SJUK Exclusive: Protecting a stadium’s key asset – the fans

February 16, 2022


Deborah Ainscough, Operations Director at Crowdguard discusses how physical deterrents can reduce the potential for stadium attacks.

For thousands of sports and music fans, attending a match or a gig as a shared experience with crowds of like-minded enthusiasts has been a life-long passion. The atmosphere of the stadium and the volume of people standing shoulder to shoulder has always been an integral part of that experience however, alongside the excitement, there have always been inherent risks.

These are risks which security professionals, government agencies and the emergency services are aware of. For example, it explains why there is a heightened police presence at football matches. However, there is a balance to be struck between managing risk and enabling people to enjoy their hobbies and interests freely, in a non-threatening environment where any measures taken to address risk are subtle and low-key.

Although stadiums have security staff, solutions and procedures in place, in the past there has been, perhaps, an assumption that any more serious threats were being handled by the authorities. There may also have been a naïve belief that soft civilian targets such as sports events and music performances would not be targeted by terrorists.

The Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017 was both a tragedy and a wake-up call. Almost five years later, we are still waiting for the UK government to publish a draft Protect Duty bill, a piece of legislation – also referred to as Martyn’s Law after Martyn Hett who was killed during the attack – which is expected to require stadiums and large venues to adhere to stricter security standards. Spearheaded by Martyn’s mother, Figen Murray, the proposed legislation has completed a public consultation and the government is expected to reveal the details of the bill soon.

The proposals focus on increased vigilance by stadiums and venues, with site-specific risk assessments, an emphasis on training and measures in place to identify and address threats sooner and more effectively. Many of the lessons learned from the Manchester Arena bombing have informed the proposed new law and it aims to offer a framework for best practice that should help to eliminate human error and poor communication.

It is important to remember, however, that not all aspects of stadium security can be controlled by individuals making the right decisions in a crisis. Alongside an improved response, stadiums also need to consider improved deterrents: What can physically be done to protect every stadium’s biggest asset, the fans?

Protection and reassurance

A physical security installation around the perimeter of a stadium provides a solution on multiple levels. Firstly, and most importantly, it provides protection from security threats, including vehicle as a weapon (VAW) attacks which are an increasingly frequent tactic used by terrorists. A hostile vehicle mitigation system (HVM), which has been fully tested and certified, property specified and installed by a trained team from a certified company provides proven protection for pedestrians and built assets.

HVM systems also enable pedestrian access to be controlled and monitored. By sharing their risk assessment and any security concerns with a specialist HVM and perimeter security provider, stadium managers can tap into the expertise of professionals who can advise them on managing both pedestrian and vehicle access routes to the area around the stadium, while protecting it from VAW attacks. This includes ensuring that immediate access can be achieved for authorised vehicles and emergency services when necessary.

In addition to providing a physical protective barrier, HVM systems and other perimeter security measures can also deliver psychological benefits. They both reassure event goers who may be concerned about security risk and deter would-be terrorists who will see the additional measures in place to prevent an attack. In research carried out by Crowdguard, 20% of respondents admitted to avoiding locations due to safety concerns whilst 90% agreed that they would feel safer at locations where there is an HVM system in place.

The tragedy at the Manchester Arena has had a deep and lasting impact on the consciousness of sports fans and events goers, alerting them to risks that they may have previously known were there but had never had to confront. Add to this the general unease of gathering in large crowds that many feel following the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic and it is undoubtedly clear that a visible security installation has a significant role to play in both psychological and physical protection.

Selecting the right solution

All certified HVM systems are subjected to rigorous testing and have to demonstrate their effectiveness in providing a robust barrier against vehicles. However, specifying the right system or combination of systems for each stadium requires a complete understanding of the security risks and the site conditions of the location.

Testing for each system is carried out in specific conditions at a specific location, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. A tick-box approach to selecting the cheapest system for compliance could result in continued exposure to risk, alongside practical issues caused by overlooking site specific requirements.

A range of factors, including weather conditions, the topography of the location, the size and speed of a vehicle used in an attack, the condition of the HVM equipment and the calibre of installation, can all affect HVM performance. Specification should also consider the practical requirements for individual stadiums. For example, does the HVM need to be surface mounted? Does it need to be suitable for installation on uneven ground? Does it need to offer ease of reconfiguration for different types of events? For all of these reasons, it’s essential to work with a specialist in HVM systems and perimeter protection that can advise on an optimised solution and provide well maintained equipment installed by trained operatives.

Any damaged components or installation failures could compromise the whole system, so working with a single, approved provider for specification, supply, installation and maintenance is vital.

Understanding risk

Risk assessment and mitigation is at the heart of the Martyn’s Law proposals which includes recognising the role of people in improving stadium security and that of physical protection systems. It is important to remember too, however, that terror attacks are not the only security threat.

Alongside VAW protection, stadiums should also consider strategies for protecting restricted access areas, segregating locations – perhaps because they are out of use or under refurbishment – and using perimeter protection systems to manage the ingress and egress of crowds. The benefit of the Martyn’s Law proposals is that there is no hard and fast rule to implement specific physical controls, rather a directive to consider and address stadium specific risk.

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This article was originally published in the February edition of Security Journal UK. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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