Euro 2016 – a summer of security success?

Mike White, immediate past chairman of the International Professional Security Association, and current director of the Security Institute, revisits the state of event security at this summer’s European Championships

Back in March (Counter Terror Business 25) I wrote about the challenges facing those charged with the responsibility of securing major events in the light of the November 2015 Paris and Belgian terrorist events. Whilst Paris and Brussels were, broadly speaking, what has been described as ‘ideologically based terrorism’, we did see an attempt at the time to generate mass casualties at a sporting event (France v Germany at The Stade de France). Since then we have watched Euro 2016 delight the Welsh fans, frustrate the French and send most English fans into a deep pit of despair. But what about the security? What worked and what might have been done differently?

Well, watching the BBC news back on 11 June you could be forgiven for thinking that security had failed. England versus Russia in Marseilles probably won’t be remembered for the football but may well be remembered for flares going off, fighting between fans, some fans trying to climb barriers to escape the violence and all against a backdrop of water cannon, tear gas and serious disorder in the city itself in the two days leading up to the match during which one English fan had to be resuscitated.

There are claims and counter claims about ultra right wing Russian hooligans hell bent on violence, groups of French fans stirring the mix and the usual tales of drunken English fans. UEFA took action and threatened England and Russia with expulsion from the tournament if their fans continued to misbehave and fined the national federations of Croatia, Hungary, Portugal and Turkey for crowd trouble relating to flares and pitch invasions. So, does this point to a failure of security, a clash of cultures or something else?

Inconsistency needs addressing
Well, there seems little doubt that stadium security could best be described as inconsistent or patchy with multiple instances of flares (in contravention of the UEFA Stadium Rules) and instances of poorly policed fan segregation within stadiums (which might suggest issues with ticket sale management). However, there is also a lengthy list of security statistics that one can only speculate on as to the total cost for including 90,000 security staff (42,000 national police, 30,000 local Gendarmes, 10,000 military and 8,000 private security officers), 42 kms of temporary fencing (just over 26 miles) and in the case of the Stade de France, 1,200 stewards on match days. There were layers of security around grounds that started several hundred metres away from the ground where initial body and bag searches took place.

Closer in was a second search point staffed by armed police and at the grounds stadium stewards did it all again to confiscate any remaining banned items (although clearly not all which suggests search protocols and/or search training wasn’t good enough). Interestingly enough, barriers are usually removed or repositioned at the end of events to allow fans to leave venues quickly and with minimal delays, although crowding and delays inevitably occur with thousands of people in a relatively small area. Whilst I’m sure that some venue operators are better than others, we might need to consider what measures need to be considered to protect departing crowds (or those congregating locally before an event) from a possible marauding, person‑borne or vehicle-borne bomb attack.

Assessing each event
So how can we meaningfully compare the security operation in France with other events (and to what events) to benchmark it? London 2012? The Rugby World Cup? The Tour de France? All these events have a security operation associated with them but I would argue that there is no like‑for‑like comparison between any of them. Arguably, we should be breaking down the constituent elements of a major event, assessing each individual element utilising a risk based approach and then allocate proportionate resources to mitigate the confirmed risks before revisiting this in the days and weeks leading up to the event.

Let’s return to the Euros. Have we learned anything meaningful about security that we didn’t know beforehand? Certainly we already knew that rival football fans from certain clubs and countries make for a combustible mix when introduced to virtually any other fans (there is a reason why we have a UK Football Policing Unit after all) and there are numerous studies and examples where warm sunshine and alcohol adds a certain fuel to the fire. We also know that football seems to generate more fan violence than almost any other sport (if mass media reporting is to be believed).

The power of partnership
The College of Policing website football policing pages tells us that effective football policing is underpinned by: partnership and cooperation between the police service and football clubs; and the police service’s engagement with supporters.

It goes on to state that: the European Union provides the following definitions for risk and non-risk supporters (see Council Resolution OJC/322): risk supporter – a person, known or not, who can be regarded as posing a possible risk to public order or antisocial behaviour, whether planned or spontaneous, at or in connection with a football event; non-risk supporter – a person, known or not, who can be regarded as posing no risk to the cause of or contribution to violence or disorder, whether planned or spontaneous, at or in connection with a football event.

It is essential that the risk in relation to individuals and groups is quantifiable and dynamically assessed. The description of a group or individual as ‘risk’ is not sufficient on its own, there must be a specific reference to the actual risk posed by individuals or groups. The risk supporter checklist provides three specific categories (public order, public safety and criminal activity) that are further subdivided in order to give a specific indication of the risk posed. It is important that this template is used in the compilation of pre‑match intelligence reports so that informed decisions can be made in the planning process.

It’s fairly clear from this that there needs to be efficient, effective and robust two‑way communication established between the public and private sectors and that transcends football and other sporting events into any large scale ticketed event. I would argue that the key to effective security at any large scale public event can be distilled down to one thing – communication.

Golden thread communication
Bad communication can encourage poor decision making at strategic and tactical levels, lead to confusion on the ground and result in irate, uncooperative and belligerent ticket holders having a really bad day and the higher the threat level and the greater the intensity of the security operation then the greater the absolute need for good communication between all stakeholders.

I would argue that communication should be the ‘golden thread’ running through every aspect of an event. From the earliest aspects of the planning stages, through the specification and delivery of training for stewards and all other staff, the marketing of events, the procurement of goods and services and right through to the event delivery and post event evaluation. That’s communicating with planners, transport providers, local residents, all emergency services, supporters groups (if applicable), private security providers and licensing bodies.

It’s about managing expectations, understanding requirements, gauging all risks, understanding where there might be service delivery obstructions (what that might look like and how to resolve them) and, equally importantly, the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders in the event that something does go wrong (business continuity planning). But let’s not forget that it’s never just about the venue (or venues) in isolation hosting a sporting event. There are fan zones and organised screenings of large events and these could be virtually anywhere in the country that is hosting the tournament. The same excellence in communication model must apply to the planning, organisation and operational running of all of these side events and to the mass transportation of fans to and from both a host venue(s) and the side event locations.

Consider the example of London 2012 and the outstanding Games Makers who were relentlessly cheerful at every event, in every venue and at transport hubs. I was lucky enough to attend several events, including the Closing Ceremony, and despite all the spectators knowing that there was a strong security operation in place and airport style queues no one that I observed was grumpy or complained. Everyone had been communicated with from an early stage as they travelled to their respective event, knew what to expect and was processed quickly and effectively. In fact, the tri-service military staffing of the x-ray searching procedures at the Olympic Park, with individuals cheerfully engaging with the public, were some of the finest examples of this work I’ve ever seen, anywhere in the world.

There will inevitably be discussions around the difference between intelligence and information, what can be shared, with whom and to what level of detail but, I remain convinced that if all sides ‘dare to share’ and actively refuse to compartmentalise information to enhance their own standing (or to deflect blame elsewhere in the event that something does go wrong) then the results should be well informed executives, staff and volunteers at every level, trained to deliver a five star customer experience from start to finish that not only enhances the event but helps to ensure it is safe and secure for all.

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