In 2016, when I released the 2nd edition of my guidebook on evacuation for people with disability, I commented that Australia is quite literally, a ‘lucky country’ in terms of terrorist attacks on our home soil.
It is true we live in a safe country, isolated as an island nation, with a relatively stable political system. But one only has to visit any world news channel to be reminded of the events occurring around the world, tearing lives apart, destroying cities and seeing large volumes of displaced people moving from their homelands.
Over recent years I’ve quoted the current Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, who described terrorism as “the new normal”. This is, unfortunately, the case here in Australia too. Generally, not through our own events, but through constant awareness in the media of events happening around the world. We continue to hear about terrorist attacks and active shooter incidents, but we have quickly desensitised ourselves to the horror of what is occurring to other people. We should not, however, ignore the likelihood of a major event taking place in Australia in the near future. Terrorism is now the new threat within any large assembly building or public space. The events in Melbourne on the afternoon of Friday 9th November 2018 prove we should not be complacent.
Looking back to the 11th September 2001, the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon unquestionably changed the world. Including here in Australia.
Following 9/11, as it became known, many insurance companies withdrew terrorism cover. As a result, the Senate introduced the Terrorism Insurance Bill, which stated “Following the events in the United States of September 2001, cover for terrorism risk was progressively withdrawn by insurance and reinsurance companies. Significant commercial and financial difficulties have resulted from the withdrawal of such coverage. With a large pool of assets uninsured for terrorism risk, financiers and investors face uncertainty that could result in adverse economic circumstances, delaying commencement of investment projects and altering portfolio management decisions.” In 2003 the Terrorism Insurance Act 2003 was passed, in which the Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation (ARPC) was established.
ARPC is a public financial corporation with objectives to:
- Protect Australia from the economic losses caused by eligible terrorism catastrophe or losses; and
- Administer Australia’s Terrorism Reinsurance Scheme following the withdrawal of terrorism cover by insurance companies after the 9/11 attacks; and
- Provide primary insurers with reinsurance for commercial property and associated business interruption losses arising from a ‘declared terrorist incident’.
The ARPC Reinsurance Scheme was established following discussions between key industry stakeholders, including insurance companies, banks, industry associations, property owners and brokers. The Scheme allows insurance companies to reinsure the risk of claims for eligible terrorism losses by paying premiums to ARPC. Insured assets are then covered for declared terrorist incidents and the insurer transfers this terrorism risk to ARPC.
Since 2003, ARPC continues to develop terrorism risk mitigation strategies, which now includes working with Standards Australia to develop a new Handbook titled ‘Physical Protective Security Controls for Buildings’.
The objective of the new handbook is to “help manage the security of buildings and infrastructure”. To commence this task, Standards Australia put a call out in July 2018 for industry experts from aligned industries, such as risk management, security, building planning and design, emergency management, critical infrastructure and business continuity to participate in a working group using the new incubator collaborative online work platform.
This project has now commenced and aims to have the Handbook released in late 2019.
By following the guidance in the Handbook managers of large-scale assets will be able to undertake a risk assessment to assess their risks, identify treatment strategies and protect assets against terrorist attacks.
My interest in this project relates to ensuring control measures implemented to manage any risk in a workplace, public building, educational facility, or any building housing large numbers of occupants, considers accessibility and universal design. Failure to do so will potentially result in a failure to consider the needs of all people when planning for emergencies and terrorist attacks.
Like many people, I still remember the morning of the 11th September 2001. That morning, we witnessed the horror and events unfolding on television sets around the country, and around the world. We saw the unimaginable become reality. We would never, ever, have contemplated four planes being hijacked and three of them becoming weapons. We would never have thought a plane could crash into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense. Never in our wildest dreams would we imagine two planes crashing into the twin towers of the New York World Trade Centre causing the structural failure of both buildings and seeing them crashing to the ground. But we did.
It’s difficult to get an exact number of fatalities in the 9/11 World Trade Centre (WTC) attacks, but the estimates are around 3,000. 10% of which were firefighters. An unknown number were people with disabilities.
In 2013 and 2014 I spent a considerable amount of time researching evacuation planning for people with disabilities and I constantly kept returning back to the topic of 9/11. Why? Because even after the 1993 WTC bombing and an increase in evacuation planning and purchasing of evacuation chairs only two people using a wheelchair are known to have made it out alive. Gerber, Norwood and Zkour (2010) have provided this damning statement:
“The inadequacy of the “wait for help” building evacuation strategy for persons with mobility impairments was confirmed in the attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001. Although 125 evacuation chairs were purchased for individual building users following the 1993 bombing, only two persons with mobility impairments were successfully evacuated on September 11th using these chairs. We do not know how many people with disabilities died that day, but there were reports from those who did evacuate of at least one wheelchair user who along with his long-time friend waited for help and did not make it out.
There were also many reports of persons who could not keep up during the evacuation of the Twin Towers. These were persons who were elderly, with respiratory conditions and other limitations that prevented their getting out in time.”
Those two people who survived using evacuation chairs were:
- John Abruzzo, evacuated by four co-workers from the 69th floor, which took 90 minutes; and
- Tina Hansen, evacuated by two co-workers from the 68th floor, which took over 60 minutes.
They broke the rules and survived. Others followed directions and waited in designated areas of safe refuge, these people were trapped and perished that day. This was confirmed by eyewitnesses, one reporting that his last view as he left the 80th floor and made it to safety was that of a room full of people using wheelchairs and walkers waiting to be rescued by firefighters who were coming up the stairs but never made it to them.
The development of this new handbook will help to ensure that people are protected and not put into a position where they have to break the rules to survive. The handbook will complement ‘AS 3745 Planning for emergencies in facilities’, which says that consideration must be given to occupants and visitors, who:
- are accompanied by an assistant;
- have a guide dog or a companion animal;
- use alternative forms of information and communication;
- have a vision impairment or a hearing impairment;
- have an ambulatory impairment;
- use a wheeled mobility appliance such as a wheelchair or a scooter;
- are easily fatigued; or
- easily experience acute anxiety or extreme confusion in an emergency.
When you consider that people who are easily fatigued could include older people, younger people, those who are overweight or unfit, or even those wearing incorrect footwear, this is a significant percentage of the population who could be impacted by an emergency in a building due to terrorist attacks.
Please contact EgressAbility™ to discuss how we can help reduce risks in your building or facility.
Or visit the ARPC webpage to read more about the HB 188 project – http://arpc.gov.au/2018/07/09/7642/
Copyright Egress Group Pty © 2018
- Standards Australia 2018, Call for experts: managing risks in the built environment, https://www.standards.org.au/news/call-for-experts-colon-managing-risks-in-the-built-environment
- ARPC 2018, The Scheme, https://arpc.gov.au/what-we-do/the-scheme/
- ARPC 2018, Physical Protective Security Treatment for Buildings Handbook, http://arpc.gov.au/2018/07/09/7642/
- Terrorism Insurance Act 2003, https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2014C00780
- Terrorism Insurance Bill 2002, Revised Explanatory Memorandum, https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2004B01185/Revised%20Explanatory%20Memorandum/Text
- Norwood 2011, Promising Practices for Evacuating People with Disabilities, http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/research/centers-institutes/institute-on-development-and-disability/public-health-programs/upload/Promising-Practices-final-1-21-2011.pdf
- Disability Research and Policy Current Perspectives 2008, The Adequacy and Enforcement of Emergency Evacuation Laws in the Workplace for People with Disabilities, Marina Hadjioannou
- National Council on Disability 2005, Saving Lives: Including People with Disabilities in Emergency Planning, National Council on Disability, Washington