Terrorism Threat Real and Rising
As the COVID-19 pandemic dominates the headlines Marine Cargo, Freight Liability and Terrorism Underwriter at Specialty MGA Fiducia Underwriting, David Heeney, warns the threat from terrorism remains real as evidence mounts individuals and groups are looking at new ways to cause misery.
COVID-19 has caused unprecedented changes to the lives of billions around the world but it is also threatening to create a new dynamic in terms of the threat posed by terrorism in the UK and beyond.
The move to social distancing and remote working may have cleared towns and cities for many weeks but the UK’s top anti-terror police officer has cautioned that it may have exacerbated the threat once businesses and shops reopen.
In the light of the attack which left three dead and three seriously injured in a Reading park, the warning from Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Lucy D’Orsi could not have been more pertinent.
She said that far from supressing the threat of terrorism the coronavirus lockdown may have led to more individuals becoming radicalised as they spend more time online.
“As we come out of lockdown, I think it is really important to remind people that the threat level from terrorism remains at substantial, which means an attack is likely,” said DAC D’Orsi, who is national policing lead for protective security. “My plea to the public is as lockdown eases and people return to crowded places, we need to remain alert, we need to remain vigilant.”
Fears are growing that the time spent at home and online has seen UK residents accessing both Islamic and far-right websites which are looking for new recruits to carry out further acts of terrorism.
UK Security Minister, Stephen Brokenshire, revealed that police in the UK have thwarted 25 attacks since the Westminster Bridge attack of three years ago and are currently underway with 800 active terrorism investigations.
The scale of the impact of the COVID-19 virus has also created a new level of interest from terror groups around the use of Nuclear, Biological, Chemical and Radiological (NBCR) weapons.
One of the country’s leading terrorism experts, Andrew Silke, Cranfield University’s Professor of Terrorism Risk Management and Resilience recently published a comprehensive report examining the impact of COVID on the global threat of terrorism and identified the rise in the potential for a NBCR attack.
“One genuine concern is that COVID-19 may lead to a resurgence in interest among terrorists for using chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons,” he said. “Historically, a range of terrorist movements have been interested in bioterrorism though there have been very few successful attacks by terrorists using biological weapons. While serious obstacles certainly remain, the huge impact of COVID-19 may re-ignite some interest in biological weapons.”
It creates a new dynamic for insurers particularly around the provision of coverage for NBCR risks. There are fears for instance that something as simple as spreading the COVID virus in densely populated areas may well be a realistic scenario.
For the industry COVID has impacted the ability of brokers to communicate with their clients with the ease and regularity they have done prior to the pandemic restrictions. It also comes at a time when businesses have been more concerned with their ability to continue to trade and operate than look to the potential future risks.
It has created challenges for the insurance sector to access those who need these products most. However, the easing of the forced closure of business and the return of the public to the High Street not only supports businesses in their recovery, but also provide terrorists with renewed opportunities to carry out attacks that will impact as many people as possible.
While the nature of the terrorist threat in the UK has changed, the impact remains significant for many businesses. The all or nothing approach from Pool Re does little for thousands of businesses which find themselves in a position where one or more, but certainly not all, of their premises are in areas which have the potential to fall victims to a range of impacts following a terrorist attack.
As providers of terrorism insurance products we all have a challenge to more effectively engage with our brokers and clients to ensure that the impact of the current pandemic does not see our clients looking to ignore the threat that they face and as such divest themselves of the cover which will respond should an attack occur.
The industry also has to ensure that we spell out in clear terms what our products will cover and what the client can expect should a claim be made. As we have seen in recent weeks a devastating event which places a policyholder’s business in peril will see the client look to any means to mitigate the loss and as such the clarity of the policies we provide needs to be unequivocal in order to deliver the peace of mind that are clients rightly expect.
As such we need to be flexible, responsive and understand that one size will never fit all. Far too often when it comes to terrorism provision it takes a human tragedy to highlight the threat that UK businesses face.
As underwriters and brokers, we have to continue to work with our clients to enhance their understanding of the threat terrorism continues to pose and the options available should they believe it is a risk for which they require affordable protection.