The risk of a terrorist attack at an exhibition venue is very real, security experts warned the Association of Event Venues (AEV) Conference.
As venues prepare for the implementation of Protect Duty legislation, known as Martyn’s Law, set to come into force in 2022, security experts advised AEV members that they should already be implementing stricter controls to deter attack.
Rachel Duckett, head of national business engagement at the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, said: “The reality is we have seen two recent attacks and exhibition venues are exactly the sort of places that are likely to be targeted.
“It has been really quiet because of the pandemic, but terrorism will pick up as soon as events pick up.”
Duckett joined Kerry Mulloy, director of events and operations at ACC Liverpool, and Paul Williams, head of security at the O2 in a session on event security at the 29 November conference at London’s Business Design Centre.
Duckett showed delegates terrifying real propaganda footage from terrorist groups. One Isis leaflet advised would-be terrorists on how to use a truck to attack a busy outdoor event, another told attackers to buy knives from B&Q.
She warned that more people have become radicalised during the pandemic and that recent attacks on David Amess and the Liverpool Women’s Hospital have seen the national security threat increased to ‘severe’.
She said: “People used to get radicalised in six months. Now it can happen over a weekend. Most recently we had an attack stopped just seven days after someone was first radicalised and had just been sat in front of their computer getting angrier and angrier.
Duckett advised that measures as simple as noticable CCTV cameras and security staff in high visibility jackets could deter terrorist scouting out potential targets. She advocated thorough bag searches and eye contact adding that simply asking visitors the purpose of their visit could sometimes be enough to scare potential attackers off.
She also urged caution when posting plans of sites online and on social media.
At present, there is no obligation for any venue to act on advice relating to terror threat activity, but Protect Duty will create legal obligations for venues and local authorities to have clear counter-terror action plans, and more thorough security checks, including bag searches.
Paul Williams head of security at the 02 said that although the report into the Manchester Arena attack came out in June, work to improve venues’ security had started the day after the 2017 attack.
“Your security level should move up when the threat level goes up,” he told EN after the conference.
“If you were shocked by Rachel’s description of the threat level then there’s something missing in your organisation. You need to understand the threat. You can’t truly mitigate it if you don’t understand it.
“It’s vitally important that security levels are proportional – in order to stay proportional you have to adjust to the threat level.”
Williams said that many venues were already implementing the recommendations on Protect Duty, but said the law would help remove gaps in the net.
Williams’ commitment to keeping security arrangements flexible was demonstrated just two days after his AEV Conference talk, when fans of the Nigerian singer Wizkid breached security cordons at the venue on 29 December.
AEG, which operates the 20,000-capacity venue, said in a statement: “The situation was quickly contained by staff and the incident resolved.
“As a result security proceedures have been resolved.”