Suspicious Items Protocol- Counter Terrorism Awareness Week 2016


As part of Counter Terrorism Awareness Week 2016, National Counter Terrorism policing is providing advice to the public on the steps they can take to keep themselves safe.

The below video discusses The H-O-T protocol and how this can provide a basis for decision-making if you come across a suspicious item.


In a little under 36 months between 1991 and 1994, Britain’s railway network was targeted on more than 36 occasions by the Provisional IRA. The weapon of choice was the hand-placed, timer-controlled improvised explosive device (IED). In the minds of rail users, any unattended item could contain a bomb, and this represented a significant problem because, each day, hundreds of items were lost or abandoned on trains and in stations.

To address this challenge, British Transport Police (BTP) examined a sample of several thousand incidents. The findings were striking but perhaps not unexpected. Forgetful passengers left items where they had been waiting, often in clear public view. Terrorists, on the other hand, sought to ensure the objects they placed were typically:

- not left where they might be observed;

- not left where the IED was likely to be moved;

- located where deliberate discovery was unlikely.

Using this knowledge, a protocol was devised to provide a focus for rail staff and a consistent procedure for their interactions with police. The H-O-T protocol provided a basis for decision-making and carefully blended knowledge of the rail environment with a range of specific counter-terrorism activities. Through the relatively simple approach of asking the original finder to consider the answer to three questions, the ratio of station closures quickly fell from one in seven, to one in several hundred. The questions are simple but, in context, the answers can be telling.

- Has the object been concealed or HIDDEN from view? Bombs are unlikely to be left in locations such as this – where any unattended item will be noticed quickly

- Is the object OBVIOUSLY suspicious? Does it have wires, circuit boards, batteries, tape, or putty-like substances

- Is the object TYPICAL of the environment in which it was found?

If after applying the HOT protocol you still believe the item is suspicious, notify your line manager, a member of security and/or the police.

#counterterrorismweek

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