The nature of terrorism has shifted in recent years, away from attacks on high value infrastructure, such as buildings, and more toward attacks likely to cause mass casualties.
With that new focus, terrorists could be turning their sights on areas that attract large groups of people. A recent Europol report, for example, noted that terrorists appear to be increasingly targeting large crowds of people where their actions can cause mass casualties and provoke an emotional response.
And, unfortunately, large public gatherings — sporting events, firework displays, music festivals and other events that draw large crowds — fit that new model perfectly.
The changing nature of terrorism also demands changes in how organizations and venues address the risk. With the tactics of terrorism evolving, preparation is everyone’s responsibility: Addressing the threat today requires first, understanding the new nature of the risk; second, comprehending what it will take to neutralize a threat and how long it will take to do so; and third, communicating a planned evacuation or other risk reduction efforts effectively to the exposed public when a threat arises.
The Bataclan shootings during the 2015 Paris attacks, 2017’s Westminster Bridge and Borough Market attacks, the 2016 Brussels airport bombing and other recent attacks highlight the terrorism risk exposure inherent in events or locations that attract large concentrations of people. Effectively, organizations with significant public footprints — stadiums, concert venues, airports, even shopping malls — all are potential terrorist targets.
“Those are locations that present attractive targets to terror groups that are trying to generate mass casualties,” said Scott Bolton, a London-based director at Aon. And the event sponsors or venue owners need to address that exposure, he said.
“You could be an attractive target. As such, there is responsibility to plan for an attack,” Bolton said. He states that should an event occur the natural questions focus on the planning for a possible attack and the suitable response should one occur — were the plans adequate and was any response appropriate?
Collette Roche, chief operating officer of Manchester United, whose Old Trafford stadium can hold close to 75,000 people, said her organization takes preparations for such threats seriously. “The safety and security of our staff, players and fans is of paramount importance and is always our top priority,” she said. “All our teams — both corporate and sporting — receive training to ensure that we are prepared for all eventualities, including increasing safety drills to respond to potential risks.”
Adapting To The Changing Terrorism Environment
As terrorist motives and tactics evolve, the response should evolve with it, according to Bolton. He noted that many European airports invested in hostile vehicle mitigation — the fixed bollards you see outside airport terminals — as well as many government buildings and other facilities to keep vehicle attackers from driving too near the structure. Those bollards proved inadequate, however, when faced with suicide bombers willing to carry their explosives into a terminal.
In response, many airport operators and government officials are now looking for ways to increase the efficiency of the security process to minimize large concentrations of people at security lines. “They’re focusing more on how they manage flights during the day and how they apply their resources to make security and the security checks more efficient to minimize the number of people concentrating in the terminal,” Bolton said. “In addition to wider monitoring and response management, efforts are focused on minimizing the attractiveness of such a concentration in one place.”
Manchester United’s Roche said her organization is constantly looking to adjust its safety preparations as needed. “Our considerations and response plans, which are bespoke and developed in line with each new venue and location, are constantly reviewed in response to changing conditions to ensure that our critical assets remain protected at all times,” she said.
Protecting The Public, Reducing The Risk To The Organization
As they reduce the risk of mass casualty terror attacks, event sponsors and venue owners must understand their local terror environment and the potential impact of terror attacks on their organizations, Bolton recommends. Stakeholders must be prepared to implement appropriate response plans if an attack occurs and to limit the freedom of movement of attackers and their potential impact on the public. Plans should encompass three key elements:
• Response time — If armed police response is a critical element of a plan, it’s necessary to understand how long it will take to get armed police to the site and how the attackers will be neutralized in the interim. “Understanding that response time is essential because it provides an indication of what you might be asked to do as an organization and for how long you’ll be asked to do it,” Bolton said.
• Restricting attackers’ access, creating safe spaces for the public — Identify the steps to be taken if an attack occurs. Will certain areas be locked down? Will there be an evacuation, or will the public be directed to shelter at the given location?
• Communications — Effective communications are essential if an attack occurs so that individuals under threat can evacuate in the right directions, seek shelter in the correct spaces or take other steps appropriate to the attack response plans. “Communications are key,” Bolton said. “Without communications, those in the space are left to make their own choices.”
Striking The Right Balance
There should always be a balance between appropriate security measures for the site while still being able to maintain normal operations. Given cultural resistance in Western Europe and North America to too much security, finding the level of security that is “reasonable and practical” for a given level of terrorist threat is essential.
“Everyone knows there have been attacks, but we’re not going to start checking everybody entering a shopping mall just because it’s culturally unacceptable,” Bolton said. “Currently, we’re not prepared to have those kinds of restrictions in our lives.”
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