Crowds, public, and space, for the public at large, conjure images of openness, freedom of movement, and limitless fun. In the Middle East, we see crowded public spaces all around us – from stunning shopping malls and high-end restaurants, to extravagant hotels and a variety of public events venues.
What we rarely think of as we enjoy these crowded public spaces are the security risks associated with them. We try not to imagine how our open, free, and fun areas could be compromised by such risks.
Security risks are very real today, but are such attacks preventable? Could we lessen the impact when they do occur?
Creating security within crowded and public spaces requires a number of things, and it starts with an acceptance that this is a shared challenge that requires a collective response.
Security is achievable with a holistic and considered approach. Let’s use a stadium as our protected space to illustrate some of the different ways we can address security.
There is nothing worse than arriving at a stadium for an event and being confronted with a queue, or a rule regarding what you can or cannot bring inside. Security of public spaces will only work if we adopt an ‘in it together’ approach. This means not only promoting the requirements of security, but also, for example, encouraging people to leave larger bags at home.
We must push these messages on social media platforms, and also provide clarity on the reasons for the measures. The public will buy-in to initiatives if they can see a clear and justified reason for doing so. Just turning up at the stadium to be refused large bags will not help champion security initiatives amongst the public. Obtaining buy-in is key.
We also need to take a step back when we look at the space we are trying to protect. How do we expand the idea of a protected perimeter, and at what point do we stop?
In the stadium example, the venue itself is the object in need of protection. However, that doesn’t mean we discount what we see as the immediate public space surrounding it, where large numbers of people still congregate. Nor should we ignore the extended public space and approaches, or the ‘last mile’ as it is commonly referred to.
This is typically uncontrolled, and often a poorly defined area where a crowd gathers ahead of the main event, or the exit route when the event is concluded. Each layer of space contributes to the protective layer we can build around our crowded spaces.
By understanding the requirements for security in these areas, we can begin to look at ways in which we can protect these spaces and provide information to assist in the protection of the inner layers of the venue. Simple measures such as ‘spotters’, or crowd-control personnel can – and should – be trained to identify suspicious behaviour, and to promote security messages to the public, contributing to the ‘buy-in journey’, promoting a secure space for all.
Technologies can also be used in these spaces to identify anomalies, known persons of interest, and to provide some early warning signs of a security threat through stand-off screening.
These elements only work when we consider the ‘so what?’ aspect. What must we do if we identify something suspicious? Protection of space means ensuring that a well-considered concept of operations has been prepared, and that procedures to deal with the out of the ordinary are not only in place, but are fully understood by the team.
If we move parking facilities away from a stadium to provide a larger stand-off area, then have we considered the other security risks that come from movement of people in and out of the venue? The security team responsible for the venue or event must think through these questions and scenarios.
A holistic security approach is vital to ensure that correct preventative measures and procedures are in place, and that this strategy is tested with major simulated exercises to identify any broken links in the chain. It has never been more important to protect our crowded spaces.