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Borough Market: When The Blue Lights Stopped Flashing

Attack Aftermath:

The MD of Borough Market heard of the terror attack – and could not reach the site, he recalled this security news to the International Security expo.

The fact that on that Saturday night, June 3, 2017, he could not go through the police cordon, he described as ‘one of the most challenging things’. ‘I had to rely on my security team to support people in the market to get to a safe place; and they did it in all that chaos.’

From the experience that the Market’s security staff were able to get people to safety, Darren Henaghan drew the lesson that such sites have to plan, and drill staff and partners; and rehearse, and learn, and go back and plan again, ‘and ensure that the culture is there, that people do the right thing, and that they are trained, and training kicks in’. He offered some of his learning. Don’t plan for the last disaster; plan for the next one. If (as in recent terror attacks on the UK) the weapons are knives and vehicles, it’s easy to plan for them; but the actual risk, he suggested, is an improvised explosive device (IED) in a market on a market day.

Keep Fresh

Afterwards, while wanting to make the Market near London Bridge as secure as it could possibly be, managers also had a debate about how to do that; as he said, if physical security made everything look like an open prison, what’s the point?! “And remember the people, keep your people fresh.” This was a business continuity point; managers in the aftermath of an incident have to be forced to take breaks, to take some time away, ‘which is incredibly difficult to do,’ he said.

He urged the audience to remember that human element, ‘the fact that these are human beings caught up in these things, and it is very difficult for them’. That was his closing point. He had begun with some history. The Market is a charity, whose own 18th century police force came into being by law, for security reasons – in those days, arresting vagabonds and controlling rowdies in general. In the last 20 or so years, it’s become a hugely popular food destination, open four days a week, pulling in 15.5m visitors a year. A Saturday crowd can be 90,000; before Christmas, even more.

A few times a year, the Market has to stop people coming in, it’s that full; a crowded place indeed, to use the counter- terrorism jargon. Making it an even harder site to manage, many people don’t know the site, as they come from all over the world; and it’s not easy to navigate anyway, as Darren called it ‘like a Dickensian film set’.

Something Terrible

Rather than the actual attack, he detailed and gave ‘lessons learned’ on afterwards, ‘and how we kept ourselves together’. He recalled he had been on the sofa, ready to go to bed, on the night of the attack; when he got a phone call from his deputy. He knew at once that something terrible was going on. While that was the worst of people – against a place that celebrates food and the good life – Darren dwelt on how he had seen ‘the best of people’. Messages of goodwill and offers of help for traders had come from all over the world, ‘which was absolutely fantastic and slightly overwhelming’. Market staff on the ‘phone were ‘just sharing the emotion of stall-holders’.

As for the response to the attack, ‘we just went with what felt right’. He recalled how it had been physically and mentally difficult – the Market had become a crime scene; and ‘nothing we can ever do is making up for the fact that something awful has happened. But this is London, we get up back on our feet and get on with it’.

Real, Even Raw

Relating to the local community and the outside world – caring, and being seen to care – was a drain on the team, he recalled. “If you are a leader, just bear that in mind, the emotional resilience that you need, not just when it happens; when the blue lights stop flashing, that’s when you start to manage the emotion of it.” The Market was closed for about ten days after, when ‘the whole world’s media converged on us’. On the day of re-opening, came the Grenfell Tower, visible in the distance to the west. How do you recover?

You rely on what is important to you, he suggested. “What is it, about your organisation, that makes it what it is.” The Market drew on the love that people have for it. Here he offered some crisis management and public relations advice; when dealing with the media, you need to project that; to tell that story, to be honest, even raw. If you don’t reflect the level of emotion after such an attack, ‘then you look like a fraud, you don’t look real, authentic, you don’t look like you give a s**t, and you are lost’.

That was seconded by the speaker following, the freelance BBC journalist and crisis trainer Adam Kirtley.


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