Defence Review publisher Gwyn Winfield told a forum of in-house corporate communicators: "It doesn't matter if you're Mobil or McDonald's: you're as much a target as Whitehall or the White House."
If terrorists attacked with chemical or biological weapons, Winfield said there was likely to be a "crucial" half-hour period during which firms' actions could lead to them creating reputations as "paragons of virtue or the people who sent staff to their deaths".
Winfield told delegates at the seminar, which was hosted by crisis PR firm Regester Larkin, that they should be "hugely involved" in "trying to defuse any situation", saying PROs should educate staff on emergency procedures: "The government is worried about being alarmist and is putting the onus on to you [businesses]."
Bruce George MP, chair of the Commons defence select committee, told PRWeek: "Some sectors have done an enormous amount to prepare and some seem completely oblivious.
"People seem to think: 'Why would Al-Qua'eda target me?'. The government must better communicate the threat to the private sector, especially outside London," he added.
Winfield claimed the dissemination of information about how emergency services should respond had yet to reach "the average policeman and fireman", saying: "The process of education is not fast enough."
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