Security Takes a Village
Monday, August 21, 2017
by Brad Weissberg | Venues Today
REPORTING FROM BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF.—Venue security has been top-of-mind for facility managers around the world for many years now. It was given new urgency following the suicide bombing at Manchester (U.K.) Arena last May. Being prepared, having policies in place and following through on those policies are the keys, according to experts gathered at the VenuesNow conference here last month.
“Who would have thought that a character sitting in a cave in Pakistan in the 90s, Osama bin Laden, would shape all of our lives?” asked Bill Bratton, executive chairman, Prevent Advisors, the venue security division of Oak View Group.
“We’re living in extraordinary times...times we did not anticipate when we moved into the 21st Century,” he said. “When this century started, Y2K was the big security threat. Now, an idea that was formed thousands of years ago, Islamic Radicalism, is the world’s biggest threat.”
Bratton said new technology is allowing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terror groups to stay one step ahead of law enforcement and pointed to social media as one of the biggest threats to venue security. “These groups are recruiting tens of thousands of soldiers using social media. With all these people running around, we cannot protect everything, everywhere, all the time. But with prioritization and capabilities, we can try to predict and prevent.”
“The threat is real; it’s evolving quickly and we can’t do it by ourselves,” said Michael Downing, EVP security, Prevent Advisors, who believes the threats “will get worse before they get better” and that the current threat is generational and will play out for decades.
Bratton said the main challenge for venue security is “taking the uncertainty in today’s world and turning it into certainty,” and stressed that, “the conversation should be revolving around understanding that law enforcement cannot be counted on to save the day.”
Downing also believes the government can’t do it alone and venues have to look to experts for solid advice. “It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when,” he warned, “but we can do so much to create environments that are unattractive [to terrorists].”
Bratton talked about concentric circles of defense. There is local enforcement, state enforcement and federal enforcement, he said, and making sure they are cooperating is vital to protecting your venue. “Make sure your security chief has a relationship with the chiefs of all the agencies. Stopping a terror act is often the result of everyone working together. We want layer upon layer upon layer protecting our venues.”
“The government is your partner,” said David McCain, security services, National Football League (NFL). “Having someone on your staff that has relationships with law enforcement is crucial.”
All venues need to look at their inner core and their outer core to deal with the asymmetric advisory we face, said Downing. “As Manchester showed us, you can have great security for ingress, and inside the facility, but without the same vigilance being paid to the areas surrounding the venue, a terrorist will see an opportunity.” All agreed that perimeter security was evolving and that perimeters need to be moved further back.
Trying to keep one step ahead of disruptors is challenging. “They know we are monitoring social media, so instead of writing things with key words we will pick up on, they are posting pictures with messages,” said McCain. “We catch a lot of it, but some of it is impossible to catch. So we all need to be prepared for dealing with what slips through the cracks.”
McCain believes in the ‘toolbox’ approach to security, which blends together the government, private and public sector contractors, business, and constant monitoring of social media platforms. “We can only catch the dumb ones,” he said. “The smart ones go dark and that makes this group the most difficult to detect.”
Balancing security at a facility and providing the “safety blanket” fans expect, without fans feeling under siege, can be difficult, said McCain. “Venues want to make the experience enjoyable for the guests and having a heavy police presence and seeing a lot of weapons and armor are not something fans want, but they want to feel safe, and finding that line is essential. We want them to feel confident but not cognizant.”
McCain suggested surveying fans after an event to see how they felt about the security, which they do at many NFL events. “We need to know if their experience was positive or negative; if they felt safe and secure from the parking lot to inside the venue; if there was too much alcohol being served. If there was a fight, did security respond effectively? Often we think we are too heavy on security but, after surveying fans, find out they found the security levels appropriate.”
Messaging to the fans that they have the power is “worth its weight in gold,” said Bratton. “With most fans having a phone in their hand, they have the tool to reach out immediately if they see something they think is not right. We need to encourage the fans to be our security partners.”
’See something, say something’ may sound trite, but it’s important and it’s the idea of awareness, said Bratton, as he pointed out that 70 percent of the detected threats largely came from the general public. “We can only act on information. We all need to be aware of our surroundings and say something if we are concerned.”
Cyber security was heavily discussed and Michael Ferris, Abacode, thinks that is where venues are most vulnerable. Venues need to look at cyber security from a business standpoint first, and a technical standpoint second, he said. “There is a disconnect in the corporate suite when it comes to cyber security. It should be similar to tax and audit, meaning separated, with checks and balances. There are software developers, outside managed service providers, data providers, cloud providers, data centers; and there should be a wall between your cyber security division and everyone else.”
Bratton thinks that the gun policies in the U.S. are a major obstacle. “The availability of weapons poses a huge problem. Any disgruntled 21-year-old can get a weapon and cause a lot of damage,” he said.
The new defensive suite includes Vapor Wake bomb-sniffing dogs, surveillance, phones used as bodycams, facial recognition and drones, according to Bratton. “We have to stay on top of all the new tools and deploy them to tighten our control over our venues. If we harden the target the terrorists will look elsewhere,” he said.