Exclusive Q&A: Major event security in the modern world

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International Security Journal sits down with Peter Dalton, Protective Security & Major Event Consultant, PAD Command Consultancy to discuss integrated security concepts for major events.

How has major event security changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

As the planning and operational delivery of events start to return around the world, there will be a clear focus on managing, minimising and mitigating ongoing risks posed by COVID-19. Significant international, national and event specific guidance has been developed to support this process. Guidance such as the UK Sports Ground Safety Authority AG 02 (August 2020), places requirements on sporting events to review and amend safety policies; event management structures; operational handbooks; and event management plans.

To maintain social distancing and reduce transmission, it is clear that COVID-19 will lead to strategic, tactical and operational reviews, revision and re-deployment of new policies and plans.

However, it is essential that the risk of coronavirus is integrated into an ‘all hazards’ or ‘all threats’ approach to risk management, where each hazard or threat is considered for vulnerability, as well as the likelihood or consequence under a recognised risk management process. The threat of terrorism remains real and enduring. The reduction of attacks through the pandemic period is a reflection of a lack of events and crowded spaces and as such a reduction in suitable targets for threat actors to focus on. Security service and open-source reporting indicates the ongoing range of threats, threat actors and attack methodologies. Through the pandemic, plots have been disrupted and the general threat in the UK has remained largely unchanged at SUBSTANTIAL.

New measures to manage COVID-19 risks have to integrate to allow for safety, security and service. This is particularly relevant in crowded spaces and publicly accessible locations. Changes to crowd management, search and screening and event delivery can inadvertently create additional risks and target opportunities. For example, implementing virus screening checks outside the perimeter of a venue can create a crowded space beyond the perimeter of existing measures that could be exploited.

One specific area for review is a security concept of operations that delivers layers of security, ideally in an unpredictable manner. This would be relevant in searching and screening. Prior to the pandemic, established and well-rehearsed concepts were deployed, primarily seeking to support a deterrence or search policy. COVID-19 will require security planners to consider the incorporation of people, processes and technology to deliver the same level of deterrence and search assurance, whilst reducing manual searches and close contact. Excellent guidance has been provided in this area by agencies such as the UK Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI).

What are the main security threats that major event organisers need to be aware of?

Within the UK the enduring threats relate to low complexity, low sophistication attacks, predominantly by lone actors or small groups. The prevailing threat is inspired by Islamic extremism within the UK, although the threat from extreme right-wing groups has increased. Recent geopolitical events in Afghanistan are likely to prolong and increase such risks in the mid to long term.

Threats are generally presented to crowded spaces or publicly accessible locations as security within venues or stadia often play a role in deterring threat activity.

Crowded spaces, in the public domain, allow ready access for threat actors to conduct hostile reconnaissance, normally enabled through open-source investigation, physical reconnaissance and insider threats.

Organisers should have policies to deny access to information, detect hostile reconnaissance and deter threat actors from operating. This is best achieved through unpredictable and coordinated approaches that combine behavioural detection, security-minded communications and partnerships in security.

The most probable attack methodology is likely to include edged weapons, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or fake IEDs, vehicles used as weapons, firearms or a combination of the above. Experienced attacks and plot disruptions through 2017-21 evidence this. Such low complexity and low sophistication attacks can occur without warning and require limited resources.

More complex plots such as those planned by Al-Qaeda require more complexity and longer planning cycles. The instability in Afghanistan could create the operating conditions for more complex plots to be developed.

It is important that organisers conduct threat and vulnerability assessments to enable a proportionate and flexible response to protective security. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is not necessary. The forthcoming ‘Protect Duty’ will introduce key responsibilities in this area. Equally important is a recognition that ‘no specific intelligence does not equate to no threat’. Looking ahead, an approach that focuses on vulnerability assessments for each type of threat at specific locations and events should be adopted.

Alongside the prevailing terrorist threats, organisers and planners should consider an integrated response to a wide range of existing threats and hazards. This includes crowd management, crowd control and anti-social behaviour (ASB), disorder protests, direct action and criminal acts, as well as extreme weather, loss of services, structural failures, cyber incidents and medical incidents.

A systematic process that considers the context of an event and identifies, analyses, evaluates and deploys mitigation for each type is effective in prioritising protective security.

What key advice would you give to an event organiser when it comes to security?

To view security alongside safety and service, integrating all three pillars into planning, delivery and review. Organisers should have a systematic approach to the three pillars through policy, event management structures and plans. Adopting an approach that covers threats and vulnerabilities within the national, local and event context is important. Such approaches should be proportionate and flexible, not reliant on intelligence.

Event organisers should also look to promote a positive security culture alongside safety and service, ensuring that all personnel are engaged, consulted and capable of supporting in protective security delivery. This can be further enhanced by developing effective security partnerships, particularly across different areas of responsibility, locations and grey space. They should also look to develop an overall plan that seeks to deter, detect, delay, mitigate and respond to threat activity. Such plans should be delivered through layers of security through time and space.

It is important to ensure that all staff are trained and equipped to perform protective security roles, with clear management structures in place to plan, brief, deliver and review. These structures and plans must also be tested and reviewed regularly. Finally, I’d recommend event organisers seek advice from the Police through Counter Terrorism Security Advisors (CSTAs) or for events Counter Terrorism Security Coordinators (CT SecCos) as relevant. Make use of freely available information from CPNI, National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO), UK.Gov and other agencies.

How can you ensure a balance between security and speed of entry for the visitor at a stadium/event?

This can be achieved by developing a comprehensive crowd management plan for each and every event or operation. A thorough understanding of crowd management through analysis, modelling and deployments through the entire ‘spectator journey’ is also important.

Here, venue operators and organisers should identify transport nodes, arrival, ingress and egress times in planning. Considering the design, information and management of crowds through layers of security is also important. Entrance points normally create queues, particularly where search and screen is required. COVID-19 has provided opportunities to review search and screen with a move towards less manual searching and more efficient screening. Prior to the pandemic, trials in ‘high footfall screening’ at large events had been conducted by CPNI with other agencies. These trials sought to balance detection assurance against undue delays.

I would advise organisers to review their detection and search policies against threats, then seek to combine people processes and technologies to make the entrance into venues smoother. Clear communication strategies and information can support, while effective prohibited items and bag policies assist in this area too.

In what ways will major event security evolve over the coming years?

I hope to see greater communication and coordination between local authorities, emergency services and the private sector. I think that greater professionalism in protective security will be developed, sadly often as a result of events or tragic incidents. The implementation of the Protect Duty will have a positive impact upon protective security. Integration between all agencies focused on safety, security and service through flexible plans will be key. Returning to events after a lengthy lockdown will present challenges and opportunities, not just for event organisers and security professionals, but for threat actors too.

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Peter Dalton

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