Vigilance around soft targets

I was at Wembley Stadium last week watching a football match along with 60,000 other people and, as someone who knows a bit about security, it was clear to me that there remain significant security risks around soft targets such as crowded places.  Anywhere where there is a large gathering of the public, such as queues to get into sports venues, theatre shows, music gigs and of course inside each of these venues, there will always be targets for the terrorist or the disgruntled individual. For the terrorist, the softer the target the better; why go after well protected government and defence installations when the public are more easily accessible? 

Wembley Stadium is protected from vehicle attacks by heavy stone blocks placed on all roads leading to the ground, covered in imitation grass for aesthetic reasons.  Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) would be unlikely to get close to the actual stadium, the same goes for those looking to plough a vehicle into a crowd, though in the lead-up to the game, there were large numbers of spectators passing by those blocks in significant numbers.  Beyond the blocks, on what was a cold, clear day with people wrapped up warm and carrying their bags and rucksacks, presumably having travelled from afar, there were searches carried out upon entry through the turnstiles.

Between the concrete blocks and the turnstiles, there were some police officers, some of which were on horseback.  That is the real vulnerability zone, between the outer ring of protection and the Stadium, where any terrorist can have the maximum impact with the minimum effort.  Similar situations of large crowds occur at other venues and of course, on New Year’s Eve in the centre of London.

Whilst it’s not always relevant to draw comparisons with the US, where firearms are more readily available, there have been recent incidents in Las Vegas (1st October, 58 killed, 546 injured) and a Texas church (5th November, 26 killed, 20 injured) where unprotected crowded places became the scene of deadly shootings.  When people (terrorists or otherwise) are determined to take lives, their main targets will always be the less projected public crowded places.  It is there that people remain most vulnerable and exposed to the risk.

It is always in the aftermath that measures are put in place to lessen the risk of these things happening again; of the perpetrators being successful in their aims.  Unfortunately, in that aftermath, there are victims and the families of victims who do not benefit from the additional measures of protection.  Their opportunity has been and gone.

So, I ask you to consider this – if you are someone responsible for the safety and security of the general public and if something sinister were to happen ‘on your watch’, are you confident that you have already done everything that is reasonable and practical and within your powers, to ensure the safety and security of those people?  If there was such a malicious event and you were one of the people investigating it, having to pick up the pieces, having to deal with the aftermath, what improvements would you make then that you could foresee now and most likely implement now?

It may be that you are blinded by your own routine, having a perspective that is insular because you see things working well on a daily basis.  Perhaps you haven’t any cause for concern up to now?  A fresh pair of eyes from an outsider could make all the difference to finding those simple weaknesses that you could be remedy fairly swiftly and at low cost.

I’m sure from your experience of the wider world, you are aware that most things get ‘fixed’ after the event i.e. after someone or some people have suffered catastrophic consequences so that we may learn.  A great deal of this type of learning takes place in the aviation industry where every air accident or terrorist incident results in some form of improved safety-related outcomes.  On the runway at Manchester Airport, 22 August 1985, the ensuing fire of one of the engines on British Airtours flight 28M and subsequent loss of life led to floor lighting being installed on all flights.  This was only after 55 people lost their lives, many of whom could not find the exit amongst the thick smoke.  The learning from that day has benefitted many across the world, but at a high initial cost.

Don’t be one of those people with responsibility for the safety and security of others who is good at implementing lessons learned from your own direct experience.  Pick up on the experience of those around you who can provide the advice and guidance required to prevent to worst things from happening ‘on your watch’.

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