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How event venues can mitigate the impact of terrorists and active shooters

Credit, Political Risk and Terrorism
Geopolitical Risk

By Wendy Peters | December 3, 2019

There are several steps sports and concert venues can take to mitigate the threat of terrorism.

With the football season underway in America and basketball and hockey starting across North America, would-be terrorists have a wide choice of targets. There are, however, several steps the venues for sports and other events can take to mitigate the impact of the unthinkable.

Ever since the 1972 Munich Olympics, where terrorists kidnapped and killed Israeli athletes, crowded spaces like sporting and entertainment venues have become attractive targets for international and domestic terrorists alike. Just in the last decade there were many high-profile attacks in North America and Europe that targeted sporting events and concerts:

  • In 2017, a lone gunman in Las Vegas opened fire on an outdoor concert festival, killing 58 people and wounding 422, making it the deadliest U.S. mass shooting.
  • In 2017, an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena in the U.K. was targeted, killing 23 and seriously wounding 112 people as they started making their way home.
  • In 2015, a series of attacks in Paris targeted the Stade de France where suicide bombers detonated bombs outside the stadium during a soccer game between France and Germany and gunmen fired on restaurants and bars killing 130 people, making it the deadliest terrorist attack in French history.
  • In April 2013, two terrorists bombed the Boston Marathon near the finish line killing three people at the scene and seriously injuring 264 bystanders and runners. Later that week, the duo would kill two police officers in a gunfight that led to a 24-hour lockdown of the Boston metro area.

The significant media audience as well as the crowds both contribute to entertainment venues being a prime target for terrorists and active shooters.

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The threat of an attack does not need to be contained to the targeted event itself as was illustrated in the Manchester and Paris attacks. Mass spectators milling around an arena or nearby commercial strip may attract the attention of hostile groups and can even prove easier to plan and execute. For example, in Paris, the first attack on the stadium was thwarted by security and was limited to the death of only the terrorists, whereas the second attack on restaurants and night clubs ultimately killed 130 people.

Terrorists are actively targeting events and mass gatherings, which means those in the sporting and entertainment industry must plan for the worst. There are several specific measures that can help prevent and reduce the impact of a terrorist attack or even just a lone gunman:

  1. Staff training — While a terrorist attack or a lone gunman is unlikely, staff need to be prepared. They need to be briefed on evacuation procedures for different scenarios and their roles in the event of an attack. Knowing the physical attributes of the venue and the evacuation procedures is paramount for leading patrons to safety during an emergency or crisis situation.

  2. A multi-agency approach — Multi-agency cooperation in the planning for events is vital. Intelligence sharing and integrating with local law enforcement and counter-terror units will enable those planning the events to incorporate any appropriate mitigation strategies into their event management plans. It is important that any alterations to operational plans resulting from an attack or a perceived heightened threat is risk-assessed and that the decision-making is informed, rather than ad hoc.

  3. Risk assessments — Trying to imagine and account for every possible scenario is difficult as there are too many variations and permutations to consider. Create a risk assessment methodology that can adapt for changing terrorist risks.

    Using computer simulations can be valuable and can assess any issues the venue may have around ingress or egress points (chokepoints) or bottlenecks leading into mass transportation hubs. Special attention should be given to exterior perimeters and the entertainment zones.

    Intelligence gathering and analysis is paramount in protecting and reducing the challenges of confined spaces.

  4. Security — From the artist to the catering staff, they should all be identifiable through an established and well-communicated accreditation and access system. Find specialists security staff for your event and consider the experience and skills you value and need.

  5. Communications — Communication among the venue, event planners, first responders and patrons is key for making the event safe and enjoyable for all in attendance. Event teams and organizations should take the time to develop a communication plan. Responsible social media monitoring could form part of a communication plan providing real-time intelligence and analysis with contracted law enforcement and event staff.

Confronting challenges for event security should be done with a holistic approach in mind. In addition to intelligence gathering, proactive risk mitigation and event staff training will help should an event venue be attacked.

It is not about instilling fear but rather creating a heightened sense of awareness to be prepared.


Senior Director, Terrorism and Political Violence