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Converging Event Security

Recent active assailant attacks on cultural festivals, entertainment districts, and event venues are causing Americans to second-guess attending large-scale public events, and terrorist incidents and mass attacks are driving concerns globally as well. However, physical threats are not the only risks consumers face at events.

More than one in five Americans say they have cancelled plans or considered cancelling plans to attend a large-scale public event due to concerns about physical attacks, according to the 2019 Unisys Security Index. A large majority (83 percent) of Americans are concerned about a criminal attack at large-scale events such as concerts or sporting events; 50 percent reported being “extremely” or “very concerned” about physical attacks.

Worldwide, 57 percent of survey respondents report being seriously concerned that a criminal attack may affect attendees. Consumers in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Colombia had the highest concerns (86 percent to 74 percent), while consumers in New Zealand, TheNetherlands, and Germany had the lowest concerns (35 percent to 39 percent) about attacks at large-scale events.

Security awareness climbs swiftly after large-scale attacks. Following the attack on two mosques in Christchurch, the percentage of New Zealand survey respondents who said they are seriously concerned about terrorism rose from 29 percent to 51 percent.

Unisys conducted additional research on this topic, diving into more detail in seven countries (Australia, Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The Index found that 39 percent of respondents in those countries said they would think twice about attending a large-scale event, and one-quarter have changed their plans to attend.

“We’re trying to balance safety and security measures with the experience of the fans; we certainly don’t want to do anything to deter that experience,” says Daniel Ward, assistant director of curriculum for the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi. “It’s very easy for someone to stay home and watch an event on their 4K television, so the competition is stiff now. We aren’t going to be able to bring people in if we aren’t making them feel safe and secure and making sure that they are having a good experience.”

Venues are also proactively reaching out for resources and training from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and its nationwide network of Protective Security Advisors (PSAs), who work with schools, faith-based organizations, and event venues to improve security capabilities through vulnerability assessments, technical assistance, and facilitating training and exercises, says Brian Harrell, CPP, assistant director for infrastructure security at CISA. Recent attacks on crowded places and soft targets have driven increased interest in these services and resources, he adds.

Event security professionals—especially for smaller events or those without permanent venues—should strive to improve their cross-organization information sharing, says James DeMeo, CEO of Unified Sports and Entertainment Security Consulting LLC.

“The threat continuum is ever-evolving and ongoing, in terms of physical security and the integration of technologies,” DeMeo says. “The sharing of information is paramount among key leaders entrusted with duty of care protecting those spaces.”

“Effective communications between law enforcement, venue directors, and security personnel is essential in guarding fans,” he adds. Smaller venues or events might lack the resources that national organizations or associations have, but they can reach out to local fusion centers for information sharing, DHS resources, or educational tools.

Beyond concerns for their physical safety, however, event attendees are also leery of data security when out at concerts, fireworks displays, or sporting events. When asked about data safety at large-scale events, 57 percent of global respondents said they are seriously concerned about having their personal data stolen when using public Wi-Fi at large events. Concerns are highest in Latin America, where 69 percent of respondents fear for their personal data when on public Wi-Fi at events.

While convergence of physical and cyber risks has been a frequent refrain for security practitioners, the 2019 Security Index was the first time Unisys heard similar perspectives from a broad consumer base, says Tom Patterson, chief trust officer for Unisys. Consumers had nearly equal levels of concern regarding cyber and physical or kinetic risks—and their potential interconnectivity—at events.

“To see cyber and kinetic events coming together in consumers’ minds was truly telling and something that we—as an industry—need to address,” Patterson says.

For U.S. survey respondents, 81 percent reported at least some level of concern about theft of their personal data when using public Wi-Fi, and 78 percent were concerned about theft of credit card data via public Wi-Fi.

Globally, 26 percent of attendees who still plan to attend large-scale events will take extra precautions to secure mobile devices and wallets. However, only 15 percent say they are keeping alert for suspicious or threatening behavior.

Patterson advises event attendees keep devices patched and updated before attending events and using virtual private networks (VPNs) or cellular data to reduce Wi-Fi risks. This requires some pre-event preparation, he adds, so venues and event security professionals will need to reach out and advise customers about virtual and physical safety beforehand—without scaring them.

“Most people at a large event will see security right at the beginning when they get there—they’ll go through a metal detector perhaps or have their purse or backpacks checked,” Patterson says. “They’re aware of the security there, but they’re not really aware of the layer after layer after layer of security that goes into these large events.” He recommends peeling back the layers enough to give attendees a glimpse of the effort that goes into event security, which can help improve attendees’ trust in the organization.

One key to improving event attendees’ attentiveness is ensuring they have a way to report suspicious behavior, says Ward. “‘See Something, Say Something’ is a great campaign, a great program, but in many cases, we forget to give them the capability to say something,” he explains. “A lot of venues have used signage in prominent locations so fans can see where to text something to, or on video boards before an event or during breaks so fans know if they see suspicious behavior or an issue they need to bring up to the venue to text it to this number. We’re giving [them] more tools and resources.

“We do understand that when people come to events, it’s to let their hair down and not to be overly cautious,” he adds. “So we want them to be able to say something to us, but we’ve also increased our capacity to notice things through technology.”

DeMeo recommends emphasizing attendee security education and awareness through campaigns and promotional materials, noting that “an educated fan is a safe fan.”

Venues are combining printed posters, graphics on digital screens, public service announcement videos, and social media messages on top of more traditional posters or season ticket holder emails to connect attendees, employees, vendors, and contracted security personnel with security information, Harrell says. However, it’s essential to share not just how to contact security personnel but why.

“It’s always more impactful when individuals recognize why it’s important for them to report suspicious activity,” he says. “Messages should try to motivate individuals to report suspicious activity—to protect themselves, their family and friends, their community, and the activities that they enjoy participating in, including attending large events.”