GSDM’s director, Katja Samuel, recently participated in the prestigious annual World summit on counter-terrorism organised by the International Institute of Counter-Terrorism, IDC Herzliya, Israel on the theme of ‘The Art of Counter-Terrorism’ (https://ictidc.wixsite.com/ict18). Over 1300 participants from 60 countries drawn from across governments, international organisations, academic and research institutions, non-governmental organisations and the private sector were gathered.
Katja, an invited speaker, for the second year running, for the workshop on ‘New Battlefields, Old Laws; Crisis Management in Times of Transition’, gave a presentation entitled ‘When Disaster Hits: Threats, Preparedness and Legal Gaps’. The workshop drew upon a range of legal and non-legal theoretical and practical perspectives, including cyber and public health threats, preparedness and response.
The contribution made by Katja was framed around recent research undertaken on benefits associated with approaching – conceptually, institutionally, as well as in terms of law and policy-making – a terrorist attack as a (catastrophic) disaster event. There were three key strands to her argument.
The first was of the need to soften traditional divisions existing between security and disaster management paradigms – without diluting existing approaches – which have the potential to hinder rather than facilitate the development of more effective systems and approaches to dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist attack, including through preparedness and response. A terrorist attack often involves primary and secondary hazards, for instance a primary physical attack against a biological or chemical plant would trigger secondary hazards such as public health, (transboundary) environmental ones which could also create related security and public safety issues (such as civil unrest, containment of any contagious diseases).
A second issue was to exhort both the need and benefits of law being viewed and drawn upon in a far more multi-dimensional way than is generally currently the case, when the public and private sectors plan for terrorist attacks. Whilst traditional legal functions – such as commercial contracts, Memorandum of Understanding, health and safety legislation, building regulations – are all important parts of disaster preparedness and response, legal tools may be used in much more dynamic ways as tools of disaster risk mitigation than is commonly understood. There are multiple legal regimes which provide directly or indirectly on matters relevant to preventing or mitigating the potential impacts of an incident which, in turn, could better inform some current approaches to preparedness and response. For instance, international instruments governing human rights, the environment, global health, disasters (including developing disaster risk reduction law, as well as international disaster response law), aviation, space, shipping, law of the sea, due diligence, and so forth. They would assist too in addressing common sources of weakness and concern thereby improving resilience, such as inconsistent standards by bringing increased consistency and coherence; poor governance systems, through greater clarity on standards and the strengthening of accountability structures; and of better protecting affected populations and vulnerable groups, including through accurate, accessible information and effective early warning systems.
In adopting such a broader approach, the third limb explained how significant gaps may become more evident within existing legal frameworks when more dynamic, multi-dimensional approaches are adopted to terrorism scenarios. One of particular importance is that whilst existing international anti-terrorism frameworks cater well for cooperation on matters of crime prevention and criminal justice (e.g., extradition, mutual legal assistance), they make no provision for cooperation to deal with the aftermath of a disaster. This could be significant for dealing with responses to a terrorist attack with catastrophic effect, such as against a critical national infrastructure, which could overwhelm the resources and capabilities of any one state, especially if both major security and emergency responses were required in parallel. At present, legal frameworks on matters of cooperation during the aftermath of a disaster, however caused, are at best ad hoc, inconsistent and incomplete.
Particularly in an age of rapidly developing technology (including cyber and dual use technology, with the potential to be used for both good and malicious purposes), it would be wise and prudent for governments to consider how they might respond to such a scenario and ensure that all aspects of preparedness and response, including the embedding of appropriate legal frameworks, are in place should the worst-case scenario happen.
Such issues are explored in more detail in K.L.H. Samuel, W.B. Banks and D. Richemond- Barak, ‘Improving Disaster Risk Mitigataion: Towards a ‘Multi-Hazard’ Approach to Terrorism’, in K.L.H. Samuel, M. Aronsson-Storrier and K. Bookmiller (eds), Cambridge Handbook on Disaster Risk Reduction and International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2019 forthcoming).