Emergency Preparedness

Manchester Bombing Should Put U.S. Large Event Managers on Notice

The May 22, 2017, suicide bombing in Manchester in the U.K. continues to remind security practitioners about the difficulty of keeping mass attackers or those armed with explosives away from the perimeters of large events. Screening ticket-buyers at the entrances to sporting events and concerts is only part of the overall security posture. Vendors, transportation providers, and others who are associated with the events need screening assessments too.

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The Manchester suicide bomber, now identified as 22-year-old Salman Abedi, exploded himself at the foyer of the arena immediately after the Ariana Grande concert had ended and just as thousands of young people, some with their parents, were leaving the arena. The attack killed 22 people and injured 120.

In their recent blog post, “Manchester Attack—Known Vulnerabilities,” Los Angeles-based security company Chameleon Associates (www.chameleonassociates.com) said, “In executing the attack, the bomber took advantage of three known security vulnerabilities at large, crowded events:

  • Security is focused mostly on crowd control and on preventing the infiltration of prohibited items (weapons, bombs, alcohol etc.) into the event.
  • At the end of the event and as fans are dispersed, security is more lax, more attention is given to crowd control and safe exit of the audience.
  • Often security officers at such events are not equipped with the procedures or the training to identify suspicious indicators in a crowd.

These security vulnerabilities are not specific to the Manchester Arena. They can be seen and felt at every game, concert, and large scale event each one of us attends in cities around the world. So, what can we do to close these security gaps and make it more difficult for adversaries to commit attacks such as the one perpetrated in Manchester? Here are a few immediate solutions:

  • Extend your rings of protection outward. Security should not start at the perimeter but extend beyond the perimeter. Early detection of the adversary can make all the difference.
  • Teach your security staff members to identify suspicious indicators associated with the modus operandi you are trying to prevent.
  • Teach your security staff what to do once those indicators are found. How should they approach, question, assess, decide, and act regarding the indicators found?

Chameleon Associates raises a point not often considered in event planning: keeping security personnel and access control protocols vigilant in the aftermath of the main program, concert, game, match, etc. So much effort and planning goes into the pre-event screening, perimeter control, access, and security procedures during the event. After the event, it’s easy to let our guard down and consider it a success as people leave, the artist or sports team departs, and the security and police presence begin to wind down. A parallel is seen at many professional sporting events in the United States, where fans begin to leave before the game is over and people without tickets are often allowed into the venue as security personnel leave their posts and get ready to clock out. Even police officers working inside the arena or stadium and along the perimeter can let their vigilance subside as the crowds leave. As the Manchester tragedy illustrates, security planners should continually focus on all suspicious perimeter activities or facility access attempts until the crowds, teams, artists, employees, and vendors are completely and safely disbursed.