Joe Beglane

Public events like concerts and sports games are back in full force and fans are ready. As attendance for events of every kind reach peak levels at venues throughout the globe, it is essential that organizations remain prepared and vigilant against today’s threats.

There are many security lessons to be learned from high-profile terrorist events in history. On May 22, 2017, more than 14,000 fans packed the Manchester Arena for an Ariana Grande concert. As they were exiting the venue, a 22-year-old extremist suicide bomber detonated a shrapnel-laden improvised explosive device (IED) inside the City Room, an area open to the public where many gathered. Twenty-two victims died and 1,017 were injured. Following initial suspicions of a terrorist network, police later concluded that Salman Ramadan Abedi acted alone, although others were aware of his plans. In March 2020, the bomber's brother, Hashem Abedi, was found guilty of 22 counts of murder relating to the attack.

As we reflect on this incident, which was the deadliest terrorist attack in the United Kingdom since the July 2005 London bombings, it is important to recognize several security failures. These considerations serve as critical lessons when developing a comprehensive and layered security program.

Comprehensive Training: A member of the public observed Abedi moving around inside and outside the venue carrying a very large backpack, reporting their concern to security. The guard did attempt to alert security control following the conversation with the concerned citizen but was unable to get through. The suspect displayed concerning behavior for several hours before the attack, yet he was never approached or questioned by security. All too often, weak security links like this go unnoticed until it is too late. Many organizations continue to rely on outdated programs and fail to recognize the value of consistent training in the face of an evolving threat spectrum and recurring employee turnover.

Security Cameras: Just before the bombing, the attacker hid in a CCTV blind spot within the City Room for quite some time. He had carefully identified the area in repeated reconnaissance trips over the previous days. Hostile actors and terrorists frequently conduct pre-operational surveillance in advance of their planned attacks to locate areas of security weakness and vulnerability. Comprehensive risk assessments of equipment, personnel and processes are critical to mitigate grave threats of terrorism. Reviews must be rigorous, consistent and designed to meet the changing landscape of emerging threats.

Checkpoint Explosive Screening: The City Room was open to the public and connected to the adjacent railway station, allowing many access points for both guests and hostile actors. Checkpoint explosive X-ray screening at venues is a critical tool for deterrence and detection. Although limited evidence was available at the crime scene, by all accounts proper X-ray screening would have detected this IED. The impact of the explosion would have been lower had the perpetrator been dissuaded from entering the interior egress area, detonating the device outside in a more dispersed area.

Explosive Detection Canines: For high-volume facilities, explosive detection canines (EDC) offer an effective, efficient and flexible solution for explosive detection. Reports indicate that the arena did not have EDC Teams deployed that evening, a fact undoubtedly recognized by Abedi during his pre-attack surveillance. EDC Teams sweep large areas for trace amounts of explosive odors in short time with little to no operational disruption. Their presence alone serves as a strong prevention measure, with bad actors choosing alternative venues with a reduced security presence.

Enhancing security and resilience has never been more important to protect people, property and brand reputation. These priorities are well worth the time and financial investment. They prove far less costly than the damage or loss of life that could result from a single terrorist incident. To learn more about any of the high-consequence security solutions discussed, contact us today.

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