The Boston Marathon bombings of 2013 tragically illustrated the difficulties in securing large, vulnerable venues and events. While this is a dramatic example, emergency planners know that large events bring with them a litany of potential hazards. From crowd control issues at entries and exits, to rowdy drunken fans, to crowd surging and trampling, to terrorist threats, the combination of large crowds in confined spaces poses specific hazards. While the task is daunting, there are a number of ways to mitigate the risks involved in hosting large events. By planning accordingly and well in advance, enforcing strict safety and security procedures and creating an atmosphere of situational awareness, emergency personnel can greatly reduce risks to safety and security.
Proactive security stems from good intelligence. Security starts before any spectators even enter the event. Prior to an event, a comprehensive threat assessment should be conducted on the event. In addition, news and weather should be monitored and all relevant intelligence on risks collected, including threats related to the performers, athletes or venue. The entire venue and/or vicinity of the event should be searched for any suspicious devices, people or activities, and the use of bomb-sniffing dogs should be considered. Emergency evacuation routes and plans should be well in place and thoroughly drilled by all involved in securing the event. Garbage cans and other areas of potential concealment should be cleared or sealed.
Plan for worst-case scenarios, such as violence by protestors, a possible terrorist attack or natural disasters, but also be thoroughly prepared to deal with ordinary crimes like pickpocketing and disorderly conduct.
As spectators arrive, there should be clear and strict adherence to security rules. All entry and exit points should be clearly marked and enforced. There should be no large containers or backpacks allowed in the vicinity, and all persons wishing to enter the vicinity will be subject to searches. Notifying all attendees of these rules and regulations prior to the event through mailings and the event website should both dissuade would-be troublemakers and educate all attendees.
You must also weigh the security measures that could possibly be taken (street closures, a highly visible security presence, bag searches, etc.) against the venue’s desire to produce enjoyable events. The security measures should not be so onerous that they negatively impact the experience of the attendees.
One of the greatest emerging threats to event security may be cyber-attacks. Hackers have the ability to infiltrate onsite information systems and could possibly take control of communications, utilities (electricity, water, heating and cooling), automated locking mechanisms, elevators or any other function that is connected to the system.
Attempts to engage the public’s participation in security, such as New York City’s “see something, say something” campaign, should be in effect at all large public venues. A hotline can be established prior to an event with the telephone number displayed throughout the venue. Tens of thousands of pairs of eyes on the alert for suspicious behavior or untended bags are much more effective than dedicated security personnel alone. Empowering the community will be beneficial in the event of an emergency.
All exits should be clearly marked, and security personnel and event staff should be both abundant and easily identifiable in large crowds. Spectators should be made aware in advance of their attendance of the policies regarding bags, alcohol consumption, etc.
Dedicated Comm Center
One of the key aspects of event security is communication. Security is greatly hampered by an inability to communicate rapidly and effectively between security personnel, event coordinators, participants, etc. Here’s a recommended communications protocol: A) All security and safety team members and assisting agencies should be surveyed to establish the best means of communication prior to the event. B) Radios to be used by the event team and security personnel should be checked to confirm that they are operational and on the correct (and secure) frequency. If multiple frequencies are to be used for separate teams or functions, this information should be communicated clearly to all team members. C) Make sure radio chargers are available in key locations. D) Limit chatter to only necessary communication.
Securing large events is always going to be a difficult endeavor. And no matter how thorough the security measures that are in place, there will always be a chance for disaster. It is nearly impossible to account for the actions of a motivated individual bent on harm, even if they didn’t succeed in bringing in a traditional weapon. Even an argument between a few fans can turn into a brawl that engulfs hundreds of spectators. That said, with forethought and planning, the potential for harm can be greatly mitigated.