Steve Neal, group operations manager at the NEC & chair of the AEV Security Working Group, provides an update on the UK’s security situation.
It’s our responsibility, as AEV Security Working Group members, to closely monitor security issues affecting the event industry, and venues in particular. We liaise regularly with anti-terror and law enforcement agencies to help provide a clear picture of the security landscape as it pertains to our industry, and provide guidance and advice on addressing specific security issues.
Although the last terrorist attack in the UK was on 31 December 2018, where there was an incident at Manchester Victoria Train Station, the national threat level remains ‘severe’, indicating that an attack is highly likely.
It’s no secret that the UK’s threat level has been elevated for some time, and whilst there are no current, specific threats to an event or venue, attacks can happen at any time or place without warning. British security services and law enforcement agencies are investigating, at the time of writing, over 700 live cases. MI5, the British counter-intelligence and security agency, reports that it has over 3,000 subjects of specific interest, which has risen from 600 in 2017.
The threat from so-called ‘Islamic State’ has changed since the territorial defeat of the group, and the concern is that soldiers returning to Europe and the UK from the Caliphate may have gained skills and networks that could be deployed against a range of targets. Extreme right-wing terrorism has been identified as a rising threat and is expected to employ similar methods to its Islamist counterparts. At least four extreme right-wing alleged plots have been defeated by MI5 since March 2017, compared with 13 Islamist plots.
Extreme right-wing terrorism differs from Islamist terrorism in that perpetrators are more likely to target ethnic and sexual minorities as well as politicians, broadening the range of potential targets.
Relatively recent events have demonstrated that new security threats can literally pop up at any time, as evidenced by the closure of Gatwick Airport before Christmas due to a drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, being flown within the airport perimeter. The capabilities of even basic consumer drones mean that they can now be used to create disorder by flying in the vicinity of venues and crowded spaces. This is clearly something that venues and events must be prepared for.
Countering drones in built-up areas remains extremely challenging from both a technical and legal perspective.
This year saw a new sectarian terrorist threat with the distribution of small improvised explosive devices in the post. It is suspected that dissident Irish republicans are responsible for sending them, and these incidents serve as a reminder that even seemingly dormant threats can erupt at any time.
As chair of the AEV Security Working Group, I’m very proud of the group’s work. We strive to make event security as transparent and effective as possible, whilst finding strategies to mitigate risks and highlight relevant threats.
As always, our watchword is vigilance. We need to be aware of the current threat level and remain alert to unusual or suspicious behaviour. The nature of any event, bringing people together, makes it a target for terror activity, and it’s our job as venues to ensure we are communicating best security practice throughout our organisation, from top to bottom, and build security by default into our working culture as much as possible.
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 edition of Exhibition News.