Monday, January 18, 2016

Paris Terror Spotlights Security at Public Events



Since the Paris terrorist attacks and other threats at European public venues security measures have been reviewed and tightened in the US. For this reason any disturbance will be perceived by the American attending public and security as a terrorist attack.

Frequently beefed up security is a public relations show for the purpose of assuring the public in the form higher visibility of security personnel, more intense scrutiny such as personal and electronic detection examinations, and stricter prohibition of items such as back-packs/handbags  and/or their contents.

Make no mistake that a determined troublemaker, amateur or professional, can cause havoc by bringing into a venue legal and individually harmless items when used in a particular way or combined are de facto weapons.

Nowadays, security enhancements must take place beyond the visible uniformed security team which are undertaken as the event is being planned. There must be a ‘tough love’ collaboration amongst the event planners, venue security, and law enforcement to discuss the potential threat level of an event including pre-determined communication and coordination responsibilities should things ‘go south’, either to prevent an incident from turning into a crisis or a rapid containment of a crisis.

The approach is to view attendees at an event as one living, breathing organism with its unique components, dynamics literally as having its own personality, in relation to a changing environment. Often security examines the components but fails to consider how each of them is linked and how they will interact. Take a basic example of an early season football game which elicits positive emotions and excitement while taking place in summer weather. Fast forward to winter with the same demographic of attendees at the same venue and now their team is in the playoffs against a bitter rival in brutally cold, wet weather. The same demographic who were so giddy months ago can slide into the dark side in an emotionally charged environment.

In other words security must play a ‘war games’ scenario. No one strategy applies to the same type of event at the same venue. There’s the insidious danger of complacency by security when an event takes place with few or no problems. They must plan the next event as if it’s taking place for the first time, even if nothing appears to have changed previously.

In an ideal world, private security personnel uniforms and body language should exude professionalism and who are well-trained.  Unfortunately the weakest link to security at venues is that often security personnel are not well-trained because of their part-time and low paid status. This can result in venue security either under-reacting or over-reacting to a high-level threat.

On the other hand, if the part-time security is frequently on duty at the same venue for many events, they have a superior ‘feel’ as to what does or doesn’t seem right and can notify their superiors far sooner.

Another critical security component is the event layout. Venue capacity signs are for the purposes of fire code compliance but it’s layout will determine the efficacy of an evacuation.  Even when attendance is far below maximum allowable capacity, the layout itself can turn into a deadly obstacle course to safety.  A venue may indicate a maximum capacity of 1,000 but may hold only 700 for the event because of the stage and seating layout.  However an orderly evacuation may be compromised because of narrow aisles formed by individual chairs that will shift when attendees try to leave quickly and block passageways heightening panic.

There’s also the potpourri of components of attendee demographics, type of food and beverages served before and during the event – paid or complimentary, night or day, outdoors or indoors, meteorological conditions, etc., all environmental components that will determine the attendee character because any deviation from the baseline norm of any one of these components has a surprisingly ripple effect.

The components that determine the character and psychological state of the attendees serve as a predictor of how they will probably react if a major incident occurs. Attendees may be orderly and compliant at the beginning of an event but as the event progresses, due to the above factors, may become unruly and belligerent.  For example a simple operational glitch like a blown A/C can turn a comfortable environment into a steam bath; when only minutes before you had a boisterous yet controlled crowd, now you have a highly agitated mob on the brink of rioting.

What may seem trivial is actually one of the most important aspects during an emergency – the tonality of the public address announcer. Superbly articulated instructions to a crowd on the brink of hysteria are meaningless if the voice does not convey a calming and convincing level of assurance.  Public announcers must have a reassuring yet authoritative voice to provide information and instructions.  The voice preferably should be regional and familiar because people gravitate to leadership for trust and credibility from their community to guide them to safety.

The announcer must provide statements in short sentences using everyday words, never compound sentences. The delivery should be smooth but not monotone.  Because everyone is under stress, the ability to clearly comprehend long statements and filter out the word “don’t” is compromised. In other words “Walk to the exits” instead of “Don’t run to the exits” should be communicated.

 Additionally the public address announcer should provide regular assuring feedback to the attendees that they are complying to your requests which gives them a sense that everything is going smoothly for the purposes of keeping a cap on the anxiety level. Avoid anything with a military sounding or barking command or staccato tone because it elevates anxiety levels, particularly since the attendees are civilians, not military grunts.

Not only does this method reduces an incident escalating and spiraling out of control calmer and more confident attendees will then take it upon themselves to police those who begin to panic which in turn reduces the burden on security. Essentially the public address announcer is subconsciously deputizing everyone to make the crowd cohesive instead of creating fissures.



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