Crowdguard: Keeping fans safe in the zone

August 23, 2023


Deborah Ainscough, Founder and Director, Crowdguard, discusses the growing popularity of fan zones in stadium grounds and the need to consider safety and security for these temporary facilities.

With the FIFA Women’s World Cup having just captivated a global audience, the eyes of the world are not only on how we secure football matches, but also how we enable fans across the world to enjoy the shared experience of watching the action on a big screen.

Fan zones enable fans without a ticket to share both the joy of victory and the anguish of defeat.

They have become an increasingly popular concept for major tournaments, landmark friendlies and league matches alike, providing an opportunity to generate revenue and bring the fan community together.

Whether a fan zone is there to enable fans to enjoy a shared match experience for far away fixtures, or as a place for fans to congregate before and after a home game, security risks need to be addressed as part of the planning process to provide a welcoming environment for fans, while addressing the counter terrorism risk.

Duty of care beyond the stadium

While most club owners and stadium operators already have robust security measures and risk assessment protocols in place for their actual stadium, managing the crowds outside of the stadium but still within the grounds can be more challenging. Fan zones are often located in these areas within the perimeter of the stadium’s grounds, but outside the protection of the stadium. During fan zone opening hours, pedestrians need to be able to access the area easily, while vehicular access must be prevented and fans – potentially thousands of them – need to be protected from errant vehicles and vehicle as a weapon attacks.

Specification and risk

To create a pedestrian-permeable perimeter that enables fans to flow in and out of the fan zone while protecting them from errant vehicles and vehicle as a weapon attacks, an IWA 14-1 certified HVM (hostile vehicle mitigation) system is usually required.

The correct specification and configuration of HVM will depend on the level of risk for a specific site, and a threat vulnerability and risk assessment (TVRA) will consider all elements of risk so that the HVM provider can recommend a best-fit solution. This should consider factors including the layout and topography of the site, the anticipated number of visitors and required flow rates, and vehicle dynamics, such as the likely velocity and mass of a vehicle on approach to the pre-determined location and any stopping distances relevant to the crowded space and fan zone.

Specifying the correct HVM system or combination of systems should always be aligned to risk, with any variation from the ‘as tested’ configuration of the HVM system, or additional risk factors due to value engineering, clearly explained in writing by the provider.

Ease and speed of deployment

For temporary event spaces like fan zones, a surface mounted HVM system is usually the preferred option because this can be installed and removed quickly and easily with no damage to the road surface and without the disruption of civil engineering works. The time it takes to install a HVM system varies depending on the amount of protection required and the system used, but it can be as fast as five minutes for a single array of a system designed for rapid installation, or a day (or overnight) programme for a more complex and larger HVM installs.

Regardless of which system is used, it is essential that the HVM solution is installed in line with the specification by trained technicians to quality assured and clearly documented processes. This includes a photographic record of the project. Installation should always be an integral part of the specification and supply contract because HVM performance relies on correct deployment. It is akin to packing a parachute – you would want an expert to pack it to feel assured it would keep you safe and the same principles applying to keeping fans safe at the stadium.

Temporary vehicular access

Although the purpose of an HVM system is to prevent vehicles from accessing the location, consideration needs to be given to whether there will need to be authorised vehicular access to the fan zone area at any point.

This could include a requirement to allow delivery vehicles, the potential for emergency vehicles to be called to site, or even for normal access to car park areas on non-match days. Vehicle access plates can be included in the installation of some HVM systems to enable vehicles to move freely in the area for maintenance and delivery at times when the fan zone is not in use, or to allow rapid access should blue light services be required.

Building this type of flexibility into stadium safety and security enables the installation to remain in place for the entire football season, while adapting to different safety and operational requirements.

Customisation and aesthetics

Alongside their safety and security function, HVM systems at fan zones also provide an opportunity to enhance the environment with branding, signage, wayfinding, or advertising. A key consideration for fan zone security is not just how much the physical measures in place improve safety, but how much they make people feel safer, so there is a balance to be struck between selecting a solution that visibly provides protection and one that maintains a welcoming aesthetic. Fan zones exist to celebrate the power of sport to bring people together, and HVM systems can embrace that principle through customisation. Options include club or tournament branding, information, wayfinding or ads – or a combination of these.

Fencing and turnstiles

If access to the fan zone is ticketed, crowd management for ticket checks must also be factored into the planning and safety provision. Temporary fencing or hoarding can also be used to segregate the fan zone area from other locations within the stadium’s grounds too. Again, it is important to consider any requirements for vehicular access and controlled pedestrian access so that appropriate vehicle access gates, pedestrian gates or pedestrian turnstiles can be incorporated into the installation.

Quality-assured deployment by experienced technicians is equally important when temporary fencing or hoarding is installed for fan zones, ensuring that temporary systems are correctly configured, secured and ballasted to provide the protection of a permanent fixture with a temporary installation.

Protecting the stadium’s greatest asset

Vehicles as a weapon attack are a low complexity methodology used by terrorists to target crowded spaces with the potential to cause mass casualties and serious injury. HVM protection has an important role to play in protecting the stadium’s most important assets – the fans.

Crowdguard offers a complete plan, provide, protect service, which includes a threat vulnerability and risk assessment (TVRA) and vehicle dynamics assessment (VDA), specification of appropriate and proportionate HVM systems and quality assured installation. The company’s experience in the stadium security sector includes both fan zone and zone ex projects from non-league clubs right through to major international tournaments.

Case study in brief: Aston Villa’s new Fan Zone at Villa Park

At the new Fan Zone at Villa Park, which falls within the perimeter of the stadium’s grounds, but outside the protection of the stadium, Aston Villa fans may congregate at any time they wish from three hours before each match, until up to two hours afterwards. Villa Fans – potentially thousands of them – need to be protected throughout this time from errant vehicles and vehicle as a weapon attacks.

Following the football club’s risk assessment, the Crowdguard team provided expertise and advice, specifying the ATG Surface Guard hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) system to provide the level of protection and flexibility needed for the fan zone. Vehicle access plates were included in the installation to enable vehicles to move freely in the area for maintenance and delivery at times when the fan zone was not in use. On match days, this provision allowed rapid access in case blue light services were required.

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