>Users:   login   |  register       > email     > people    

Hostage Negotiations and Terrorism: Part Two
By William Sturgeon
Published: 08/15/2011

Hostage Since the writing of Part One of Hostage Negotiations and Terrorism, another “Terrorist-Hostage” incident has taken place. The Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan was attacked.

Six hours later, at least 21 people were dead, including the nine suicide bombers who managed to penetrate several rings of security on Tuesday night to carry out the attack. The assault has shaken public confidence in the ability of Afghan forces, especially the police, to assume responsibility for security, even here in the capital. [1]

I believe the above excerpt from the June 30, 2011, New York Times so vividly describes the terrorist attack on the Intercontinental Hotel that it can be used as a “teaching model”. It encompasses issues that emergency management professionals should consider when designing a plan for Hostage Negotiations and Terrorism strategies.

Let us break down the incident into its elements and see what we can learn.

First – Perimeter Security According to the NYT article, the terrorists penetrated “several” layers of (perimeter) security.

Learning Points
  1. The number of layers of perimeter security a facility has can lead to a false sense of security.
  2. How perimeter security is monitored is, in my opinion, more important than the number of layers.
  3. High quality video surveillance is, in my opinion, a crucial element of any perimeter security program. (Videos of the perimeter security should be reviewed daily for suspicious activities, people taking pictures of the facility, license plates checked, etc.) Too often video surveillance is used as a historical record of an incident rather than as a proactive method of heading off an incident.
  4. Lighting is very important to perimeter security. Emergency Management Planners should carefully examine the entire perimeter, looking closely for dark spots (to include but not be limited to ditches, low spots in the terrain, and culverts, etc.)
  5. Have a few openings (Gates) in the perimeter fence or wall. I would suggest having the vehicle gate away from the pedestrian gate. The vehicle gate should have an approach road that will keep vehicles from gaining speed. This can be accomplished by the design of the road and/or exaggerated “speed bumps”.
  6. If the facility has armed perimeter posts, it is vital that the “post orders” clearly state when personnel can use deadly force.
  7. External areas adjacent to the facility’s perimeter should be carefully examined for the possibility of terrorists attempting to tunnel into the facility. (There have been several escapes from correctional facilities around the world by tunneling. ) Looking for tunnels is something that should be included in the American Emergency Planners Handbook.
  8. Staff training on day-to-day operations and on emergency operations should include realistic drills. My experience has shown that a facility can have all of the high tech gizmos, but if the staff is not adequately trained, the facility’s perimeter security is doomed to fail at some point.
  9. Gate areas’ (sally-ports) pedestrian and vehicle personnel must ALWAYS be on high alert. As of the writing of this article, there have not been any suicide bombers or successfully detonated vehicle IEDs in the United States, but that is not to say there will never be. The personnel at the gates should be instructed on what to do if they suspect something. Additionally, there should be another set of sally-ports, preferably out of blast range of the initial sally-port. (I was conducting a security audit of a Maximum Security Prison perimeter when I noted many vehicles parked at the base of every tower. When I asked about these vehicles, I was told that they were parked there for the convenience of the tower officers. If I were a team of terrorists, I would attach a bomb to all of those vehicles when parked at the officers’ homes and then detonate them when they came to work. This would create a massive diversion, not to mention the destruction to the perimeter.)

Section Summary

The number of rings of perimeter security at a facility does not guarantee that the facility is secure. It is the quality of the perimeter security, to include the human element, that is most important.

A facility’s perimeter is its first defense against attack and the last barrier to escape. Once the Kabul terrorists penetrated the Intercontinental Hotel’s perimeter they immediately started to shoot and kill people with AK-47s and machine guns.

Second - Perimeter Penetrated

Once inside the hotel, the terrorists ran throughout the lobby of the hotel. Security and police personnel were seen running from the terrorists.

Women and children screamed. Chairs tipped backward. Food slid onto the lawn as people started to run. Mr. Amini said he saw police officers running, too, tightly gripping their own AK-47s as they raced away from the gunmen. [2]

Once inside the hotel, the terrorists gained control over the entire facility within a matter of minutes.

Learning Points
  1. Once the perimeter is penetrated and access is gained to the interior of any facility, chaos becomes the rule. A well-trained team will have scouted out the interior of a facility prior to the attack, so they know where they are going , but the defenders do not. The attackers will move swiftly through the interior killing, taking hostages, and being as destructive as they can, even to the point of starting fires. (Always keep in mind that the terrorists’ goals are to kill as many people as they can, do as much damage as they can, and then to die.)
  2. Depending on the level of sophistication and training, the terrorists may leave behind IED’s to kill or maim reinforcements.
  3. Once terrorists have gained access to the interior of the facility, and while the defending forces are still disorganized, this is a prime time to take hostages or to continue on their killing spree.
  4. A quick and effective response to a terrorists’ attack is crucial to mitigating the loss of life, limiting the taking of hostages, and reducing the damage to property.
  5. Communication during a crisis is always a problem. A natural reaction that people exhibit during a crisis is excitement. Often people yell over the radio, give incomplete and/or inaccurate information, etc. Training under “Real World” crisis conditions is, in my opinion, the best way to teach staff proper crisis radio protocols.

Section Summary

Once the perimeter of a building/complex (hotel, school, correctional facility, hospital, mall, military complex.) is penetrated, the momentum belongs to the terrorists. The longer that the terrorists retain this momentum, the killing, hostage taking, and property destruction will continue unabated. Additionally, the terrorists will get more and more media attention.

It is becoming more obvious that once the terrorists have penetrated the perimeter – they have no intentions of coming back out. Their goal is to die and kill as many innocent people as they can before their own deaths occur. While some people may think the above statement is harsh, I would argue that it is today’s reality.


My goal with this article is to demonstrate the importance of a secure perimeter in reducing the possibility of a hostage situation. As we have seen over and over, it has been those facilities with weak perimeter security that have been “Targeted” by homicidal / suicidal terrorists.

BREAKING NEWS - Just as I finish the writing of this article, the television is announcing that a bomb has gone off in downtown Oslo, Norway. If it can happen in Oslo, Norway, it can happen anywhere.

Part Three of this series will examine peripheral support agencies and how they play into the facility’s overall Hostage Negotiations and Terrorism - Emergency Plans.

One last thought: If you think that something like this cannot happen at your facility, you are reacting just the way the terrorists want you to react – by not being prepared.

[1] New York Times, June 30, 2011

Visit the Bill Sturgeon page

Other articles by Sturgeon:

Click here for Part One


No comments have been posted for this article.

Login to let us know what you think

User Name:   


Forgot password?

correctsource logo

Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of The Corrections Connection User Agreement
The Corrections Connection ©. Copyright 1996 - 2024 © . All Rights Reserved | 15 Mill Wharf Plaza Scituate Mass. 02066 (617) 471 4445 Fax: (617) 608 9015