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Trouble in mind

As the terror threat continues to rise, Andrew Mortimer, MD of Destinations and Venues at OCS, explains how FMs and event managers can help keep venues safe and secure

The past two years have seen increasing incidents of terror attacks at crowded places and major events, with Europe and the west being particularly targeted. These have included the co-ordinated attacks by gunmen at a rock concert in Paris in 2015, the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, and the suicide bombing at Manchester Arena at the end of the Ariana Grande show this May.

In light of these devastating events, managers, security teams and FM leaders around the world have had to drastically rethink their approach to security, event management and crowd safety.

While the industry always endeavours to keep abreast of cutting-edge technological developments and innovations to remain as effective as possible, incidents such as these create an immediate imperative to act. This puts a huge amount of pressure on venues and their security partners in terms of increased manpower and equipment. However, with strategic contingency planning, clear communication and frequent policy reviews, this pressure can be anticipated and alleviated, to some extent, by taking the following steps.

When incidents happen, organisations have to respond immediately. This is true not just for those directly affected, but for those in the wider industry.

Intelligence comes at incredible speed from the authorities and industry bodies, enabling the security industry to react swiftly. In practice, this means MI5 may raise the terror threat level from substantial to severe, or at its highest level, critical – as it did for four days following the Manchester bombing.

When threat levels are raised like this here in the UK, the Metropolitan Police, which leads on counter-terrorism policing across the country, along with bodies such as the National Police Chiefs Council and National Counter Terrorism Policing, issues statements with guidance and advice. At this point, meetings are held by those in charge of event security, including FM leaders, to agree on what additional resources are needed and how these will be deployed. These may include personal search equipment (metal detectors, wands and arches), additional surveillance, the introduction of new practices such as physical pat-downs and/or bag searches, and the introduction of sniffer or general purpose dogs or extra staff.

As threat levels rise, so does the complexity of the response needed, and the cost of implementing it. Which is why planning ahead is so important.

The Met holds regular Project Griffin briefings – events for business owners to better equip them to detect and deter terrorism. Other bodies also issue regular advice and guidance, such as the National Counter Terrorism Security Office’s ‘Run, hide, tell’ slogan. The Project Griffin programme has been extended so that training can now be delivered by in-house teams to the wider company security network.

In addition to keeping abreast of the latest advice from industry bodies and the authorities, and conducting ongoing risk assessments, security providers must proactively plan for emerging threats. Sometimes this is as a result of specific incidents, such as the Berlin Christmas Market attack and Westminster and London Bridge incidents, which consequently lead to reviews of sites’ vulnerabilities to vehicular attacks and the installation of bollards and barriers.

In other instances, it may be in response to emerging technologies and trends, such as the development of ceramic, plastic, fibreglass or carbon fibre weapons which are undetectable by traditional metal sensors, or drone technology, which poses a threat to open-air events.

To tackle these challenges, it’s crucial to have a robust supply chain and trusted partners in place who can supply rigorous solutions, such as anti-drone technology including radars and GPS disablers. Or for the detection of weapons, more advanced, high frequency scanners and x-ray machines, and specially trained staff.

The combination of technology and human intuition is of the utmost importance. While technology develops at a relentless pace, the experience and intuition of people is still indispensable. The aspect that deters hostile reconnaissance more than any other is the potential disruption caused by a hostile being identified by a well-trained officer.

Allied to this, new smart CCTV equipment can recognise the silhouettes of individuals and identify when that outline changes. This helps to alert security if someone has left a bag unattended, but human insight is needed to assess the true threat – is it genuinely suspicious?

For staff to be able to work with this technology, investment is needed. In addition to background checks, ongoing training including industry-recommended SIA accreditation and equipment-focused courses are needed to ensure security teams can perform to their highest abilities. What’s more, this will help them feel more comfortable identifying and responding to specific threats.

Security officers put themselves in harm’s way, so it is critical that businesses equip their teams with the right knowledge and skills to respond. Looking out for the wellbeing of their security teams should be a key priority of FM leaders, especially at times of heightened concern. Leaders, including executives and members of head office, should be seen standing shoulder to shoulder with their team members on the front line regularly, and never more so than following an incident.

After the Manchester attack, for instance, many executives and security leaders across the industry worked events alongside their security teams. My senior team and I, along with venue executives from the Liverpool Arena and AEG O2, stewarded Iron Maiden and Take That concerts, for example. Working alongside staff is important for morale. Not only does it show solidarity and demonstrate how valued our security teams are to us, it also helps those in charge to better understand the challenges faced by those on the front line.

Concern for others is a key fundamental for those in the industry. People visiting an arena for an entertainment event are there to enjoy themselves, and while the ultimate goal of security teams is to be diligent and focus on mitigating risk, they should not hinder the public’s experience.

Public opinion is incredibly important when it comes to events. If the public doesn’t feel safe coming to events, then the whole industry suffers. Security must create a safe ring of steel around a venue – but not an impenetrable fortress. It’s a delicate balance between public safety and rigorous control, and creating a hospitable and welcoming environment. Customer service must be a priority for frontline security teams, as the importance of reassuring individuals cannot be understated. The ultimate goal is to ensure customers enjoy a positive experience, making them happy to queue and be searched as part of a safer event.

By thinking ahead, creating contingency plans, collaborating with clients and the authorities, investing in training, equipment and the right staff, FM leaders can ensure their security teams are best placed to deal with terror threats.

About Sarah OBeirne


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