Event Management

Terrorism and Events: What Event Planners Need to Know

Skift Take

The recent geopolitical developments are putting event planners under an incredible pressure to secure the safety of their attendees. With the contribution of top safety experts in the industry and law enforcement, here is what you need to know about protecting your event.

No question we are all shocked by what has happened over the last year. The attacks in Paris, Nice, Orlando, just to name a few, are all in front of our eyes. Images it will be tough to forget.

One of the most disturbing common lines of these attacks is that often events have been the target. Sometimes the security infrastructure of an event has been able to reduce the impact of the brutality, saving lives.

What Can We Do About It?

Is it a problem of event professionals taking care of enhanced security measures for events?

Should you be concerned about the potential risks of hosting an event in 2016/2017?

A universal answer is complicated to find, but we can work on it. One rule of thumb is that rules, regulations, compliance and terror threat vary from country to country.

We will try to discuss the approach to the subject, though. To do that, I’ve asked the help of three experts on the subject.

One of them, Mark Breen is an industry veteran and esteemed eventprof. He is the director of Cuckoo Events in Ireland and made this article happen. I thank him a lot for his invaluable contribution.

Enter our Panel of Experts

Mark Breen, Director, Cuckoo Events
Inspector Dan Forster, Avon & Somerset Constabulary
Dr. Keith Still, Professor of Crowd Science, Manchester Metropolitan University

What Do We Need to Do to Keep Attendees Safe?


Mark Breen is quite straightforward about it: “When planning events we need to do everything reasonable to ensure our attendees, staff and contractors remain safe. This has always been the case, so there’s no change to that arising out of the recent increase in terrorist incidents and, indeed, the targeting of events and mass gatherings.

The word ‘reasonable’ is an important one, however. We need to accept that we are largely powerless against a well-planned and efficiently executed terrorist attack. We need to focus our attention and efforts on establishing effective systems and procedures that may aid in saving lives and reducing the impact of terrorist attacks once they’ve happened.

That’s the reality for the absolute vast majority of event planners. The only time I see this changing and there being scope to make effective efforts to actually prevent a planned attack is in the case of the highest profile events; events like the Super Bowl, the World Cup, NYE celebrations etc. In these instances, there may exist the resources and finances to tackle terrorist attacks in a more direct manner.”

Speaking about the UK, specifically Inspector Dan Foster adds:

“The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police recently stated that the risk of a terror attack in the UK, like those seen in Germany and France remains a case of ‘when, not if’. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe made this comment in the context of the current UK threat level of ‘severe’, meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely. This is only one level below the highest threat level of ‘critical’, meaning that ‘an attack is expected imminently’.

Coupled with the almost daily news reports of yet another attack resulting in multiple casualties, it is understandable that those working within the events industry are concerned about the possibility of becoming the target of a terror attack.

The message from the government is ‘remain alert, not alarmed’, which given the thousands of events happening across the world each day without incident, seems like good advice. But, most agree with Sir Bernard’s prediction. So, what can event professionals do to remain alert, when the prospect of terrorism poses a very real threat?

Most event safety plans contain a number of common themes: crowd safety, temporary structures, evacuation etc. Many will also include the response to a major incident; but only a few will specifically cite terrorism as a threat. And why should they? If a major incident plan is designed properly, it should work across a range of potential incidents from extreme weather to suspect packages.”

Should We Be Concerned about Terrorism-related Threats if We Run Small Events?

Dr. Keith Still says yes. “It needs to be part of any event emergency plan. Coupled with a threat matrix (likelihood of an attack in any given area). However, this does NOT mean armed guards at all events.

A consideration of “what if’s” should always be part of event safety planning. The larger and more prominent the event, specifically events that could be considered a target, should be reviewed.”


What are the safety concerns or areas we should look at?

Inspector Dan Forster outlines some of the areas of concern:

Who is Working at Your Event?

It is all very well having a first rate search regime during the ingress phase, but it’s all for nothing if the threat comes from within. A trusted security contractor will give event teams the confidence that the necessary employment vetting checks have been made. They are also less likely to sub-contract to less reputable firms due to lack of resilience. Good security providers are very unlikely to be the cheapest, and they will very likely be in demand, but they probably also enjoy low staff turnover, and know their people. They may well be the the last line of defence against an attack, as was the case at Stade de France, raising a wider debate about the value they bring against the remuneration they receive.

Who is Attending Your Event?

Many events require customers to supply name, address and a photograph in order to buy tickets. Although designed to defeat ticket touts, it also adds an additional layer of security, making it that little bit more difficult to remain undetected. Whilst it is unrealistic to expect police to run intelligence checks on all attendees, any information concerning specific individuals will always be reviewed.

Counter terrorism intelligence often comes from within communities, hence the launch of the ‘it’s probably nothing, but…’ campaign. Event planners can use the dedicated campaign phone number to report suspicious activity or individuals, but could also raise concerns through their local police or the safety advisory group. Police will always take this information seriously, and have the ability to link in with national intelligence systems.

Is Your Major Incident Plan Fit for Purpose?

In the event of a terror attack, the primary objective of the police will be to neutralise the threat. It is unlikely that they will assume command and control of the wider event, and may be looking to event management to assist people to safety. Therefore, any major incident plan needs to assume that event management, security and stewarding will still have a role to play in the event of such an attack.

It is not possible to plan a response to every conceivable type of attack. However, recent acts of terrorism have seen the use of firearms in crowded areas in order to maximise the number of casualties. This is commonly referred to as an ‘active shooter’ incident.


As an incident of this nature begins to unfold, there may be panic and confusion. Event control will almost certainly be aware that something serious is happening, but maybe unable to establish precisely what is happening and where. This is where terms like active shooter need to be understood by event personnel. The early recognition, and communication of an active shooter incident will lead to a rapid response from the police, and the immediate deployment of appropriate resources. Ensuring that teams understand this terminology will help them to articulate what is happening, and may save valuable minutes in an emergency situation.

It is also worth considering this guidance in the context of events. Many outdoor events do not offer suitable hiding places, and those that do exist are unlikely to offer ballistic protection. It is important for event teams to understand the two main types of protection from firearms: cover from view, and cover from fire.

The former works on the principle that if you cannot be seen, it is unlikely that you present yourself as a target. However, this won’t protect you against stray bullets or indiscriminate fire.

The latter requires a substantial structure between you and the attacker. Internal walls and single skin breeze block walls will not stop high-velocity rounds as used by many attackers. Large trees and mounds of earth probably will. So the best advice is to get as far away as possible from the attacker, but if this is not possible, any hiding place should ideally provide both types of cover.


  • In the planning phase, it is worth identifying exit routes and locations into which large numbers of people can be evacuated. These may or may not be the same as your standard evacuation routes. Forward evacuation onto a sports field is one example of where an alternative plan is required. Either way, this is an important feature of a major incident plan that can be considered in slow time, to ensure effective implementation of the plan during a live incident.


  • Consider if there is an opportunity to lock-down areas of an event should an incident occur. The attackers are relying on continued access to victims. There may be aspects of topography that lend themselves to securing areas, or alternatively, it may be possible to improvise with plant or other equipment on site. If attackers can be frustrated in their efforts by restricting movement, it will have the added advantage of assisting the police in locating them.
  • Ideally, these measures can be tested as part of a multi-agency table-top exercise before the event. A major incident may require the attendance of hundreds of emergency service personnel. With people, come vehicles and equipment. Identifying a suitable forward rendezvous point will be one of the first considerations for incident commanders. Event teams may identify a suitable location as part of their contingency planning, and then test this as part of the exercise to establish its suitability.

Target Hardening is Your Friend

Inspector Dan Forster points out one of the most important concepts to grasp when it comes to security, target hardening.

One of the key principles of crime prevention is target hardening. The most secure locations have layers of security measures that will be both physical and procedural. Many events already have layers of security in place, and in that sense may be less attractive to attackers that other crowded areas, such as shopping centres and transport hubs.


Yet, it may be possible to further enhance layers of security at no extra cost. Standard operating procedures and policies may require the investment of time, but otherwise, cost very little. Well considered operating procedures can be preventative as well as responsive, and will dictate the actions and decisions of event teams in a crisis situation. Physical measures will inevitably have cost implications; the challenge being to work out what can be reasonably achieved within the available budget.

Event teams large and small do need to consider the potential threat posed by terrorism. But this consideration needs to be proportionate to the threat, that to some extent has always been there. Therefore, ‘remain alert, not alarmed’ seems the most pragmatic approach to the situation now facing the events industry.

It is unrealistic to expect unarmed security personnel to confront armed attackers. But maybe measures can be put in place to slow the attack, save lives, and assist the police response.

Communication is a Key Element

Mark Breen points out that “as well as good emergency and contingency planning along with table-top exercises to test their resilience, effective communication channels and experienced and professional staff are key. The best plans are worthless without the right people implementing them.

Make sure everyone working the event is clear on the procedures and what happens if the worst comes to pass. We need to react swiftly and decisively. Alert the appropriate authorities and put our emergency and contingency plans into action. We need to communicate with those at risk and do what we need to do in order to ensure their safety.”

Dr Keith Still adds “Review the emergency egress routes, clear announcements on direction to leave the site under a range of scenarios”


In Conclusion

This is just the tip of the iceberg. I strongly invite you to do your research on the subject, whether you are or not in an area with high threat levels.

To sum up the advice above:

  • Be knowledgeable
  • Be alert
  • Be prepared
  • Consider different possible scenarios
  • Talk to authorities
  • A plan is better than no plan
  • Upgrade existing measures
  • Communicate effectively