In light of the ongoing terrorism threat in Western Europe, attention in recent years, especially since the November 2015 attempted attack on the Stade de France stadium in Paris, has focused on how we make our sporting, music, cultural and other large-scale events safer. The Manchester terrorist attack on 22 May involving a suicide bomber that left 22 people dead and 59 others injured has again brought into focus the challenges as to how we protect attendees. The attack seems to have deliberately targeted concertgoers as they left the Manchester Arena following the conclusion of a concert by US singer Ariana Grande. This fits with the dynamics of large-scale events with crowds more congested upon exit and previous calls by Islamist extremist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), urging supporters to target event goers, particularly sports events, as they left the stadium.
While recent attention surrounding terrorism has focused on so-called ‘low-fi’ attacks involving vehicles, bladed weapons, tools and possibly firearms, the recent attack in Manchester, whilst not dissimilar from attacks seen in Germany in July 2016 and France in November 2015, is likely to raise questions about event security and more pertinently crowd management. The lasting question remains…how do you protect tens of thousands of people in the same public place at the same time?
Event security, particularly sporting events, has improved to best practice, legislation, industry standards, reputational risk and so on. Venues, whether concert halls, festivals, stadiums or arenas, are often naturally-secure sites, with physical architecture – whether that be permanent or temporary – increasing the target’s security profile. The addition of security stewards to conduct access control and search regimes as well as technical security measures creates a relatively robust security environment when compared to immediately outside the venue.
This creates somewhat of a paradox; the time and effort to pass through venue security to the safer internal environment means that people are potentially exposed to greater risk while waiting to enter or when exiting in a crowd. Exiting en masse is arguably the most concerning factor and event organisers through the use of staggered egress or incentives such as post-event entertainment, ‘meet and greet ’ or some other strategies, may have to, purely for security purposes, keep attendees in the venue for longer while egress is managed more safely. That said, is that feasible? It may well be difficult to get public buy-in for a staggered or delayed exit from a venue, possible cost implications, potential health and safety concerns to having people remain in the venue post-event. These and other factors need careful consideration.
How event managers and law enforcement agencies manage the open space around venues will remain an ongoing challenge; enhanced security cordons during entry and exit may need to be implemented. Hostile vehicle mitigation, increased physical security measures and security personnel could be deployed, but that strategy could displace the threat to a nearby congested transport hub, pub or bar or pedestrian bottleneck. Event organisers will have to carefully consider how they meet the challenge that seems now to have come into greater focus following the Manchester attack, as well Stade de France attack in 2015 and Boston Marathon bombing four years ago.