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The Counterterrorism Expo With Very Little ‘Counter’ And No ‘Terror’

LONDON — Just about the only place the words “counter” and “terror” appeared at a counterterrorism conference in London this week were in the name of the conference.

The Counter Terror Expo, held at the Olympia conference center on Tuesday and Wednesday, listed a couple hundred exhibitors on its website. None had the word “terror” in its name, or “terrorism” or “terrorist,” for that matter.1 Just one, Countermeasure Systems, a Norfolk, England, maker of systems that counter improvised explosive devices, contained the word “counter.” The end of that company’s name was much more common than the beginning: “Systems” tied with “security” for the most common word in companies’ names (12 each) – excluding Ltd., Group, U.K., and other words not germane to what the companies do — and four other names had “sys” or “systems” embedded in them. “Technologies” and “solutions” were also popular. Other than the occasional visual cues — a slideshow of fake blood, a reinforced door — and the no-photography rule, I might as well have been at an information-technology conference. Even the word “security” would have fit in just as well at an IT show.

Security 12
Systems 12
Technologies 8
Solutions 6
Technology 6
Doors 4
Engineering 4
Media 4
Electronics 3
Imaging 3
International 3
Products 3
Safe 3
Services 3

I headed to the show on Wednesday, the conference’s second and final day. I walked the floor talking to about a dozen exhibitors about the names of their companies and those of their peers.2

Exhibitors representing companies with names that didn’t scream counterterrorism offered a range of reasons for their employers’ name choices, but none I spoke to said they were worried about evoking negative, morbid thoughts in potential customers.

Many of the exhibitors told me their names didn’t relate to counterterrorism because counterterrorism wasn’t all they did. Door manufacturers, for example, don’t just make the reinforced, impenetrable-for-20-minutes type of door. Also, the conference wasn’t focused solely on counterterrorism: It folded in two other related exhibitions, one on forensics and one on emergency preparedness.3

Thermoteknix Systems Ltd., a thermal-imaging company, gets roughly equal amounts of business from its night-vision systems for seeing threats in the dark and from its thermal-imaging system for monitoring cement kilns, said Romana Kandziora, marketing coordinator for the Cambridge-based company. “It’s a completely different market, but the same technology.”

Many of the exhibitors mentally divide themselves up into “silos,” said Anthony Smith, commercial director for AZura Security Media Ltd., which publishes an online catalog of defense equipment. Makers of counterterror doors see themselves as being in the door industry, not in counterterror, Smith said. The same goes for makers of locks and the lock industry. He’d like to see more companies join forces to offer complete anti-terror packages. “When we go shopping, we don’t go to the chicken store and buy a chicken, and then go to the onion store and buy onions,” Smith said. “We go to the supermarket.”

Smith added, of exhibitors, “There’s not a unifying theme, other than when a disaster brings them together.” Or, apparently, a security conference.

Even some of the companies using a name that includes “security” for the purposes of the conference don’t normally do business that way. Jacksons Security was the display name for Jacksons Fencing, an Ashford, England, company that makes fences for the home and garden, and also for data centers. The company’s security business is growing “as the security threat has increased,” said Malcolm Wye, business development manager.

Magnum Services Ltd. sounded to me like a spinoff of the Magnum photo agency. “I know it sounds a bit like ice cream” to many Europeans, said Ruben Carril, a Californian and director of marketing for the year-old English company. He said he and fellow founders wanted to evoke Magnum guns. “We wanted something that sounded a bit military,” Carril said.

But the company deals in casualty simulations, not guns. Many of its founders and employees are amputees, and they simulate loss of limbs and other injuries during terror attacks and other disasters. Carril had one of his legs amputated in 2007 after a 2005 motorcycle accident in Santa Monica. Before the accident, he’d run a pigeon-control business. I asked, what was its name? He reluctantly answered: Magnum Services Ltd. In an entirely new field, he decided to stick with the old name, even though it didn’t evoke security or counterterrorism. That made him right at home in the expo.


  1. Not every exhibitor I saw was listed on the website, but I didn’t spot any unlisted ones with “terror” in their names.

  2. I first heard about the conference through a tweet by a reporter from The Intercept who said he’d had his accreditation revoked by security earlier in the day. I emailed John Hony, a public relations executive helping with the show, about Ryan Gallagher’s removal. Hony hadn’t replied by the time of this article’s publication. The expo’s blog and Twitter account didn’t mention the removal. Everyone I approached was willing to talk to me after I introduced myself as a journalist and as I took notes on a pad; I found exhibitors at the Counter Terror Expo to be far more willing to talk to a member of the press than were their counterparts at last week’s London Book Fair, also held at Olympia.

  3. Although I didn’t see many exhibitors with names that included “forensics” or “emergency” either; the emergency-preparedness conference called itself Ambition Expo.

Carl Bialik was FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for news.


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