Major Event Safety and Security – The Way Forward

November 21, 2016

by Andrew Cooke

“Precise safety and security measures must be fully integrated into the planning and management of major sporting events”

Safety and security incidents are hardly new phenomena for the sports community. Once might think that after decades of major sporting events, judicial reviews of incidents, police and emergency service planning, the involvement of intelligence units, as well as numerous guidelines, best practice strategies and handbooks on safety and security, the problems would be well understood at a minimum. Of course, new challenges can always arise but there plenty of World Cups, Olympics Games and other smaller events to refer to for the solution.

Such would be the case if the world of sport were not so dynamic. But the sport environment is ever-changing, and sport safety and security as a discipline is intensely affected by this dynamic. Even when solutions and operational concepts have been developed for a safety and security incident, the corresponding response measures require ongoing monitoring, testing and enhancement to meet the evolution of underlying problems. Certainly, new threats can and do emerge, but this does not mean that existing issues should be considered fully resolved by temporary measures or that they have disappeared.

To a great extent, many ‘new’ security and safety issues are actually variations or extensions of former incidents or issues. For example, global connectivity and the scope of contemporary sports activities can help in identifying safety and security threats, but they also extend the international profile of sports events and involve a broader range of stakeholders. As a result, the network of safety and security stakeholders at any event becomes larger and potentially harder to manage.

This greater complexity means that safety and security as functional areas have taken on greater significance in sport over the past decade. Threats have become more diverse and increasingly difficult to predict, and the sport community has been under pressure to map out concepts for a broader range of threats on the one hand, while thoroughly understanding the complexity of corresponding risks on the other. The task is even more difficult to manage given the impact of rapid technology change in the sector, which requires constant revision of established systems.

Carrying out precise scenario planning and having appropriate risk-assessment methodologies in place are, therefore, important elements. However, they are not enough; there is a greater framework into which safety and security must be actively incorporated.

Without increasingly professional and multidisciplinary approaches, security managers – and the sports community as a whole – will have little chance of keeping pace with the latest threats and challenges impacting sport events. Safety and security have to be centrally positioned within any planning processes from the very beginning. Incident-free sport events are no longer just an operational matter; they are based upon robust and well-conceived safety and security management systems that put in place an integrated holistic approach towards all relevant topics for all involved stakeholders. Indeed, any planning or implementation aspects of safety and security cannot be a stand-alone service or product; safety and security must be considered as overarching and cross-functional.

Correspondingly, the field of stakeholders must be expanded from an internal security and safety group to a more holistic, external perspective. Nowadays, the wider field of sport safety and security stakeholders includes sponsors and media due to their impact on the general sport industry. Sport safety and security concepts must ensure that such stakeholders are involved, informed and acknowledge related processes. The so-called triple-C approach (communication coordination, collaboration) is the key to jointly agreed solutions. Furthermore, appropriate stakeholder integration must be based upon trusted relationships to enable uncompromising commitment.

As the complexity of the sport safety and security environment increases, so will the need for consistent research into technical and operational solutions. And as new solutions become available or are implemented, validation processes such as stress testing need to be applied to new and existing systems to help resolve problems and adjust to changing realities. Research and operational studies, and the mind-set of those responsible for safety and security, should go beyond ‘business-as-usual’ to actively consider what can be learnt from other disciplines – even if the operational implementation of protocols during ‘game time’ should be so practised as to actually become the team’s ‘usual business’.

As part of this holistic approach, safety and security challenges must be considered on various levels. First of all, there are the internationally relevant threats linked to major trends inside and outside the sport industry. Examples include the persistent power and influence of social media, as well as the ubiquitous threat of terrorism.

With regard to technology, the invention and increasing use of drones is affecting a broad range of industries, among them, sport safety and security. Although the recognition and understanding of this development is widespread, there seems to be an almost paralysed posture from a sport safety and security perspective.

Then, local, regional and international threats and specific circumstances must be appropriately reflected in sport safety and security management, for example, with regard to terrorism, crowd management, pyrotechnics or violence in sport.

At the same time, emerging trends and innovations can be used in a positive manner for sport safety and security management. A few examples are the improved quality of CCTV and advanced computer simulation systems, social media (if appropriately used by involved stakeholders), paperless tickets, as well as modern scanning and detection equipment.

Generally speaking, there is neither a recipe for success for safety and security management in sport, nor any perfect safety and security system. There are, however, critical success factors and key pillars that should be borne in mind:

·    continual risk management and ongoing validation and testing of planned systems;

·     knowledge gathering and management;

·    communication structures allowing real-time information services and well-conceived dissemination to relevant stakeholders;

·     early involvement of safety and security (conceptualisation phase rather than planning phase) and continuous integration of relevant functional areas and stakeholders;

·    professional and advanced education in the area of sport safety and security management;

·     importance of cutting-edge infrastructure (stadiums, access systems, and so on);

·     standardisation on an international level, allowing the introduction of measurable audit systems and the alignment of fragmented standardisation efforts; and

·    despite applying standards and established systems, safety and security systems must always be flexible enough to allow situational reactiveness and circumstance-driven planning.

Investing in robust safety and security planning and in the creation of corresponding managerial systems does not necessarily mean higher costs; in fact, safety and security budgets can be reduced with timely and concise planning. Reactive actions and late upgrades in this area are always more expensive, and this is something that has unfortunately happened quite often in recent decades.

Modifications and amendments will always be required as a result of changes in technology and other external factors. However, the inclusion of modular options or planning for upgrades at the outset can reduce costs and enhance service quality in the long term.

“Reactive sport security planning can be costly and inefficient. A holistic, cross-disciplinary a nd integrated approach will improve security outcomes”

Andrew Cooke is the Director Security Operations at the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) and can be contacted at