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Special report: Spotlight on arena security

With terrorists now deliberately targeting venues and events, Richard Smirke talks to Europe's top security experts to hear how the industry is dealing with the threat

By IQ on 05 Dec 2017

Armed police were visibly present at The O2 in London in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attack

Armed police were visibly present at London's The O2 in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attack

Music arenas have long been prepared for the possibility of a terrorist attack, but it was the tragic events of 22 May – when UK-born Salman Abedi detonated a homemade bomb outside the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena following an Ariana Grande concert, killing 22 people, many of them children, and injuring over 200 more – that confirmed the worst fears about the stark realities now facing venue owners and operators.

“It happened in Manchester, but we all consider ourselves equally at risk,” says Neil Walker, general manager of the SSE Arena, Belfast. “Security and the health and safety of everyone who comes to our building has always been the number-one priority in everything we do, from making sure a production is rolled in safely, to making sure the public are well looked after when they’re here,” he adds, “but it’s been elevated to an even higher focus now.”

“What happened in Manchester brought it brutally home to everyone in the industry that this can happen anywhere,” agrees Reg Walker, director of Iridium Consultancy, which works with a number of UK venues and festivals on security matters. He says that the attack reinforced the need for a “seamless security operation and security in depth” both inside and outside concert arenas, extending to transport hubs servicing venues. “We can’t be complacent over this,” he warns. “The problem with a Manchester-style atrocity is that you see adequate resourcing in the immediate aftermath, but then what happens is the bean-counters kick in and start applying pressure to curtail costs. That is something that must be resisted by venue operators at this time.”

Upping the anti
Thankfully, the general consensus throughout the industry is in favour of enhanced safety provisions, with the majority of European arenas already at a heightened level of security following 2015’s Bataclan and Paris terror attacks. “For 18 months now, everyone who wants to enter the arena is checked twice: first time outside the arena with a preliminary security screening, and a second time at each entrance of the building with a full body search,” explains Julien Collette, general manager of AccorHotels Arena in Paris.

“The problem is that you see adequate resourcing in the immediate aftermath, but then the bean-counters kick in and start applying pressure to curtail costs”

Other protocols introduced at AccorHotels Arena since 2015 include permanent guarding of the venue and its surroundings by specialised firms, and security screening of all external personnel (production teams and service providers) with bag checks and body searches by qualified agents. In addition, on show days, Rue de Bercy, opposite the venue’s main entrance, is closed to road traffic, while armed police and dog handlers regularly patrol the perimeter.

Exact details vary, but the story is the same at many venues throughout Europe, where strict security procedures have fast become the norm. “What we have sometimes been criticised for in the past has now become our advantage,” says Stanislava Doubravová, head of sales and events at Prague’s O2 Arena, which has had airport-style X-ray baggage scanners and security gates since opening in 2004. Those measures “are now highly appreciated by event promoters,” she says.

“In the last few years, we’ve invested a lot of money and time in our security and safety measures,” agrees Barclaycard Arena Hamburg’s general manager, Steve Schwenkglenks. He points to the installation of walk-through metal detectors, coupled with physical pat-downs of audience members, as just one aspect of the venue’s upgraded security detail. “At first, we were a little worried about the public reaction to these stringent measures,” he says. “Now it’s not even a discussion.”

“At first, we were a little worried about the public reaction to these stringent measures. Now it’s not even a discussion”

At London’s The O2, permanent search arches were installed at the main entrances late last year, while anyone revisiting the venue over the past ten months will have noticed a “very much enhanced security posture,” says the venue’s head of security, Richard Latham, who was brought in to strengthen the venue’s already considerable operations in 2016, having previously been director of security at the House of Commons (which forms part of the UK’s Houses of Parliament).

“Some of our measures are visible and others are not so obvious,” states Latham, citing an increase in both overt and covert security staff inside and outside the venue, coupled with extra police patrols, including, “when appropriate”, an armed presence. The use of search dogs “for varying roles” provides another highly visible deterrent. Following the Manchester bomb attack, The O2 was also one of many European arenas to ban people from bringing rucksacks and large bags inside the venue, with all visitors to the site having to go through airport-style security and baggage scanners before gaining entry to the concourse, where they can utilise a bag-drop facility.

“The industry has changed from one where no one got searched at all, to one where it was mostly theatrical deterrent searching, to now – at least at The O2 – proper, audited counterterrorism searching,” says Latham. He believes that response helps elevate the live music industry above many other sectors in tackling the increased threat of terrorism.


Read the rest of this feature in the digital edition of IQ’s definitive guide to the European arena market, the European Arena Yearbook 2017: