The Future of Security and Resilience in Turkey

James Browning, CEO of Anquan Group, and senior analyst Charlotte James explore how the security industry in Turkey has helped shape the preparations for a more complex urban security environment and what has been learned from the response to past shocks and stresses – Information sharing, interoperability and technology solutions have laid the foundations for a more secure and resilient future but also present a potential complex, emerging threat.

The future of security and resilience in Turkey

Turkey’s current position in global affairs as a nexus between Europe and a turbulent Middle East makes it a frontier for technology development as well as a convergent point for risks and threats.

With innovative developments in security technology, there is a unique chance for industry leaders to become the architects of a robust future, rather than rushing headlong into a system that is merely reactive and potentially vulnerable to new and emerging forms of attack.

Solutions to challenges facing future cities will stem from shared expertise, intelligence and information.  Without communication and coordination between government and industry leaders, however, shared answers and questions to pressing security needs will remain locked away. Anquan’s vision is to step away from the view of security as a pattern of crisis and response, instead understanding the connection between threat and adaptive solution.  The Secure Cities Istanbul summit in May 2016 will see the beginning of a platform to foster this engagement.

Learning from the past – Securing the future

3:02am local time, 17 August 1999, Istanbul, Turkey.  Earthquakes throughout the Marmara region set the earth shuddering, ripping through Istanbul and nearby areas from the epicentre 11 km SE of İzmit (60 miles East of Istanbul) to Golcuk and stretching to Eskisehir and Ankara. Emergency response services rushed into action.

Multi-story residential buildings lay in ruins, a major oil refinery was set ablaze and across Turkey’s most heavily industrialised region electricity stuttered and failed. Golcuk’s naval base was destroyed. In Adapazari, the destruction of 65,000 buildings was accompanied by a saddening death toll of 2,500. The official figures for the entire region were even more sobering, with over 17,000 lives lost, 50,000 injured and thousands missing, and the homes, livelihoods and infrastructure of half a million people damaged and destroyed[1].

As families struggled to relocate, aftershocks in the following days loosened debris from crumbled buildings, inflicting further death and injury. The remaining so-called quake-proof buildings rattled in the aftershocks, filled with residents silently praying their homes would live up to their promise.

Throughout this time, attempts to coordinate an emergency response from Ankara were dogged by fallen telephone lines and power cuts and the task of sheltering victims, assessing damage and recovery operations fell heavily on Marmara’s shoulders, with Istanbul at its heart. Prior to this event, Istanbul and its surrounding region had no disaster preparedness and poor city planning facilities; this all contributed to the chaos in the initial responses.

The lessons learned from this catastrophic event sit at the heart of the Istanbul’s current plans and preparations for future disruptive events, be they natural disasters or the results of coordinated human actions. As an increasingly important financial and investment centre, Istanbul has to think more than ever before about these plans and then communicate a message of robust, intelligent preparation.

The region faces several threats to market confidence and as recent events at Sultanahamet and Ankara show, terrorist attacks remain at the very top of the agenda. Combined with the impact of the deteriorating relationship with Moscow, terrorism endangers Istanbul’s tourism industry, a major source of revenue. This was evident in the aftermath of the January 2016 attack when MSC Cruises, a major leisure cruise liner, withdrew Istanbul from its itinerary, citing security risks[2]. But Turkish Airlines chief Temel Kotil, who plans on expanding his company’s international routes, remains optimistic that growth in traffic will continue despite the terrorist threat. These ‘stresses’ must also be balanced with preparation for city and regional shocks such as an earthquake or large-scale energy shortages.

Mega cities – Connected threats in a connected future

The history of both industry and government disaster response management in Istanbul showcases the intertwined nature of crises and growth.  Anquan’s summit this May will draw on Istanbul’s developing experience with security planning, bringing together cross-sector leaders to explore the future threats facing Istanbul and similar cities. By connecting different services and industries, the event aims to facilitate the diffusion of technology and connection of groups, drawing on Istanbul’s unique response to the pressing challenges of the 21st century and identifying opportunities for cities across the globe.  At the conference’s core is a belief that in an increasingly connected future, the need for collaborative solutions and cross sector engagement has never been more important.

The 1999 earthquake and its aftermath demonstrated the fundamental need for seamless cooperation. Shortly after the quake, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IMM) identified failure to prepare as key in the disaster[3].  This knowledge led to the development of pre- and post-disaster operation plans, and the establishment of the Disaster Coordination Centre, (AKOM) in 2000[4]. This innovation has had multiple applications beyond AKOM’s creation. Among other things, it provides winter shelter for homeless populations, enhances Istanbul’s emergency services, and manages traffic in harsh weather conditions. The foundation of AKOM in the aftermath of the earthquake created the opportunity to establish relationships and plans to help cope with emergencies of all kinds across the city and has been integral to Istanbul’s growth in the years following 1999.

With a population of fourteen million Istanbul boasts a megacity status, and dwarfs it’s more westerly European neighbour cities. This alone poses significant infrastructure and planning challenges as the city continues to grow. Istanbul’s unusual geography, separated by the Bosphorus and situated on the North Anatolian Fault, only adds greater complexity to these challenges. Architectural resilience, the distribution of resource and emergency centres, transport networks, and capacity-building infrastructure, such as the third bridge, the third airport (at the same time as Atatürk Airport overtakes Frankfurt as the third busiest airport in the Europe) and tunnel, are crucial to Istanbul’s growth.  Countering these challenges requires sophisticated planning, both in terms of the physical and cyber architecture of the city.

While Istanbul’s location and role as international gateway is unlikely to change in the near future, progress relies upon global market confidence; heavily influenced by a perception of resilience and preparedness.  The foundation of investment and growth is collaboration between multiple agencies in coordinating and managing future challenges to meet long-term strategy.  As a megacity, Istanbul’s progress over the next decade will be studied carefully as global case study in managing growth in times of stress.

The new face of risks and threats

As digital networks become integral to managing services, the emergence of cyber crime poses a different threat. With the increasing use of technology in smart, connected cities like Istanbul comes an increase in the number of cyber threats from terrorist groups, organised crime syndicates, hacker groups[5], industrial espionage, even States displeased with city or national stances[6]. Istanbul will need to reassess its resilience plans to mitigate the risks posed by the very infrastructure that has been put in place to counter more traditional threats. While the immediate physical impact of cyber attacks may not immediately present itself to the population of a modern city, they can be equally destructive, undermining the confidence of a city population without human casualties.

Motivated, intelligent and organised people carry out Cyber crime and attacks and the latest data breaches suffered by the Turkish National Police demonstrate just how effective they can be[7]. To secure themselves from the threat of cyber crime, smart cities need effective security strategies, which are equipped against attackers’ current and future strategies, expertise and tactics. Cyber crime cannot be eliminated, but technology can be used to detect when it is happening or is predicted to happen and take appropriate precautions and reactions. Virtual organisations and groups of like-minded cyber-activists are now also immensely powerful and effective in their use of cyber attacks and cyber disruption against those they have disagreements with, as witnessed by Anonymous’s declaration of war on Turkey[8]. Strategies include the option of not stopping attacks but tracking them to determine the source and whole chain of actors, counter attack, or other cyber-response tactics.

As has been witnessed for over a year, Turkey is also a major travel route for people into and out of Syria[9], and has a growing risk of being targeted by extremist elements who wish either to use or abuse their ability to transit Turkish sovereignty physically or electronically.  Thus, ensuring the physical and cyber security of refugee camps, transit camps and the reception, transit, reception and resettlement, stages of this mass migration of people is a high priority for Turkey. Linked to this is the need for proactive planning and management of the expansion of temporary camps and areas of permanent settlement of migrants to ensure they are safely, securely and resiliently integrated as required by the national strategy. Allowing random urban development as a short-term expediency will create medium to long-term problems across Turkey.

Istanbul 2016

As has been seen across Turkey over the past 18 months, the threatscape is constantly changing and rapidly becoming a complex and challenging environment for the security industry to protect. Up-to-date intelligence, taking a proactive, and system-of-systems approach to Turkey’s growing internal and international challenges is the only way to stay ahead of threats and attackers, and they need to manage all levels of security, connectivity and integration: physical; compliance; supervisory; cultural; and foresight. However, they must also make a careful assessment of current and future vulnerabilities in the digital domain, to ensure that they do not fall foul of well-intentioned measures taken to mitigate the risk of past disasters, by creating opportunities for greater risk impact and nefarious activity by aggressors and agitators.  2016 will be a pivotal and nervous year for Turkey and Istanbul;  there has never been a more important time to gather industry and government leaders to pool expertise, explore new solutions and work towards a strong and resilient future.



[3] Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), 2002 – URL?