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EAY 2018: Protecting the events sector

From the pages of the European Arena Yearbook, Richard Smirke reports on the challenges facing today’s arena security teams

By Richard Smirke on 08 Aug 2018

Arena security guard

“Many years ago, security for concerts and music events was quite simple,” reflects Reg Walker, director of Iridium Consultancy, which works with a number of UK venues and festivals. “It was either, ‘Yes, you can come in’, ‘No, you can’t come in’, or, ‘Sorry, you’re misbehaving, you’ll have to leave’. That was effectively it.

“If you fast-forward to now, security staff are expected to be cognisant in crowd safety and crowd management. Be able to secure evidence. Be welfare officers. We expect them to take part in counterterrorism security measures, be search experts, first aiders, carry out drug detection and deal with organised crime groups and pick pockets. The list goes on and on. The demands on security staff, and their roles, have changed so dramatically that they’re almost unrecognisable from what they were 20 or 30 years ago.”

Driving those changes has been a constant and ongoing focus on improving crowd safety and, in turn, the customer experience. Top of the agenda for many security professionals today is combating the heightened threat of terrorism – a historic danger that became tragic reality following the Bataclan and Paris attacks of 2015, and last year’s Manchester Arena bombing, which killed 22 people, many of them children, and injured hundreds more.

“In the last 12 months, there’s been a massive improvement in standards, with a total revision of how live music venues and sporting venues – or basically, any crowded space – are secured,” says Walker. He cites a “mass uplift in the training of staff and personnel,” extra police patrols, and infrastructural modifications to deter vehicle attacks, as just some of the ways that the sector has adapted and modified to meet the threat.

The demands from touring artists and productions have similarly increased, says Eventsec’s Andrew Murphy, who looks after security at Belfast’s 11,000-capacity Odyssey Arena. “Certainly, since what happened in Manchester there’s been a big surge from touring artists for increased security precautions, extra searches and backstage sweeps taking place,” he explains.

“The demands on security staff have changed so dramatically they’re almost unrecognisable from 20 or 30 years ago”

Costs and the number of security staff employed at the arena have increased as a result, he says, although in his venue’s case the impact has been moderate. “Coming from Belfast, where we’ve had these issues for many years, we’ve always been mindful that the threat exists, and have always had a high level of security at our venues. In light of what happened [in Manchester], we reviewed our security procedures and we continue to constantly review and change things, so that we’re not predictable and make it difficult for someone who has the intention to cause harm.”

“The Manchester attack was a big wake-up call for how we should view events, but what we have tended to do in the past is throw out our carefully prepared plans, [and] it is often not the plans that are wrong. It is just that areas need constant review to make them fit for purpose as threats change,” advises security professional Chris Kemp of Mind Over Matter Consultancy. He advocates a “measured and proportionate” approach that continually evaluates weaknesses and adapts to meet the threat, “so that it destabilises the aggressor and enables us to continue to think carefully about how we make our venues and events as secure as possible during a time of changing terrorist attack methodologies.

“After Bataclan and Manchester, security became very high on the agenda but if we relegate other elements that are just as important, such as crowd management, we are only shifting the problem and not tackling it,” he warns.

“What we’re getting better at is identifying what to do before, during and after an attack. But we all know that it’s not if, but when and where, the next attack will take place.”


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of EAY 2018, or subscribe to IQ here

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