Preventing terror attacks at large-scale events
The events in Paris last November were a reminder of how important security at events is to the safety and lives of those attending. Mike White looks at the significance of crowd control and how best to train against terrorist attacks at large-scale events.
The horrific events of the 13 November 2015 in Paris when 130 people lost their lives whilst innocently going about their business, enjoying the start of their weekend or supporting their national football team in a friendly against Germany at the Stade de France will remain in the consciousness of Parisians and security professionals for some time to come. Three suicide bombers struck near the Stade de France after apparently being refused entry to the stadium by the private security company working that evening. One can only imagine how high the death toll could have been had they not been refused entry.
In many ways, the attack at the Stade de France has been an event waiting to happen but we must wait and see what the still ongoing multi-national investigations uncover before we know for sure how the incident occurred and what lessons must be learned to prevent recurrence.
Here in the UK we see crowds of many tens of thousands watching sporting events every single week of the year. Last year we hosted arguably the most successful rugby union World Cup in the sports history and whilst that was taking place we still had the football Premier League, the lower football leagues, Aviva rugby premiership and many other sporting events taking place concurrently.
Quite literally, hundreds of thousands of fans watched their favourite sporting event and none of them gave a single thought to terrorism or ‘will I get home alive after the match’ and frankly nor should they. But, the challenge for those who do have to think the unthinkable is precisely that. How do we keep the fans safe? How can we ensure no one smuggles a bomb or automatic weapons into a stadium? How do we do this without disrupting the fans pleasure and inconveniencing them and, how do we do this with an overstretched police service and a private security sector that is viewed in many quarters as little more than an industry populated with lowly hourly paid, poorly trained and poorly motivated individuals? All against a backdrop of transnational terrorist threats that have seemingly moved on significantly from 9/11.
The attacks in Paris are an example of what is described as a marauding attack. One where the focus is not on one specific target but, instead, heavily-armed multiple offenders (possibly with some training) attacking multiple targets in a co-ordinated manner with little or no expectation of survival. Ever since the Mumbai attacks of 2008 police and emergency services have been forced to rethink their training and response to the possibility of such an attack but, by definition, a response is usually reactive and initiated once an attack commences.
So, is an attack in the UK inevitable? Will we be watching the sort of headlines we saw on 13 November 2015 coming from Wembley, Old Trafford, Twickenham, Stamford Bridge or the Olympic Stadium?
The short but brutal answer is that nobody knows for sure but, there are a number of measures that the private security industry and venue management can and should consider.
Training can be a bind, it can be boring, difficult to schedule and someone has to pay for the additional hours but, in the event of an emergency at a major sporting event there can be no excuses for continuity and emergency plans not being enacted seamlessly. Training is essential for those frontline staff such as stewards and security officers to be able to react as they need to if an evacuation proves necessary or a crime scene develops and needs to be preserved. Cost will inevitably be a consideration but this is one area where cheapest may not always be best and time researching training providers to ensure their credentials are sound and that their knowledge and experience is relevant will be a few moments well spent.
Emergency response plans
Practise your emergency response plans. You can have the best training, delivered by the most experienced trainers, resulting in the most comprehensive set of procedures it’s possible to have but if it’s not tested it’s not worth the paper (or hard drive) it’s written on. There is a reason why top sportsmen and women keep winning, they train and practise and hone their skills.
It’s the same for emergency response planning. If you want your team to be the best, to operate at the highest levels and to deliver a seamless performance when they absolutely need to then they need to practise and learn from any mistakes they make. They need to understand what might go wrong, they need to know what to do when things do go wrong and, importantly, they need to know their own roles and responsibilities and those of their colleagues because it is teamwork that will ensure success. They should also know about the technology that exists to help them. Increasingly, integrated security at venues means that human beings working with, for example, CCTV, sensors and screening equipment provide a joined-up security response.
The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) and the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) have written the guidance document ‘Protecting Crowded Places: Design and Technical Issues’ within which there is excellent information on how to incorporate counter terrorist measures into new builds and where to find the best advice. Both bodies will also offer best practice advice and guidance on how to adapt and work within existing structures.
At major public events there will always be some sort of police presence to a greater or lesser degree (more so if a senior government official or member of the Royal family is present) but it will be stewards and security officers who will predominantly be first responders and by running amok and attacking members of the public, terrorists have negated the tactics that police and security services had developed for terrorist incidents since the 1970s. The aim had always been to take the heat out of an incident, cordon the area and begin tactical negotiations. Now counter-terrorist specialists are unlikely to reach the scene until after the damage has been done and there may well be no one to negotiate with if the attackers were suicide bombers. It will be the private sector who will bear the brunt of the initial response and it is those men and women who venue owners and operators must invest in, on an ongoing basis, to help to prevent tragedies such as the Stade de France from happening over here.
But what of concerts, the Notting Hill Carnival, large community events and even public protests and demonstrations? All of these can (and do) offer many thousands of potential targets for the marauding terrorist and it is, arguably, unrealistic to think that either the police service or the private security industry can realistically ‘police’ them all so what is the answer? There needs to be a risk based approach to the policing or securing of large events and a collaborative approach that will inevitably mean greater sharing of information between the police and the private sector which, in turn, will require a much greater willingness on the part of all concerned to break down barriers (perceived or actual) and generate increased trust. We also need to consider how we might better educate the public and do so in a way that doesn’t generate xenophobia, racial stereotyping and vigilantism.
Perhaps a community roll-out of Project Griffin away from its traditional heartland of the private security industry could be a start? It’s too soon to accurately determine whether the ongoing migrant crisis and rapidly shifting movement of peoples from war zones and areas of serious depravation will impact on security policy but if ever greater numbers of migrants that may, or may not, include trained terrorists do settle in Europe, a more joined up community based approach to security may well be inevitable.
Whatever we, as a society, decide to do we must do it in a manner that is inclusive, effective and that allows for development. Terrorist methodology adapts, evolves and moves on and so must the response. The alternative is that we will forever be on the back foot, always looking over our shoulder and always be living in seemingly perpetual states of heightened alert that all too soon become the norm thereby negating any benefits gained from the elevated alert state.