A New Zealand strategy for protecting crowded places from attack

Line of Defence Magazine - Autumn 2020

Crowded Places Strategy
New Crowded Places Strategy will rely on unprecedented engagement between Police and private sector.

Chief Editor Nicholas Dynon gains insights into the soon-to-be released New Zealand strategy for protecting crowded places from attack. It’s a strategy that will rely on unprecedented engagement between Police and businesses and community.

New Zealand’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy was published on 18 February, the same day it was green-lighted by Cabinet Decision ERS-19-SUB-0026: Looking Forward: Strengthening New Zealand Against Terrorism and Violent Extremism (September 2019). But most New Zealanders wouldn’t know it. 

And that’s the way, it appears, the government wants it. For now, at least. 

Timing is everything. The lack of a fanfare-filled hard launch the likely result of a decision to maintain status quo in the lead-up to the first anniversary of the attacks that prompted the Strategy in the first place.

One of the several documents mentioned in the new Strategy is Protecting Our Crowded Places from attack: New Zealand’s Strategy, which, Line of Defence understands, is likely to be publicly released by the end of March. Just how public that document’s release will be, however, remains for the time being unknown.

Benefitting from previous iterations

As reported in the Spring 2017 issue of Line of DefenceAustralia’s Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism was launched on 20 August 2017 by the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Although released by the Australian Attorney General’s Department, it was published under the auspices of the Australia New Zealand Counter Terrorism Committee (ANZCTC).

This followed the release three years earlier of the UK Protecting crowded places from terrorism guidance on 14 November 2014, itself preceded over several years by a raft of ‘counter terrorism protective security advice’ documents specific to certain categories of crowded places, including ‘places of worship, major events, health, higher and further education’, ‘stadia and shopping centres’, ‘visitor attractions and bars, public houses and clubs’, and ‘hotels and restaurants & commercial centres’.

A straw poll conducted among security sector attendees at the Safe and Secure Facilities and Public Spaces conference hosted by Conferenz in Wellington in August 2019 indicated that the Australian crowded places strategy was to some extent known among New Zealand security practitioners but by no means by a clear majority.

By contrast, in Australia the strategy, which provides guidance to owners and operators of crowded places on how to protect their patrons, visitors and employees, has become the vehicle for dynamic platforms of public-private engagement and information sharing both nationally and across states and territories, and also at the local level via Crowded Places forums.

A crowded places strategy for New Zealand

We are yet to see the document, but it is anticipated that the New Zealand version will share strong commonalities with its Australian predecessor, but with some differences – starting with the title of the document itself.

Protecting Our Crowded Places from attack: New Zealand’s Strategy’ replaces the terrorism-focused nomenclature of the Australian and UK versions with the less-specific ‘attack’. On one level this avoids a potentially undue and alarmist reference to terror, recognising that in New Zealand’s threat profile terrorism looms less large than it does in the UK and across the Tasman.

On another level, it also acknowledges that the ‘terrorism’ label – as applied to many attacks internationally – has proven to be somewhat contestable. Many ‘lone wolf’ and ‘fixated person’ attacks, for example, have attracted the terrorism label despite not necessarily meeting the various scholarly or policy definitions of terror. 

The title of the New Zealand document also departs from the preceding versions by its use of the pronoun ‘Our’, which implies an inclusive identity. And interestingly, the only non-preposition within the title not to receive first-letter capitalisation is ‘attack’, semantically subordinating that term.

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These are subtle yet powerful innovations that convey important New Zealand points of difference: inclusivity and a remit that broadens the utility of the document to the myriad threats – fixated person, armed offender, terrorist or otherwise – that such a Strategy should be able to collectively address.

Beyond the front cover, there are several further unique elements. At the national level, the Australian strategy features a Business Advisory Group (BAG) made up of representatives of crowded places with a national presence, which reports to and is advised by the Crowded Places Advisory Group, which in turn reports to and advises the ANZCTC. The ANZCTC ultimately reports to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

In the New Zealand strategy, a hierarchy of crowded places groups will interface with the National Security System via the existing Counter Terrorism Coordination Committee. These include a Business Advisory Group (BAGNZ) and a Community Advisory Group (CAGNZ) that will both report to the DPMC Crowded Places Advisory Group (CPAGNZ). NZ Police is the lead government agency for this strategy.

While it is not clear what the likely membership of the BAGNZ and CAGNZ will be, the addition of the CAGNZ carves out a clear role for ‘community’ representatives – a delineation not made in the Australian version – and a clear elevation of the importance of community engagement in the process.

Like the Australian version, Line of Defence understands that the New Zealand strategy will also include Crowded Places Forums to facilitate engagement and information sharing at the local level. These forums are envisaged as a vehicle for fostering local networks and partnerships to ensure all stakeholders are as well connected as possible.

The non-government security sector

The ANZCTC strategy provides a suite of guidance documents relating to specific threats, such as vehicular attacks, chemical attacks, improvised explosive devices and active shooters. Likewise, the New Zealand strategy will likely include guidelines, security audits and self-assessment tools, which are aimed at assisting owners and operators of crowded places to understand and implement protective security measures.

While the Australian strategy states that in many cases, owners and operators will need to seek further advice from private security professionals, presumably in relation to how they can make full sense of the self-assessment tools and implement appropriate security controls and safety measures, it is unclear whether the New Zealand strategy will identify a similar role for private security practitioners.

Many of the physical and electronic security controls the strategy puts forward for deterring, detecting, delaying and responding to an attack – fencing, security lighting, CCTV cameras, intruder detection systems, vehicle barriers, environmental measures (CPTED), screening equipment, security response staff and security plans – are controls that professional security consultants and providers are generally best qualified to advise on.

As such, the non-government security sector has an important potential support role to play in the effective adoption and operationalisation of the strategy. A failure of the document to acknowledge this would be an unfortunate omission.

New Zealand lags behind both the UK and Australia in terms of public-private partnerships and engagement in security. The Southern Response controversy and resulting 2018 State Services Commission Inquiry into the Use of External Security Consultants by Government Agencies and NZ Police Engagement of External Security Consultants report appear to have resulted in government agencies and law enforcement engaging even less with the non-government security sector.

Protecting Our Crowded Places from attack: New Zealand’s Strategy brings with it the promise of unprecedented levels of engagement between government and society in the protection of soft, high impact targets, and by all accounts this is a promise that lead agency NZ Police is intent on delivering on. It’s an exciting prospect.

Police engagement with representative bodies within the non-government security sector, such as the New Zealand Security Sector Network (cross-sector), New Zealand Security Association (physical security) and ASIS New Zealand Chapter (security managers and consultants), would ensure that the strategy benefits from the input of relevant professionals. It would also avoid the potential conflict of interest pitfalls that direct provider engagement has caused in the past.