After London and Manchester, we need better public venue security
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Several fatal security failures have occurred over the last months, including the armed attack at a crowded Manila casino leaving 36 dead; the attack on London Bridge; a suicide bombing at a pop concert in Manchester Arena killing 22, and a fleeing suspect killing a tourist by careening a vehicle through Times Square, one of the most heavily policed areas in the world, closed to vehicle traffic since 2010. 

While the nation’s collective consciousness seems to be disturbingly more and more accepting of these types of incidents as “the new normal,” it is becoming increasingly clear that there should also be increased private sector emphasis on protecting venues and facilities.

These lapses in security in just a few weeks, in the same period that marked the one year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub attack in Orlando that killed 49 people, again showed the vulnerabilities of public facilities and of live entertainment venues as potential targets for mass-violence.

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However, most venue managers remain fixated on the bottom line and ignore the lessons learned by the 2015 mass shooting at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris or the 2002 siege by Chechen terrorists at Moscow's Dubrovka Theatre resulting in 130 dead.

 

This often occurs because most property managers and facilities staff still do not employ a Chief Security Officer or consultant who can break down a common mental separation between the threat of terrorism and general crime; and see how a basic failure to proactively secure their facility can contribute to both.

Following the Manchester bombing, the U.K.’s ’severe' terror threat was raised to 'critical', their highest level, meaning that another attack is expected imminently. The public response was an immediate deployment of their armed response units and the military to create a heightened presence, but the private response was simply enhanced bag checks by low-paid, unarmed security guards. 

The truth is, in both the U.K. and the U.S.; our response to attacks is more about the appearance of security vs. actual security.

When looking at security in Times Square, the New York Police Department has street barriers, numerous foot posts and its paramilitary ATLAS/HERCULES teams of Emergency Service officers while on the private side, Broadway theaters are cuing lines behind a security line where three or four unarmed security guards call out instructions to audience members and poke inside their bags with a stick.

This leaves an experienced security practitioner like me to ask what would actually happen if they found a bomb or gun in a bag or on a patron at the head of the line. The truth is, even the public security provided by the nation’s largest police department has had to endure the perils of a wrong-way driver, a mix-tape scammer with a MAC-10 submachine gun, or an emotionally disturbed person with a knife.

Now, consider London, where less than half of police are armed and security at public venues is typically conducted by untrained front-of-house staff. Before your initial reaction about how U.K. should have armed law enforcement and security, consider most American cities have less than one-eighth the law enforcement presence that New York does, and therefore limited capabilities to respond to a mass-shooting or attack fast enough to meaningfully save lives. 

We cannot simply retask ushers and unarmed event security once responsible for keeping out beer or recording devices to detecting weapons and explosives.

The age of the lowest bidder has passed. In order to confront this issue, we need to address security from all angles. 

A great example is at the Pulse Nightclub, where the club was proactive enough to hire an experienced, off-duty Orlando Police Officer to augment the club’s unarmed bouncers, but didn’t cover the parking lot or back door in a way that would have been able to intervene when the terrorist shooter Omar Mateen returned to his vehicle to retrieve his weapons. 

Had club owners hired security consultants to conduct a threat assessment from the focus of the front door (such as initial pat-downs and ID checks) to addressing a potential all-hazards scenario; the Pulse Nightclub may have been a harder target.

In my experience, it is important to approach security by method, not motive. If facility managers do not learn from incidents like the Happy Land Social Club fire or the almost commonplace shootings at rap concerts, how can they prevent or mitigate an attack by an attacker who is willing to die in the commission of their attack?  

As a security leader and consultant; I work in high-security environments where protection of sensitive information is vital. In my initial review of the existing security measures, I regularly encounter managers who had the false belief that there was some technological measure on the market that would secure their environment without raising personnel costs or requiring people to become more aware of their surroundings.

The truth, however, is that a generation of hit shows like “CSI” and “NCIS” have fooled people away from a truth that most security measures can be neutralized by simply pulling a fire alarm.

If human resource professionals and facilities managers were to embrace the concept of workplace and/or venue security in the same way that they address other workplace safety issues, the first necessary steps to assess vulnerabilities in policies, plans and procedures as well as physical access can be taken. 

If managers at the C-Suite started to assess the inherent liabilities linked to the cost of inaction in addressing security risks, then the expense of security consulting and/or a Chief Security Officer becomes negligible.

The public should be demanding better security from both the public and private sectors.  

A. Benjamin Mannes is a regular contributor to The Hill and is a national subject matter expert in public safety and is a Governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. Mannes is on twitter: @PublicSafetySME


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.