Terrorism, Technology and Thinking – Key messages for Venue Safety

I had the privilege of being asked to speak at the Public Venue Security and Counter-Terrorism Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, organised by the Bosco Training Institute. The SGSA often gets asked to speak at events around the world and, where we can, we try to do so because getting across the importance of safety on a world stage is a fantastic way to raise the profile of just how far we’ve come on the journey to make live sport safer.

One of the (few) benefits of a long-haul flight is the thinking time it affords you when you aren’t disturbed by phone calls and e-mails and I wanted to share some of my reflections on the main themes of the conference. No doubt these issues will be prevalent in other parts of the world and taken together they show that, despite progress, we cannot become complacent.

Terrorism knows no bounds

We’ve known for a long time that terrorist activity knows no bounds; even more so in the 24/7 digitally connected world that we now live in. However, there are nuances: different regions of the world with differing political climates face different terror threats. It’s important to recognise these cultural and political variations when developing and operating venues or events in different parts of the world and ensure that operational plans recognise unique threats and have embedded appropriate ways of mitigating them.

Sadly, the SGSA has seen first hand around the world what can happen when operational plans for events are not effective. Operational plans are critical but, as Helmuth van Moltke wrote in 1880, “No plan of operations reaches with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main force.” The same applies to spectators at an event and it is critical that systems and procedures are tested and reviewed in the light of experience so that safety can be improved in incremental steps.

 

Key Message Identifying and sharing good practice and reviewing plans post-event to see where risk could have been further reduced is key.

 

The Ugly Side of Technology

A key theme that emerged from the conference was the misuse of technology by people intent on causing harm. The acceleration and proliferation of technology has led to some incredible advances in smart stadiums, enabling spectators to truly engage with their sporting icons clubs, and leading to significant improvements in safety. As examples, safety critical information can now be shared quickly via mobile phones and crowd movements can be monitored wirelessly helping to improve the flow of people around a venue.

However, the threat of cyber-crime is significant, and constant vigilance is required and many governmental agencies and private sector companies are dedicated to the pursuit of prevention.

The same principles apply to other technologies such as drones. We saw in 2015 how a drone was used to carry political messaging leading to the outbreak of violence between Serbia and Albania. Drones also pose a payload threat and of course, the threat of physical injury to people within a venue.

Key message Technology will continue to advance – and rightly so – but we must remain open in our thinking as to potential misuse.

 

Thinking outside of the line

The boundaries of a venue, as defined on a plan or a safety certificate are often the boundary at which legal responsibility for spectators starts and ends for the venue operators. However, there is a moralobligation to ensure that consideration is given to the area beyond this line (which exists only on paper and is not painted on the floor).

Recent terrorist attacks, including that at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester showed that whilst we can be very good at managing the ingress of people into a venue, we can do more to ensure a safe exit and onward transit.

The new version of the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds, due in October this year, recognises this and offers guidance on this zone that is ‘external’ to the stadium boundary. We call it ‘Zone Ex’.

There are many challenges to ensuring safety in this area, not least of which is that it is unlikely that the venue owner has any legal responsibility for people within it. A multi-disciplinary approach is needed, working across disciplines such as safety, police, stadium management, ambulance and other key stakeholders to ensure that someone has the lead for safety in this area.

Key message Safety doesn’t end at the legal boundary of the stadium so nor should our thinking

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The safe capacity calculations of all of our stadiums by SGSA was a game changer for us, we enforced the number strictly and all the fans really appreciated the more safe and welcoming environment at the venues.

Javier Ceppi. Local Organising Committee, FIFA Under 17 World Cup Tournament Director