Australia’s National Security Advisory System says Australia’s general terrorism threat level remains at PROBABLE. The Australian Government’s National Security website says “credible intelligence, assessed by our security agencies, indicates that individuals or groups have the intent and capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia. While COVID-19 has caused social and economic challenges around the world and in Australia, it has not greatly changed the threat from terrorism.”

With this in mind, Joyce DiMascio interviews Australian security expert, Eddie Idik, Director of Vital Protection and the NSW Chapter Chairperson of ASIS International, the world’s largest association of security professionals.

He has issued a salient reminder to the events industry that it must continue to be vigilant about mitigating threats including terrorism and lone wolf attackers.

His comments are even more pertinent given the spate of mass shootings in recent weeks in the United States.

What are you seeing in the way the events industry is addressing risk management?

Due to the impact of COVID-19 on the business events sector, we have seen a major downturn in events and billions of dollars wiped off the state and national economy. This resulted in venues and event organisers having to let go of staff to stay in business.

As a result, this has put a strain on resources to ensure stakeholders manage current and evolving risks. Staff are being utilised not only to manage their existing duties, but are also responsible to assist in other areas to fill the void that has occurred due to staff being laid off. So, trying to address risks and security threats outside of COVID-19 has been minimal. This is very concerning to me.

Why are you concerned that the events sector may have taken its eye off the ball?

With the lack of staff in the events sector, the pressure to keep businesses afloat has caused a disconnect between business owners, executives and frontline staff. There is a need to ensure everyone still remains vigilant about “bad” people wanting to cause harm who are still around us. They haven’t stopped because of COVID-19 and they still have the means and capability to cause a lot of damage and suffering.

What is Australia’s current risk profile? And what does that mean?

Australian intelligence authorities are very reliable with their global network of law enforcement and intelligence partners. The National Terrorism Threat Level is a scale of five levels that shows the likelihood of a terrorism act occurring in Australia. This enables authorities, businesses and individuals to take appropriate measures for their own safety and security as well as that of their family, friends and associates.

The current threat level in Australia remains at PROBABLE. This means that “credible intelligence”, assessed by Australian security agencies, indicates that individuals or groups have the intent and capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia.

How can companies refocus – what should it be asking and doing?

Companies have developed great controls around the biosecurity risks through promoting good hand hygiene, temperature screening, contact tracing, wearing of masks and social distancing.

We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Research conducted by Roy Morgan on behalf of Business Event Sydney, found that up to 51.6% of Australians are now comfortable attending business events. Confidence in events is evident with exhibitions, sporting events and live events coming back to venues such as Sydney Cricket Ground, QUDOS Banks Arena and ICC Sydney, to name a few.

The time has come to not just think about the biosecurity risks, but to revisit our current physical security systems in place and to validate them to ensure they are current and fit-for-purpose as we bring events back again.

Some questions companies need to ask themselves include:

  • Have you completed an up-to-date security threat/risk assessment for your event?
  • Are you liaising with local law enforcement agencies for your event?
  • Do you have enough security personnel for the event?
  • Are they inducted to the biosecurity and physical security needs of the venue or event? This also applies to contractors.
  • Is your current security screening process appropriate? [That is] metal detection by hand wands, walkthrough metal detectors, x-ray baggage screening, random bag checks, queuing systems that may cause gathering of large groups which could pose a threat in itself.
  • How do your biosecurity and physical security processes complement each other and not just cause a greater inconvenience to your customer?

What are the areas of great risk at present in the events industry?

With the reduction of staff due to COVID-19, one of the obvious risks is having those trained eyes on the front line of your event. Your frontline staff are the best assets to identify anything out of place or suspicious.

Having to recruit new staff and train them will take time which can open the event or venue to being a ‘soft’ or easy target. Where possible, companies should try to retain or re-employ experienced staff to ‘hit the ground running’ when the events industry bounces back and to relieve the pressures off management teams.

Whose responsibility is risk management – the venue or the organiser?

Both the venue and organiser have a responsibility to identify, assess and put in place control measures for the risks identified with an event. The venue will have its own requirements for event organisers to have such assessments in place beforehand, although organisers should consult with the venue to ensure that the event-specific risk assessment addresses the identified risks and also is signed-off by the venue risk and safety team.

The venue should have its own Safety and Emergency Management procedures in place which means event organisers needs to work with the venue to ensure contractors and event staff are familiar with these procedures in the chance they need to be activated.

What types of events pose the greatest risk?

Traditionally we look at events that pose the largest security risk such as violence, or terrorism. We forget about the events that attract people of a certain age demographic that could suffer a medical episode or an event that has excess electronics that [could] pose a fire risk.

In my own personal experience organising and managing security and risk for major venues and event organisers, these can be broken down into the following:

  • Events of high value (jewellery, cars, collectables)
  • Events attracting [the] elderly or young children
  • Political events resulting in potential demonstrations and violence
  • Events with poor security screening (random back checks or random metal detection)

What are your key messages to the industry?

Now that the events industry has implemented biosecurity measures, it’s time to refocus on protecting our clients, staff and visitors from the physical threats such as the lone wolf attacker or the active armed offenders.

This is done by putting in place a multi-layer security strategy and revisiting your existing systems and procedures and bringing them into 2021 and beyond.

Train your staff and contractors to be vigilant and get them to be your eyes on the ground. If something doesn’t look right, then most of the time it isn’t. So encourage staff to report suspicious items and persons to the security management team for action. This should be included in any event brief to all stakeholders.

Technology is a wonderful thing, so embrace it. Some of the latest security screening technology at the moment is becoming more affordable and of high quality which can make the difference in ensuring all your visitors and event attendees are safe.