ISJ Exclusive: Effectively managing many moving parts


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ISJ speaks exclusively with Jason Wakefield, Sales Director, Todd Research about the importance of security at high profile events, technologies to minimise risks and the vital role of operator training.

The world has opened up again following the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic – how cautious should event organisers be as they host large crowds again?

The global threat of terrorism varies from country to country and changes over time. However, according to MI5, the current threat level in the UK is substantial, which means ‘an attack is likely’. There is always a heightened risk of a terrorist attack when large groups of people congregate and responsibility falls on event organisers to ensure the safety of all personnel and visitors.

One significant step is to install appropriate on-site security measures – such as metal detectors, X-ray scanners and trace detectors – that not only protect against devices and weapons, but also act as a deterrent and help to prevent an incident long before it occurs. An attack rarely happens at random; perpetrators usually plan carefully and carry out hostile reconnaissance, gathering information on potential target locations. Therefore, implementing ways to identify and counteract this behaviour before an event even happens is crucial, starting with a robust security infrastructure.    

How do today’s challenges of managing security risks at these events differ from previous challenges?

The main challenge facing any large event is thoroughly screening the many participants that walk through the doors. Big stadiums can have a capacity of up to 100,000 spectators, all arriving within a short period of time, vying to get to their seats. This is a real challenge for any event organiser and there is a multitude of parameters to consider, including how many staff to employ, which detection technologies are needed and how to make the security process as seamless as possible.

There is no magic wand and no single technology or method that can ensure the safety of all staff and visitors. However, a simple pat down or a bag search are inadequate – comprehensive individual searches are impossible given the sheer volume of people passing through the gates. In fact, this approach could even heighten the risk as inefficient screening methods can create long queues that themselves become potential targets for hostile actions, such as vehicle attacks.

Therefore, to guarantee high throughput, security operators need to be able to identify a threat within seconds, requiring the right equipment and, just as importantly, highly trained personnel.

Staffing has become a significant issue for event venues since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted; the pandemic forced workers in many industries to search for new employment, leaving a shortfall of experienced staff once operations returned to normal. Event organisers are still facing significant challenges to recruiting and training new personnel. This is especially concerning in the security sector, where rapid assessments of a suspect package or person is crucial, but relies on the skill of experienced operators.  

What are some of the technologies on the frontline of security at large events? How should they be implemented to maximise efficiency and effectiveness?

Technology is constantly evolving and there is now a plethora of state-of-the-art products available to security operators. But, understanding the advantages and limitations of each is critical to be able to implement the right solution for any venue. For example, metal detector arches can be installed to identify dangerous metal objects – such as firearms, knives and other potential weapons – and can be positioned in a way that all visitors must pass through them to enter the premises.

However, this can slow down throughput and a search pole that detects fluctuations in a magnetic field created by metal objects is sometimes a more practical solution; it can be easily moved and placed anywhere without being in the way, allowing for an uninterrupted flow of people.  

Of course, there are also a number of non-metallic objects that are still potentially dangerous but can evade these detectors, quite often hidden in bags or purses. Baggage scanning systems that search for these have been around for decades and have now evolved into all shapes and sizes. Cabinet models, for example, offer heightened threat detection capabilities in post and courier deliveries arriving at these venues, identifying small explosive devices and powders such as anthrax and ricin.

In addition, portable X-ray systems are designed to allow scanning without having to even touch the item; perfect for suspect, unsupervised bags around the location. These lightweight devices – some versions weighing just 2.6 kilogrammes – consist of a plate that can be positioned behind a suspect package, delivering detailed images for rapid decision making. And, with the heightened threat of terrorism, mobile trace detectors can also be used to identify residues from handling explosives, sensitive to concentrations as low as parts per trillion.  

Intelligent software and improved image quality also help operators to make quick decisions, by distinguishing between different materials using automated colour coding. However, a comprehensive approach to security is always vital and these technologies are better combined with expert advice, regular maintenance and training.

Expert advice speaks for itself and makes sure event organisers choose and implement the right solution. Regular maintenance visits are necessary to fulfil regulatory requirements and guarantee optimal performance of equipment, while training programmes are essential to ensure that staff know how to use technology effectively, as well as how to identify dangerous items and spot suspicious behaviour. This is especially pertinent to the staffing problems post COVID-19, because venues need to ensure that new personnel get up-to-speed with how to recognise the ever-increasing arsenal of threats available to perpetrators.   

Tell us more about the importance of training – is it just for new staff being on-boarded or can seasoned team members also benefit?

Any technology is only as good as the operator, making regular training crucial for all personnel operating any of these devices, irrespective of their experience. Of course, new recruits will benefit more at first, but even experienced operators have a lot to gain as refresher courses ensure they are up to speed with the latest advancements.

Training has historically been performed on-site but, owing to increased demand during COVID-19, many companies have installed distance learning platforms. Todd Research now offers two online tutorials: One aimed at operators of conveyor type X-ray scanners and another for users of cabinet models. This makes it easier for people to stay upskilled, even if they live far away from their work. Other courses can be incorporated into regular maintenance visits. These include radiation protection training – focusing on practical measures for protecting staff from radiation exposure – and suspect package training, concentrating on suspect package recognition and subsequent risk management.

The ‘golden hour’ is a term often used to describe the critical time following a traumatic incident. Could you highlight best practice during this period?  

In the worst-case scenario that a critical event does occur, it is essential that organisers promptly establish proper communication channels, which can help to avoid further damage and even loss of life. There are many ways to do this, but emergency messaging services such as the Callmy app are specifically designed for critical event management.

This platform provides lines of communication for information exchange between event organisers, first responders and command and control teams. It also uses geo-targeted messaging so that response coordinators can choose recipients based on their physical location and, if the situation escalates, it can launch mass notification to the wider community.

Todd Research has a long history in the security sector and was recently recognised with a prestigious accolade in the UK. Could you give ISJ a brief description of the award and your history?

We’ve been delivering innovative security solutions to a range of public and private markets for 70 years and we now have customers in over 80 countries.

This year, we were honoured with receiving a Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation for our TR15 and TR40 cabinet X-ray scanners. However, these systems represent just a small fraction of our offerings. We believe in a holistic approach to security, which helps our customers stay one step ahead of potential perpetrators.

There are many moving parts to security at large events, from choosing the correct equipment to suit the venue’s layout and expected throughput of visitors to proper training and maintenance. Todd Research has extensive experience working alongside event organisers, to provide guidance and the tools they need to heighten security and minimise the risk of a critical event. 

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This article was originally published in the special September show edition of International Security Journal. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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