February 14, 2017

Security Screening

The increased threat to stadia and other crowded places requires a holistic evidence-based approach to enhance the security screening process. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice, Berlin and Istanbul emphasise a terrorist focus on crowded places in Europe, increasingly adopting methods used and refined elsewhere around the world.

Improving Effectiveness and Efficiency

In response to this heightened risk, many organisations, including football clubs and stadium operators, have reviewed their plans for protecting visitors at their venues. One element of the response has been an uplift in security screening measures at the entry points to venues. While increasing the level of screening on entry to a venue provides reassurance that dangerous items and persons will be prevented from entering, this comes at a cost, and for some venues may not always be feasible given the available space.

Particularly where space is at a premium, average search times tend to increase. The result is more extensive queues forming at the venue perimeter. This can mean that the ‘soft’ targets terrorists seek out have effectively been moved from the inside of the stadium to its immediate vicinity.

In this case, increased security provision does not in itself address the inherent risk. Just before Christmas 2016, social media in the UK reported that customers queuing at bag checks for some well-known attractions felt like ‘sitting ducks’ following the Berlin attack.

Even without the terrorist threat, an operational crowd safety problem can develop, where queues and delays grow to such an extent that the level of screening has to be reduced during peak times to reduce queues, and the potential for overcrowding or disorder.

Consequently, clubs and their security teams will have taken measures to improve efficiency where possible, but our experience suggests that an evidence-based quantitative assessment may identify further insights on performance and opportunities for improvement. An evidence-based approach is enabled by an increasing availability of data generated by the operation of the turnstile/ search technology itself, or through the targeted collection of data on queue volumes and densities. Using this approach across many crowded places including stadia has led us to observe differences in the performance of security screening lines, including at the detailed level of individual operatives/search lanes.

Movement Strategies has adopted a holistic framework for evaluating the performance of security screening. Parameters such as the pattern of the demand profile, the design of the place in which screening takes place, and the people involved, all have an impact on the performance of the screening system. The level of performance of a security screening line includes throughputs achieved, but also the effectiveness of the search process in being able to identify threats. Pinpointing variation in throughput can be combined with observations to understand the causes of these differences, allowing us to clarify what efficiency gains can be sought and where they can be targeted. An added complexity is the need to keep exit routes clear at all times, including during the ingress phase. Heightened threat level and associated fear of threat increase the probability of an emergency evacuation being instigated. At Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground, the evacuation of spectators during the peak arrival period due to a suspicious device being found caused dense crowding in the surrounding areas as arriving and evacuating crowd flows merged. Many other stadia are even more closely surrounded by a network of residential streets.

Crowd simulation models and numerical analysis can help to visualise demand around the stadium during all phases of the event. Therefore, merely increasing the number of security staff before a holistic consideration of the operational environment is unlikely to address new and evolving threats, and may in turn create new risks. Evidence-based reviews of security procedures can in turn deliver gains in capacity, efficiency, and financial impact. Most importantly, they are an investment in spectator experience, which underpins the ongoing success of any event or stadium, and their reputation.

Kat Steinberg and her team at Movement Strategies advise stadia, clubs and organisations around the world on crowd dynamics, crowd safety & security. 

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