International Security Expo: Protecting crowded places
Work is being done to promote understanding of proportionate and cost-effective approaches to High Footfall Screening at different sorts of sites and venues. What are the current difficulties with balancing protection and visitor experience?
There are a number of factors which impact this question, one being a potential that ‘protection’ and ‘visitor experience’ can sometimes be viewed as being mutually exclusive. Whilst some may believe that security regimes are, in themselves, a negative visitor experience which can inflate a sense of fear, the evidence, particularly since the 2017 attack on Manchester Arena, has been that the converse is the reality. Whilst, in the months after the attack, many visitor attractions saw a discernible drop in visitor numbers, those with effective security regimes on entry did not suffer to the same degree. Data compiled by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions clearly showed that to be true, and customer feedback across HRP revealed that enhanced security regimes had actually reassured our visitors and was reported as having been a positive experience. Where possible, human interaction will always play a positive role in the delivery of security regimes, offering an opportunity to enhance the visitor experience. However, this can be extremely difficult to deliver at venues and events which attract significant crowds, especially if the majority of those crowds arrive shortly before the start of the event.
The practical difficulty of securing such crowded place events has been the focus of research by the Home Office’s Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC), in partnership with the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, and this work has resulted in the creation of what is known as the High Footfall Screening Concept. The aim of this concept is to offer, through the use of multiple and complimentary technologies, the ability to deliver a proportionate level of security assurance against larger threat items without inconveniencing visitors and creating long queues.
Whilst the primary aim of the High Footfall Screening Concept is to detect mass casualty threat items such as explosives and firearms, there is a complimentary aim to provide an enhanced visitor experience through easy access combined with assurance about their own security. The concept has been trialled in a wide range of settings, and the feedback received from those who have been involved has been reported as having been overwhelmingly positive. So, whether security regimes are primarily delivered with a human interaction, or predicated on the use of technology, the evidence clearly shows that in both scenarios the balance between protection and visitor experience, with careful planning, can be successfully achieved.
The overarching theme of the 2018 International Security Expo is 'Evolving Security Through Innovation’. How does crowded places protection fit into that mantra?
Crowded places will always represent an attractive target for terrorists. They offer the opportunity to inflict mass casualties and create significant media coverage, both of which are factors in the terrorists’ associated intention of heightening fear in the minds of the public. It is no coincidence, therefore, that governments and security services around the world have reviewed terrorist attack methodologies and put their minds to mitigating those threats as far as is possible. Whilst incidents such as the August 2018 attack on Parliament provide clear evidence of the effectiveness of hostile vehicle mitigation, not all the resulting solutions are technological, and a great deal has been done in terms of raising terrorism awareness, and enhancing the training and capabilities of security personnel, be they statutory, voluntary or commercial.
Unfortunately, designing effective mitigation is easier once the threat has materialised, but the reality is that by then it’s too late. So, whilst those charged with keeping us safe strive to deliver defensive mitigation, the terrorists are adapting and changing their attack methodologies, a sort of ‘cat and mouse’ scenario. It is for these reasons that those responsible for considering what mitigations are required must remain agile and ‘think the unthinkable’. Successful defence against future attacks will always be a difficult task, particularly when the terrorists can use, or seek to adapt, innocent items for their criminal uses. Whether such attacks involve the use of vehicles and knives, or drone technologies, the challenge will always be the same; to try to stay ‘one step ahead’ of the terrorists and their thinking. That task is not simple, and the evidence shows that we are unlikely to always succeed.
However, we must continue to evolve if we are to meet the challenge of remaining ahead of the terrorist curve, and our ability to innovate the use of existing or new technologies, as well as the training and deployment of security personnel will continue to be a key factor in determining our success.