Counter terrorist security at major events

The November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris shook the whole of Europe and raised the importance of event security to British and European law and security leaders. In the second of its monthly reports for the Security & Counter Terror Expo, Counter Terror Business looks at the importance of contingency planning at large events

The devastating events that took place in Paris on 13 November 2015 highlighted a number of things to those in charge of ensuring the safety and security of the public at large scale events. Ideological terrorism came to the fore, with coordinated attacks taking place across the French capital - starting at the Stade de France and ending at the Bataclan theatre, with several shootings, bombings and attacks aimed at restaurants and cafes in between. That evening of attacks killed 130 people, leaving nearly 400 more injured, with 100 of those deemed seriously injured. It was, and to date remains, the worst terrorist attack on European soil that many people can remember.

The two bookends to that night of terrorist activity, being the events at the Stade de France and the Bataclan theatre, highlight the importance of security and counter terrorist protection at major events. While the tragedy that shook Paris, and with it the rest of Europe, was an act of terrorism that should not be given a disservice in discussion, there is no denying that the outcome had the potential to be much worse. The Bataclan attack will forever be known as a massacre, whereby the terrorists were able to carry out mass shootings into a large crowd who had little time or space to disperse, thus initiating maximum casualty possibilities, while the terrorist attacks at the Stade de France are better known as the attacks that started the succession of planned assaults.

The first attacks, which took place 20 minutes into a football match between France and Germany, resulted in just four deaths, three of which were the suicide bombers, later revealed to be acting on behalf of the so-called Islamic State group. Following that November night, French investigators revealed that the first suicide bomber had planned to detonate his vest within the Stade de France, the French national stadium, hoping to trigger a panicked exit onto the streets where the two remaining suicide bombers would detonate their own bombs, ensuring mass casualties.

The Stade de France has a capacity of just over 81,000. We now now that the first suicide bomber was prevented from entering the stadium after a security guard discovered the suicide vest while patting him down. He detonated his vest after being turned away, initiating the second and third terrorists to detonate theirs soon after, away from the stadium and away from the feeling flock of fans. One can only imagine how high the death toll could have been had the first terrorist not been refused entry to the stadium.

The most worrying thing for those organising security at large events is that they happen so regularly, with supporters or visitors usually unaware of the security risks. Every weekend, sports grounds are packed to the rim with fans, just like the Stade de France, while concerts, gigs, festivals, shows and exhibitions take place in hundreds of locations across the UK every week. Over the Summer, in which 135,000 people descended on Glastonbury alone, the Metropolitan Police said that sporting and music venues had been placed on high alert. More recently, just before Christmas, on 19 December 2016, a lorry ploughed into a Christmas market in the German capital of Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring 48. While not quite on the same level as the Paris attacks in terms of fatalities, the attack once again showed how terrorists target large groups of people, to maximise the fatalities.

For many people, even over a year on from the Paris attacks, the question of if we are likely to see similar atrocities at Wembley, Twickenham or Wimbledon remain. Following the Paris attacks, consequent football matches, like that of Belgium v Spain and Germany v Netherlands were cancelled following suspicions of explosives targeting the stadiums. So should we expect more stadiums to be targeted?

The Euros and the logistics of security
Within the UK the threat from terrorism remains 'severe’, and the UK’s Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) urges event managers and sports grounds to ‘remain vigilant’ and to ‘review relevant contingency plans’. In Counter Terror Business 28, Mike White, immediate past chairman of the International Professional Security Association, discussed the security success of the football European Championships. Taking place in Paris, it was no surprise that the money spent of security and counter terrorism measures surpassed that which is usually seen. 90,000 security staff were employed to monitor the matches, with 1,200 solely for the Stade de France. There was just over 26 miles of temporary fencing near the stadiums, and layers of security that started several hundred metres away from the ground where initial body and bag searches took place.

On the day the England football team played its first Euro 2016 game against Russia in Marseille, clashes in the stadium and flares being set off in the stands marred the match itself. The French port city had also been victim to violent clashes between the opposing supporters in the two days leading up to the event, leaving French police to disperse the outbreaks of violence by using tear gas and a water cannon.

While this was seen at the time, and remains seen, as the too often common thuggish behaviour that follows football in Europe, it does continue to raise questions about the extra security that was put in place. The police presence, which became heavier the closer to the stadium, with police prepared in riot gear, was unable to prevent the riots breaking out in front of them. More worrying was the ease and number of fans who were able to transport flares into the stadium. There was additional trouble at later matches, with Croatia, Hungary, Portugal and Turkey fined for trouble related to flares and pitch invasions.

Coordinating the security and logistics of any large scale event is a tricky business, before factoring in the threat of terrorism. For example, an international football match at Wembley will see 90,000 people congregate on the stadium with the aim of being inside the facility for a specific time - usually five minutes before kick-off. Less practical, the majority of those fans surround the stadium 10 or 15 minutes before that, meaning that security and access staff have to safely and securely monitor the traffic of tens of thousands of fans into the stadium in an alarmingly short time frame. When you factor in possible bag checks, difficult inebriated fans and those not ready with their ticket in their hand, then the task becomes almost impossible.

Additionally, fan segregation, both within and outside of stadiums, can prove a tough task, even more so with the ease of unauthorised ticket sales. The situation is no less complicated when it comes to the end of an event. Whilst large stadiums feature numerous entrances and exits, in the example of Wembley, security staff face mass departures, with 90,000 members of the public rushing to leave within five minutes of the event or match finishing, eager to depart the area and beat the rush of fans heading for train stations or car parks. This is countered by those who are happy to linger for a longer period of time, but unintentionally block passageways and exits, making the management and safety of staff more difficult.

Contingency planning
The threat of terrorism and other attacks is multifaceted, and is no longer restricted to one type of attack. As the November 2015 Paris attacks showed, attacks can be coordinated, yet sometimes need to be treated separately. They can be carried out at different locations, at different times, in different ways by people with different incentives. While Islamic State take credit for the majority of terrorist crimes taking place across the globe at the moment, it is hard to determine how many of those attacks were planned and orchestrated by the terrorist group. Lone wolf attackers and self-radicalised assailants who have their own incentives, usually borne out of an overwhelming sense of injustice or mental health illnesses, also pose a threat - despite the media often painting it as an Islamic State orchestrated plot.

As Mike O’Neill, chairman of the British Security Industry Association’s (BSIA) Specialist Services Section, told Counter Terror Business magazine, ‘it is absolutely essential to know what you’re protecting yourself against’. However, knowing what you are protecting yourself against is only one half of the answer. Many event organisers and venues will accept the notion that are largely powerless against a well-planned, efficiently executed terrorist attack.

The attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015 and more recently the terrorist attack in gay nightclub Pulse, in Orlando, Florida, both highlight that prevention is not always possible. The Christmas market attack last month also demonstrates how security organisers and counter terrorist officials cannot be expected to know the locations and timing of terrorist acts, especially when carried out by a lone wolf attacker, as with Omar Mateen in Orlando. Therefore, the importance of focusing attention and efforts into establishing effective systems and procedures that will save lives, limit damage and reduce the impact of terrorist attacks after they have happened become more noticeable.

Terrorism, and more specifically how to react to a terrorist attack, should be a major part of an event venue or organisers safety plan. Plans should contain all possible situations, and in today’s terrorist climate, the possibility of a terrorist attack is unfortunately more likely than many wish to believe. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, retiring Metropolitan Police commissioner, and the government have maintained the stance that an attack remains a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ and that organisers should ‘remain alert, not alarmed’. Remaining alert means remaining prepared, confident that the safety and emergency plan is sufficient to deal with a crisis, no matter how it unfolds.

Counter terrorist specialists, who will be expected to be the main respondents to any terrorist attack, are unlikely to reach the scene until after the initial damage has been made. It will be the police presence, stewards and security officers who are therefore responsible for acting appropriately from the start. Referring back again to the Paris attacks, an action plan was followed through which saw French President Francois Hollande evacuated from the stadium at half time. More importantly, Hollande met with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to co-ordinate a response to the emergency, which saw the game continue without a public announcement, meaning that the players and fans were unaware of the situation until the match was completed - other than the social media leaks and the sound of the first explosion echoing around the stadium.

Upon the full time whistle, as the players were informed and congregated in the tunnel, the fans were brought onto the pitch to await evacuation as police monitored all the exits around the venue. Furthermore, the German football team spent the night sleeping in the stadium on mattresses alongside their French counterparts, who remained with them as an act of solitude and camaraderie, after being advised not to return to their hotel for fears of another bomb threat. This was an example of an emergency plan that was seen through and adapted where necessary. The evacuation of the fans, first to the pitch and then escorted by police from the stadium, was carried out, in its first instance, by the stewards and security staff at the stadium.

Returning to the two main bookends of the Paris attacks, the Stade de France and the Bataclan theatre, it is imperative to understand and plan emergency safety procedures according to the requirements of the venue and surrounding areas. The Stade de France is a huge venue in comparison to the Bataclan, which only holds a capacity of 1,500. As a result of the attacks, where three gunmen wearing suicide belts entered the building openly firing and taking hostages, 90 people were killed and over 200 were wounded.

While the surprise nature of the attack was detrimental to the initial response, alongside the noise of bullets being mistaken for pyrotechnics, there are key differences between the Bataclan massacre and the attack earlier in the day. Firstly, the Bataclan terrorists, two of whom killed themselves during the later police raid, gained access to the building. Secondly, the possibility to escape was limited by the number of exits and the the difficulty to carry through an emergency plan.

According to the BBC News report ‘What happened at the Bataclan?’, a number of lucky survivors were able to escape via an emergency exit onto the street, with a small number also escaping unto the roof. The majority, meanwhile, resorted to taking refuge in toilets and office, or feigning death by laying motionless on the floor. Whilst this vaguely fits into the ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ advice, issued by the National Police Chiefs Council and the National Counter Terrorism Policing, it lacks the cohesive action plan of the Stade de France response team. The circumstances were different, namely the access to the target building, meaning that the approaches and outcomes were always likely to differ, but the importance of clear, instructive guidelines on how to respond to a terror attack cannot be stressed enough.

This article first appeared in submission to Security and Counter Terror Expo as part of Counter Terror Business’ monthly market reports. As media partner to the event, Counter Terror Business will be providing six reports covering the show’s six security capabilities in detail: border security; policing and law enforcement; major events; cyber security; critical national infrastructure; and security services.

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