Protecting Crowded Places Strategy: Is it a Game Changer?

Clearfix
JohnA's picture
Protecting crowds poses major challenges to security people
Protecting crowds poses major challenges to security people

IT’S hard not to see the recently released Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism as a game changer for the security industry – not just electronic security people but the entire industry and all its bolted-on support structures of administration and education. 

There’s no part of the security industry that is untouched by the just-released Strategy for Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism – consultants, monitoring stations, electronic security distributors and installers, physical security distributors and installers, security officers, security managers, security trainers, security industry associations – all will need to play a significant role if the comprehensive recommendations of the SPCP are to be effectively applied to crowded places nationally. 

The SPCP espouses a whole of community and whole of business approach to security that’s being driven from senior levels of government and comes with a sting in its tail. Any owners or operators of crowded places who do not comply with the SPCP’s recommendations for the protection of crowded places may be held personally liable in the aftermath of a terror attack. 

When you run your mind over just a few of the horrific attacks we’ve witnessed over the past 15 months: 137 murdered at the Bataclan Concert Hall in Paris, 49 murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida, 39 murdered at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, 86 murdered and 432 injured at the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, 6 murdered and 19 injured in the Quebec mosque attack, 23 murdered and 250 injured at the Manchester Arena, as well as attacks on London Bridge and Borough Market, in which 8 were murdered and 48 injured, and you can see where the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee was coming from when it wrote the SPCP. You can also see why it is advocating a solution involving partnerships and layers, and why it invokes personal responsibility for defence of crowded places.

The SPCP defines crowded places as any location large numbers of people gather – that might be a pedestrian mall on a summer afternoon, a beer garden overlooking the beach, a sports ground, a shopping mall, a train station, a light rail station, a restaurant, a market, a busy children’s playground. It insists that owners and operators of all such crowded spaces undertake security analyses of such spaces by licensed security consultants in order to assess risk levels, and most importantly, it directs owners and operators for crowded places to undertake the recommendations of such security audits. 

At issue is the underlying truth that law enforcement and anti-terror agencies cannot secure every possible location at a national level and trying to do so would dilute their primary roles of disruption and rapid response. Instead, the SPCP outlines a way in which the government will assist every organisation exposed to risk to manage that risk themselves in the most effective way possible. Ultimately, SPCP underlines that the responsibility for defence of private space – the physical, electronic and procedural mechanisms of deter, detect, delay and response – fall entirely onto operators and owners. 

Something interesting about the SPCP is the complexity of the solutions envisaged. The authors of the strategy were clearly writing with a range of site sizes and complexities in mind – the classic onion skin is very much in evidence. Site design, fences, bollards, access control, intrusion detections, CCTV, communications, well-trained security response teams. But there’s more to it than that. The strategy also imagines solutions that provide situational awareness to inform response, it insists on complex procedures which must be known by all staff, in real time, all the time. 

Such stipulations sound easy but they are not and the larger the site, the more complex the delivery of procedural intelligence is going to be. Procedures don’t write themselves but are site and event-specific and communicating them to groups of staff just once, let alone in times of serious threat, is profoundly challenging. Achieving staff-wide, simultaneous procedural response to a specific event would demand something like a Riskworks’ Multiple Integrated Risk Assessment and Control Level Evaluation System in support of every team member of every crowded place. 

The strategy specifically recognises the private security industry has a key role in defending at-risk crowded places. This is appropriate. The systems and solutions the security industry has developed and supported for decades are made for such worst-case scenarios. At all levels, the systems and technologies required to significantly increase security levels in crowded places exist in multiple highly evolved forms and they simply need to be applied. 

At a sobering level, the SPCP is an admission that the current terror threat is real, is pervasive, is metastasizing into extreme sections of the wider community and is not going to go away. This is the place security people inhabit and we must assist owners and operators of crowded places to survive in it as fast as we possibly can. ♦