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One morning last week, one of Citigroup’s two buildings in Canary Wharf, east London, was evacuated.
The evacuation, which involved closing the building’s main entrance to visitors, was part of a long-planned drill designed to test the financial services group’s ability to move large numbers of employees in the event of a fire or a terrorist attack.
For Citigroup employees, as for workers at other banks, such exercises are a regular occurrence which pre-date last month’s attacks on the London Underground. That is because most of the City of London has been worrying about terrorism for well over a decade.
While many Londoners have noticed increased security at Underground stations and the presence of armed police on the streets, the City’s approach to security has been little changed.
Many institutions have raised the threat levels for internal security and have deployed more security guards. But few banks have felt the need to rethink their approach to security.
Kevin Rosser, a consultant at Control Risks Group, says: “This is security that people have been thinking about for a long time and most them have taken all the steps you could reasonably expect them to take.”
Ever since the IRA detonated a huge bomb in the heart of the City in 1993, causing hundreds of millions of pounds of damage, London’s financial centre has been trying to minimise the chances of future attacks.
The Bishopsgate bomb prompted police to build a “ring of steel” that limited the number of entry points into the Square Mile, and to install thousands of closed-circuit television cameras to monitor suspicious activity. Banks and exchanges also beefed up their security plans, establishing back-up sites so that they could continue to operate if they had to evacuate their offices.
More recently, the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, prompted many City institutions to revisit their security planning. As a result, most banks have anticipated the possibility of attacks which are much more extensive than the recent bombs in London.
In co-operation with the City of London police, which have 850 officers deployed in the Square Mile, many institutions have carried out simulations of scenarios such as chemical attacks on the Underground or the explosion of a “dirty” nuclear device.
Michael Snyder, chairman of the Corporation of London’s policy and resources committee, said: “The City of London police’s close daily relations with businesses means City firms can develop security and contingency procedures which work – and have been proved to work over the last weeks.”
After the July 7 bombs, City of London police wrote to businesses in the Square Mile advising them to develop procedures for contacting staff and reminding them to reduce the number of access points to the building.
Several large financial institutions have also started stationing security guards outside their main entrances in an attempt to identify people who might be trying to enter the building illegally. “If you’re worried about a walk-in suicide bomber, what you want to do is push that threat out as far as you can,” said one security expert.