skip from the “garden bedroom,” and a radio with Chris bloody Evans blaring away every morning at breakfast, (although the staff did kindly turn it off when I objected to listening to the traffic report from Uxbridge while enjoying my bangers & bacon.

The staff seem to have been almost entirely recruited from Glasgow. No doubt some hospitality consultant has stuck his oar in about the highlander and the highlander’s approach to service. They may or may not have a fair point but it’s a bit of a central belt cliché and it would be good to have more local staff to inculcate a local feel. Nonetheless, the well rehearsed staff are trained, hard working and anxious to please if somewhat uncertain when hit with something non standard but issues are dealt with very quickly and efficiently so. In fact, the guest ends up hoping for them that quick resolutions are found to small problems and that’s good because it creates a “can do, will please,” atmosphere from both sides.

There was no fine dining room when I stayed and I understand that options for that remain under consideration. Eating then was in the ground floor “Copper Dog,” which is best described as “gastro pub,” dining. Nothing wrong with that when done well and its done very well here. The menu is simple, fair value and in their words, (locally sourced, sustainable etc etc). The wine list mirrors the food and is perfectly acceptable. The average table is goiing to do far more damage to their credit card with over effusive ordering of obscure whiskies than they will with the wine. Dining there is very casual and very busy, (160 covers one night we were there which is pretty extraordinary locally). Indeed, the Copper Dog is so popular with locals that guests would be advised to book before arrival. Inviting the ghillies from the river can’t have harmed the cause and echo’s the inviting London cabbies to new clubs and restaurants thing to jack up referrals. On one evening a live country singer started belting out some songs of the seventies and initially I contemplated stabbing myself with my fork or applying for an emergency ASBO. Actually, a couple of hours later I’d made some new best friends with some bearded Austrians and was well on the way to drinking too much Aberlour and starting a new chapter of the Dead Country & Western Singers Appreciation Society.

Despite a few odds and ends of fishing paraphernalia on the walls, the hotel isn’t really a fisherman’s hotel in the style of Burt’s and the Townhouse in Melrose or the Ednam House in Kelso; at least not yet. Its somewhat understandable given many, if not the majority, of rods on the Spey rent houses or lodges, (many having done so in the same spot for generations), although they frequently eat out. The hotel’s real economic market is the Whisky Trail market. That is the earnest American, Japanese and European tourists tramping up and down Speyside visiting the distilleries, which are quite flash these days and fully geared up for the sector, and tasting. I could tell them that many of those distilleries add caramel colouring to the whisky to make it more appealing to what their eyes think a good whisky should look like but why spoil their fun.

Fiddichside Inn

Rods looking for a fisherman’s rest to repair to for a blether and dram really need go no further than the  Fiddichside Inn at the other end of the village. Run by Joe, an ex ghillie on the river, the place has been in his family for about 100 years. It’s small, with no music, no machines well actually, not much at all apart from the booze, Joe and a wealth of dubious tales of fish, fishing and fisherman. The Fiddich is easily, one of the top ten pubs in Britain and if you happen to have caught a salmon that day, probably the best pub in the world. Unfortunately, some dullard has added the Fiddich to a Whisky Trail app so you are actually just as likely to see the bearded Austrians there as you are at the Craig.

Back to the hotel and all in all, there is little significant criticism  and one can see they have the will and drive to iron out teething problems, “it’s not the problem, it’s how you react to it.” There is a lingering thought though that by booking over the web without knowing these niggly things one is somewhat oversold the value proposition. Mr Adams is no Mrs Carmichael (previous legendary proprietor of old), and they haven’t got it quite spot on but they will do and I expect in twelve months’ time, if not before, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get rooms there. It’s professionally managed and run, the Craigellachie now just needs to discover it’s own charm and soul and that only comes with time. There you go, who needs TripAdvisor?

Come On Down Anne Lundon!

The songs and interviews you will hear were recorded with the 1st World War ex-servicemen at Flanders House in Glasgow just under 30 years ago. 

With the current plethora of Great War documentaries on television it would be easy to become a Great War Grief Groupie, cheek set firmly over to one shoulder and immersed in a constant slaughter / innocents / sad / epoch, social changing loop of evocative “wave the boys goodbye,” nostalgic and theatrical emotional for a lost generation that none of us ever knew but one that we choose to believe we know so well, as if the average Pals Regiment recruit came from next door. It’s true that not a family in the land was left untouched by the Great War and actually, it’s just fantastic to witness the resurgence in interest across all ages in matters historical pertaining to the conflict.

I’ve enjoyed a lifelong interest in the subject and all its geopolitical and social derivatives. The more I learn, the less I realise I really understand.  Just for now though, I would like to share just one wee small part of the massive canvas that is the Great War that utterly fascinates me. That is, the way people talked.

In a time when people could identify one another, their backgrounds, exactly where they came from, (by village, not just general region), by their accents, intonations and slang the sheer richness and depth of speech to me is an utter wonder. What might it have been like to be at Waterloo station as the trains departed for France with the general hubbub all-around of impenetrable fast Buckie voices, deep Hampshire burrs, fast witted cockney, lazy drawling Norfolk………….?  For us, the fantastic diversity of our counties has long been homogenised into approximate North East / North West / South West etc regional groups and as each year passes we lose more of our spoken heritage.

One of the wonders for me then, in watching the Great War documentaries, is to listen to the real voices of Edwardian days. We can though, do better than snatches in a television documentary.

In 1916, an Austrian academic called Alois Brandl made recordings of British prisoners-of-war and their regional accents. By a miracle, they survived the bombing of Berlin in the Second World War while being stored at the Humbolt University and were ultimately tracked down by a linguistics academic called John Adams. Well played John. Treat yourself and take a peek into history by listening to some of these magical recordings.

In fact, the British Library website has literally, a door into another world with various projects such as the Millennium Memory Bank and their survey of English Dialects.

So what can we do? We’re hardly going to adopt an “accent of the week,” and pretend to be Devonshire farmhands from 1912 are we? No we’re not. The BBC are utterly rubbish. Their idea of diversification in being a national broadcaster is to grab the three nearest northerners hanging around their shiny new headquarters in Salford and stick them on the telly but its not really exploiting the breadth that we’re looking for in our wonderful country. ITV though are even worse. They give us bloody Downton Abbey which very much sounds to me as if its cast comes straight from inner-circle-middle-class Fulham in 2014............... well, that's actually what they are but aren't they supposed to be acting as other people? Idle script, idle direction and idle acting. I'd rather spend an hour kissing someone with the Ebola virus than I would watching that drivel.

Crumble then, is here to help.

You can’t get more diverse than the beautifully soft and  melodic accent from Stornaway and that is exactly the sort of thing we need to hear more of to calm us after a stressful day at the office and the bloody awful commute home. Fortunately Anne Lundon, who at present is criminally wasted on BBC Scotland and urgently needs to be brought to the attention of the nation, is waiting for the head honcho’s at the Beep to hear the clarion call from the people.

Let’s celebrate the who and what we are as a country. Come on down Anne, West Sussex is calling.

Thank you Bardarbunga!

Children holidaying from Britain across the azure blue shores of the Mediterranean and beyond will right now be contemplating the closing weeks of the summer holidays. As the skies darken over their little lives with the prospect of going back to Form 5B, hope and help is at hand in the form of Bardarbunga.  No, not a Harry Potter character but an angry volcano in Iceland. Oh and boy is it getting angry and potentially, it could create dark skies for real as we've previously seen, and yes, we're usually quick off the mark with the volcano thing here at Crumble HQ..

Iceland has this afternoon warned airlines that there may be an eruption at Bardabunga which is located underneath Vatnajokull, Europe’s biggest glacier.

The alert level at Bardarbunga was today raised to “orange,” indicating “heightened or escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption,” the Reykjavik-based Met Office said.

Over 250 tremors have been measured in the area since midnight. The agency said there are still no visible indications of an eruption..... yet

The volcano is 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) wide and rises about 1,900 meters above sea level. So, it’s a biggie.

You can read more here and here there is a world of resource here and here.

British kids, obviously quick of the mark, will be going to uncommonly great lengths to avoid letting their parents see news reports, listen to the radio, read the papers..... "no Dad, you need to rest and get away from the news," lest Dad gets a flap on, hires a car and drives back before all flights are cancelled and all ferries are booked.

Obviously, I don't want 15 miles of Iceland to erupt as little as does the next man, but the kids... I know what they're thinking and it very much reminds me of this scene from John Boorman's wonderful film, Hope & Glory.

Humans Need Not Apply

and while hard working students are reflecting on their examination results and potential university and career options they may wish to consider the clip above.

It's just a fact that the education system does not, yet at least, properly prepare the young for the world which they will face, not today but in three, five, ten and twenty years time. Some studies suggest that up to half of all jobs can or will be computerised or automated within 10 years. At the current accelerating rate of change, its coming down the tracks an awful lot faster than that and for many in the workforce, it's already here.

Governments face many challenges. Two of the biggest are glacial but immovable demographic changes, meaning a smaller working population bearing the burden of supporting a growing and longer living retired population but also how to support the disenfranchised part of the working population whose utility has been replaced by an Intel chip. Theoretically, everyone could be richer and have more leisure time. That's what my Geography teacher foretold when I did my own A Levels but no, what we have for the moment is a bunch of mega billionaires competing with each to throw water over themselves while many of their fellow citizens can't afford the technology that was supposed to change and enrich their lives. It's great that Bill and friends are supporting a good cause but I think you get the point.

So kids, go and learn about chips, coding, nano tech, bio tech and avoid anything that can be done by a bot and just so you know...... that includes McDonalds so don't think that fall back will be there for long.