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Paris attacks: NZ businesses need to ‘join up’ to be resilient

FEATURE: NZ Security, Dec 2015/Jan 2016

The recent terror attacks in Paris, security responses by authorities in Belgium and blanket adverse international travel advice by the US government to its citizens have again heightened the spectre of indiscriminate terrorism. Although New Zealand is far removed from traditional theatres of terrorism, extreme events expert and Auckland University lecturer Dr Brigette Sullivan-Taylor suggests that we’re not as removed as we might think.

Dr Sullivan-Taylor, who has recently fielded New Zealand Herald and television media questions on terrorism resilience following the events in Paris, notes that the frequency of such events has increased, “and that’s probably concerning in itself.”

According to Sullivan-Taylor, “the American response is showing how interconnected we all are. They’re not in France or Belgium but they are clearly concerned.” This poses questions around what risk managers and business continuity specialists in New Zealand’s private sector – and those with civil defence and emergency services responsibilities in the public sector – should be doing.

Dr Sullivan Taylor acknowledges the very effective work done by authorities in New Zealand to raise natural disaster awareness, but believes that the time has come to be thinking about broadening it out to other types of extreme events.

“Essential government campaigns and support has been there for earthquakes, resulting in high profile awareness”, she says. This assists in communities becoming more aware of what to look out for and what to do in the case of an event and – essentially – to operate in a more ‘joined up’ way. “In the case of earthquakes the focus is the local community, but [for other events, such as attacks] the business community within an immediate geographical area is important.”

Identifying vulnerabilities and who is important in the case of an event is key. In the UK, says Sullivan-Taylor, local councils joined with private sector and CNI organisations to work through exercises to achieve coordination and agreement on specific roles. Additionally, a risk register for each city – accessible via the web – informed these exercises, making them location-targeted.

“A similar approach could be applicable here”, she suggests, “because in different regions there would be different risks, such as flooding, earthquakes, biohazards, etc.”

But identifying who might lead this joined up approach is the challenge. In the UK it’s the Civil Contingencies Secretariat that performs a leadership role, and in the US it’s the Department of Homeland Security. In New Zealand, Sullivan-Taylor suggests that it is also the case that the responsibility best resides with government.

The private sector, she observes, already understands and engages with risk and business continuity planning, but the focus tends to be internal. In order to work towards a ‘joined up’ approach, risk and continuity managers need to be looking beyond the company to their “wider supply chain and corporate partners and neighbours.”

A good start would be to consider whether your business exists within a multi-tenanted building context, and the extent to which you coordinate and joint- plan with other security and facilities managers within your building. At the next level, is the building management ‘joining up’ with their counterparts in neighbouring buildings? To what extent does your local Chamber of Commerce or business association promote locality- based resilience and business continuity programs?

Dr Sullivan-Taylor is leading an International Comparative Study into extreme events best practice at Auckland University, partnering with the Aston and Warwick Business Schools in the UK. Given that it was private sector business continuity and risk professionals who informed the UK study, she is looking for participants from within the NZ private sector to make the project work. If you are interested in participating, please contact her at Auckland University or email

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Dr Bridgette Sullivan-Taylor: researching extreme events and businesses.

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