Protecting Events and Attendees from the Terror Threat
When I heard early reports of what happened in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert, I experienced the same feeling of receiving the news someone dear to me had died.
Out of respect we have waited to publish this article and to reflect on where we go from here. It is very easy to jump on some news and make a patronizing article. It’s very easy to say, we told you! It’s very easy to say, you should have thought about it!
The truth is that nobody ever trained us event professionals for this level of folly. The truth is that who would have believed that someone would go as far as slaughtering innocent kids having fun at a concert?
The world is asking us to change our game. This is not a step up. This is not a matter of being prepared, it is a matter of imagining the unimaginable.
We are now in charge of checking attendees for bombs or for their intention to kill. We should plan our events with the assumption that something bad will happen.
Events are the preferred target of terrorists attack, this is a fact, not a trend or a prediction.
I believe our job has changed over the past couple of years. It is a very demanding change and I am sure eventprofs will exceed expectations.
Let’s be strong in this moment and work on finding solutions together.
What Happened At Manchester Arena?
At 22:30 GMT on 22 May 2017, Salman Abedi detonated a home-made bomb in the foyer of Manchester Arena, as crowds were leaving a performance by singer Ariana Grande. The explosion took place outside of the Arena ticketing perimeter, in the area between the venue and adjacent Victoria station.
The blast happened moments after the US singer had performed her final song and fans had started making their way home. 22 people were killed and 116 injured. Many youngsters were at the concert and the youngest victim was only 8 years old.
The Threat to Events
As the number of terrorist attacks across the world rises at an alarming rate, gatherings with large numbers of people are increasingly being targeted. The Manchester Arena attack follows on from other event specific attacks, including:
- Berlin Christmas market attack (December 19, 2016) – Attacker Anis Amri drove a lorry into a packed Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring more than 60.
- Nice terror attack (July 14, 2016) – A terrorist in a lorry mowed down crowds who had just finished watching a firework display to mark Bastille Day in France, killing 84 people and injuring hundreds of others.
- Orlando nightclub shooting (June 12, 2016) – A terrorist killed 49 people and wounded 58 others in an attack inside a gay nightclub in Florida, United States. He was shot and killed by police officers after a three-hour standoff.
- Paris attacks (November 13, 2015) – A series of attacks in Paris killed 130 victims and injured hundreds of others. A suicide bombing at the Stade de France stadium was followed by more explosions and shootings at popular bars and restaurants. Three gunmen opened fire at the Bataclan venue and killed concert goers who were watching a band perform.
Advice from Event Safety and Security Experts
We asked two respected and experienced event safety and security experts from Ireland and the USA for their valuable input into this post and, above all, for practical advice on what eventprofs across the world can and should do, to keep our events and our attendees as safe as possible.
Mark Breen is a Crowd & Event Safety specialist and director of Safe Events and the multi-award-winning Cuckoo Events in Ireland.
James A. DeMeo, M.S, has over 26 years of law enforcement, security and consulting experience and is the Founder, President and CEO of USESC in the U.S.
This post may make uncomfortable reading, asking you to think about the unimaginable, but as event planners we have a duty of care to our attendees. The information in this post, combined advice from top experts in the industry, should be read and considered carefully by every event planner. It could make the difference between life and death, regardless of whether you live in Europe, Australia or the United States.
The New World We Live In
Statistically we are still far more likely to have to evacuate a venue or event because of a fire than a terrorist attack. However, it is impossible not to have this type of thing playing on your mind when organising events nowadays. This is the world we live in. Instead of being paralysed by fear we need to consider adopting behaviour that might be effective in thwarting an attack ahead of time or reducing and limited the damage done.
The need to safeguard today’s venues, as well as patrons attending events, has become the bedrock for a multi-billion dollar sports and entertainment industry. Intelligence gathering and analysis is paramount in protecting and potentially thwarting confined space challenges.
The most recent terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena is a stark but painful reminder that our work continues on a daily basis. Lone wolf, domestic and international terrorist threats remain a constant challenge for security professionals entrusted with protecting the space. The loss of life in Manchester was catastrophic and the aftershock of this tragic event has been felt around the world.
Post Manchester: What Should We Be Doing Differently?
Confronting challenges for event security should be done with a holistic approach in mind. In addition to intelligence gathering, proactive risk mitigation and event staff training will be key in these endeavors. Staff need to maintain the highest level of training possible in order to lead patrons to safety during a crises situation.
Event Planners need to be keenly aware of the numerous threats, challenges and vulnerabilities facing their event space. Situational awareness, threat and behavioral analysis of potentially suspicious individuals needs to be continuous.
Special attention must be given to:
- exterior perimeters
- entertainment zones
- ingress/egress points – chokepoints
- bottlenecks leading into mass transportation hubs, i.e. taxi cabs, buses, subway platforms.
There must be an “inside out, outside in” approach from the command center – from CCTV monitoring to effective radio communications, to bike and mounted-horse patrols on the exterior perimeters of the venue.
How Can We Extend Our Event Security Beyond the Perimeter?
The Manchester attack took place in the foyer area of the venue, beyond the doors where tickets are checked. It happened as the show was finishing and the crowd was leaving. The chosen location and time of the attack were very deliberate. The security presence would likely have been much lighter at this time around the entrance doors, than it would have been during ingress. The attacker wouldn’t have had to enter any security process as he stayed in the foyer area.
Mark has been talking to clients about this type of threat for some time now. The outer security cordon/perimeter for your event must stop somewhere. You can keep pushing it further and further out from your venue but it must end somewhere. People will always have to cross from the area outside your event into your security system. As long as that moment exists, then an attack targeting the ‘softer target’ just outside your cordon will be a real risk.
How Can You Identify Potentially Suspicious Behaviour?
Everyone has a part to play in trying to prevent terror attacks and it’s largely about being vigilant, keeping your eyes open and reporting suspicious behaviour. Terrorists will generally spend time at the target location in advance of the attack. Consider:
- Perhaps you saw someone taking photos of the same things in the area on multiple days?
- Perhaps you noticed the same car parked where it normally wouldn’t be?
- Did someone ask you questions you thought were unusual about the venue or arrangements?
- Is someone loitering with (seemingly) no intent?
Being alert and noticing when things are a little off can be extremely powerful.
The UK Threat Level Was Raised to Critical – What Did This Mean?
After the attack, the UK terrorism threat level was raised from “severe” to “critical” for the first time since 2007. This is the highest level and meant that the UK was on high alert with a focused, concentrated mindset of preventing and preparing for immediate or future attacks. A higher number of armed police were deployed and members of the armed forces replaced armed police at certain “key sites” to prevent any further attacks and give a visible presence.
For event planners at this time it is primarily about the ‘duty of care’ and proper risk assessments. Sporting events and venues in England conducted major security reviews. Some events were cancelled, such as the Chelsea FC Premier League victory parade. Many other events went ahead but with increased security measures, a huge police presence and instructions not to bring backpacks and to leave extra time for security checks.
The threat level was reduced to severe a few days later, after a meeting of the government’s emergency committee, Cobra.
It is important that any alterations to operational plans, etc. resulting from an attack or a perceived heightened threat is risk-assessed and that the decision-making is informed, rather than knee-jerk. After the vehicle attacks in Nice and Berlin, Event Management Plans all around the world suddenly had a greater focus on vehicle attack mitigation. The fact is that, vehicle attacks in Nice and Berlin do not automatically mean events in Dublin are now at a greater risk of a vehicle attack.
What Questions Should Manchester Arena Be Asking?
The response to the attack was fast and the emergency services were praised.
Timeline of events – Manchester Arena pic.twitter.com/jqiF3lI8zw
— G M Police (@gmpolice) 24 mai 2017
Post the Manchester attack, Arena officials are likely to have conducted an immediate AAR (After Action Report), reviewing all facets of the security/safety components of the organization. This will include reviewing the role that guest services, wayfinders, security, box office, conversion crew, facilities, operations during load in/out of equipment and all those entrusted with a duty of care role played during the evacuation.
Even though the attack happened at the venue perimeter, questions to ask include:
- Was this an orderly evacuation?
- Should anything have been done differently?
- Moving forward, what steps can event organizers take to prevent mass panic/exodus?
Dry runs, tabletop discussions, computer simulations, walk thru with law enforcement, etc are always valuable. Knowing the lay of the land, the physical attributes of the venue is paramount for leading patrons to safety during an emergency/crisis situation.
What Should You Expect if You Are a Venue or Have an Event Coming Up?
Everyone with an entrusted duty of care must bring their A+ game to every venue, stadium and arena, day in, day out. It’s not about instilling fear but rather creating a heightened sense of awareness to be prepared for the unthinkable, the unimaginable.
Here are a number of measures that venues are taking, following the Manchester attack.
In the UK, Project Griffin, is a national counter terrorism awareness initiative for business and venues.
What is the Situation and Specific Guidance in the US?
In the USA and all over the world security remains tight. NYPD immediately posted extra police resources at NY Yankees baseball games as well as major tourist attractions/transportation hubs – Grand Central Station around the City. NYPD was standing guard outside the British Consulate and Madison Square Garden. Lessons learned and sharing best practices is the prevailing theme.
How Can Event Planners Budget for Extra Security?
The cost of additional security measures can often fall on the event budget and be considerable. James suggested a solution could be that a security fee, be added to the purchase price of the ticket – for example, 1.00 per ticket added to the price of admission. The fees collected must be specifically earmarked by the ownership groups as allocated funds for staff training, education, certifications and career development resources, threat and vulnerability assessments, site visits, and increasing knowledge in the space.
12 Specific Measures Event Planners Can Take
There are a number of specific measures that event managers can take to prevent and reduce the impact of Terrorist attacks.
Training for operational staff working on events is key. While a terrorist attack is unlikely, staff need to be prepared for it. They need to know what their role is in the event of the worst case scenario.
A Multi-agency Approach
Multi-agency cooperation in the planning for events is vital. Police and security services sharing intelligence with respect to threats or risks of attacks will enable those planning the events to incorporate any appropriate mitigation strategies into their Event Management Plans.
Enhanced & Strategic Risk Assessments
It’s near-impossible to effectively risk assess people that are capable of planning and executing atrocities like the attack in Manchester. All the planning and inter-agency cooperation in the world can be pretty useless in the face of a determined group of individuals with one objective in mind.
The traditional approach to risk assessments for events needs to improve. There’s usually a fairly standard worksheet completed and that’s it. We’ve all done them and we all know that’s the sum total of what most people do. Event organisers need to do more. We need to appreciate that risk changes over time and we need to adapt our risk assessment methodology to account for this. Risk-mapping allows us to look at one event and the changes in risk during the event. For instance, the risk of slips, trips and falls at the entrance to the venue during ingress is significantly higher than the risk of same in the same area when all the attendees are inside the venue enjoying the show.
We need to be taking a more strategic approach to how we plan for emergency situations. Trying to imagine and account for every possible scenario is analytically intractable. There are too many variations and permutations to consider. We should instead focus on classifications of threats that inform our action plan to respond to them. Specifically, we should consider the location of the threat and the severity of the threat, with that information informing the strategic response to be employed. Listing ‘inclement weather’, ‘fire’, ‘bomb scare’ and whatever else we dream up isn’t us being as effective as we can be. We need to be strategic and that, in turn, will allow us to be more prepared when the worst happens.
Accreditation and access systems exist for a reason. From the artist and their entourage to the catering staff, they should all be identifiable through an established and well-communicated accreditation and access system. These systems only work well if staff (security staff, in particular) are empowered to check them and insist on them being present.
A UK Police Officer who works on major events made a good point recently. During a discussion about safety & security arrangements for events, search procedures, the time they took, how to make them effective, he asked ‘Who searches the security staff?’ He makes a valid point. In working to ensure the safety and security of those at our events, we need to have comprehensive systems and procedures in place. Do you think it’s beyond an attacker to sign up with a local security company coming into the busy season, work a couple of gigs, then work his target gig and have significantly heightened access to attack? I don’t think so.
Security staff are not all created equal. Find specialists for your event and consider more than just the hourly rate per person. Consider the relevant experience and skills you value and think you might need. Security for an event is often viewed as a cost-burden with the cheapest company getting the gig. Security is too important a function to decide solely based on price.
Consider employing safety staff. These are not the same as security staff, these are specialists in Crowd & Event Safety 24/7. Consider what safety specialists may be able to offer you to help make your event safer.
If you ARE going to involve safety specialists then involve them as early in the process as possible. Involve them from the very start. They should be in the first meeting. The ‘Design’ phase of any event is one where a lot of impact can be made from a safety perspective, which may cause no issues when done at the start but might cause significant issues if done later in the process.
Never compromise on communications for your event. A few extra radios will make little impact on your bottom line but could be the difference between a timely and effective response to an attack and a rising death toll.
The communication flow between the venue, event planners, first responders and patrons is key for making the event safe and enjoyable for all in attendance.
Trust Your Instincts
A good piece of advice is ‘See something, say something’. Question it. Don’t assume it’s innocent. If it feels off, it’s probably off. Trust your gut.
Patrons will need to buy into their own personal situational awareness, letting venue authorities, i.e. guest services, wayfinders, security and contracted law enforcement, know when something does not look or, feel right at the venue.
Effective screening measures, i.e. metal detectors, hand wands, bag searches, clear bag policy, pat downs, along with greater attention and resources being allocated to exterior perimeters and entertainment zones on the outside of the inner perimeter is the new norm.
Social Media Monitoring
Responsible social media monitoring is essential. What is being posted on the internet, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn? Look for potential threats, keywords and buzzwords, gathering and sharing real time intelligence/analysis with contracted law enforcement, governmental agencies and event planners/event staff. Every command center should employ a social media staff member to monitor specific public domain postings.
If you spot behaviour you think is suspicious it’s important not to approach the individual(s). Do what you can to note details that may be of use to law enforcement. The SALUTE acronym is quite useful in this regard.
S – Size – note physical descriptions of the individual(s) with as much detail as possible
A – Activity – note what they are actually doing. What about it made it suspicious to you?
L – Location – the exact location is key. Don’t assume those you will be reporting it to are as familiar with the area as you are. Use landmarks, addresses etc. to be as accurate as you can.
U – Uniform – take note of their attire. Include shoes in this if you can.
T – Time – the time you spot the suspicious behaviour is key. Also consider the duration the individual(s) spent being suspicious. That can often be important.
E – Equipment – detail any equipment they have or you see them interacting with. Things like vehicles, weapons, cameras etc. Again, note as much detail as you can.
Many concerts and sporting events have taken the decision to ban rucksacks and large bags from recent events.
With respect to bombs – utilise the HOT protocol. Upon discovering something suspicious ask yourself:
- Does it look like it has been deliberately HIDDEN?
- Are there any OBVIOUS threats?
- Is what you’re looking at TYPICAL? Is it out of place? Should it be there?
If in doubt then raise the alarm and have it checked out.
Top-level Advice for Event Planners
Be alert but not alarmed.
A false alarm is better than an incident. People need to feel like they can and should report things they find suspicious.
It’s important to take whatever simple steps you can to prevent and prepare.
As event organisers, our duty of care requires that we have effective plans in place to deal with the worst-case scenario.
If you’re working on or running event, then you should have some key numbers in your phone speed dials – local hospital, local police station, key event personnel etc.
Consider the ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ protocol from the UK.
Take a Holistic Approach to Event Security
Follow these 10 steps to approach Event Planning from an holistic security perspective:
1. Calculate risk through site visits and by conducting thorough threat and vulnerability assessments
2. Listen – undertake responsible social media monitoring and command center controls
3. Understand crowd control techniques and demographics
4. Scenarios – carry out dry runs and computer simulation exercises
5. Review enhanced drone policies and procedures
6. Plan for severe/inclement weather
7. Review your crisis management policy
8. Undertake workplace violence awareness training
9. Work in partnership – public and private interests working together
10. Be aware of intelligence and guidance from fusion centers and government, including Joint Terrorism Task Force resources
Terrorists are actively targeting events and mass gatherings, which means the time has come for event planners to imagine the unimaginable. By reading this and other articles we can be more vigilant and prepared, to help to keep our events as safe as they can possibly be.
Recommended Further Reading:
Plan awesome events & boost your career
Join over 11,000 subscribers that use EventMB to stay on top of How to's, Trends & Event Technology.