With some people trapped inside the Dusit complex in Nairobi for some 30 hours after terrorists attacked last Tuesday, killing 21, further lives were saved by having security plans and practising them.
The address at 14 Riverside was home to a Thai-owned hotel as well as a number of office blocks, housing international companies. These included risk consultancy Control Risks.
Associate director Ian Clarke and analyst Patricia Rodrigues were in the office at the time of the attack. Mr Clarke said: “It was very much a situation of practise what we preach. I could see out of the window that we had a live-shooter situation and so we enacted that protocol straight away.”
That included, he said, assessing whether the team could safely flee. Having worked out that was not an option, he said they started by barricading the main office door and gathering all the staff in the safest place. Everyone turned off their mobile phones and he called the emergency response team, at head office.
“There was a point when the terrorists were shooting through our door and calling out, claiming to be the police. We had to stay calm and hope they would leave, which is what happened,” said Mr Clarke.
The terrorists seemed intent on getting to the roof of the building and creating a siege situation, Mr Clarke said.
But in a warning to other businesses, he said hundreds could have died if they had opened fire as everyone swarmed out of the buildings.
“People were running into the path of the shooters and it was extremely lucky that many more people were not killed.”
Some 700 people were safely evacuated. Mr Clarke said the situation was much calmer than the attack in 2013 on the Westgate mall and the Kenyan security forces responded extremely quickly.
One of the most dangerous moments, however, was when those forces came into the offices. “We were extremely nervous in case they were not genuine and they were as nervous, fearing we could have a terrorist among us,” said Mr Clarke.
Overall, he said, the team were extremely grateful to have a “live-shooter protocol” in place and to have practised it.
Other international firms, he suggested, need to have an emergency response plan and to make sure all their staff have practised the routine.
He said that, without doubt, the terrorists – who claimed to be from Somalia-based Al-Shabaab – will have visited the Dusit complex before and probably other similar sites to assess the weakest target.
“They will have also come and gone through the main gates to build a rapport with the security guards and to ensure there was no surprise when there was a beep – the guards would have got used to that and waved them through,” he warned.