While the investigation is still unfolding into how the cruel and brutal attack in Manchester was planned and executed, one thing is revealing itself: the security planning and operations done by large venue operators (e.g., stadiums, concert arenas, etc.) have proven to be successful in protecting their guests from harm. Screening measures that require people to go through metal detectors or have bags thoroughly searched (or even outright prohibitions of bags carried into the venues) have stopped people who wanted to do harm from getting inside the gathering. The unfortunate reward of this newfound (and reinforced) perimeter of safety is that it pushes attackers and prospective terrorists into “softer” areas where screening measures are not in place.
As seen in the Manchester attack, and in the recent terror strikes in France, the “evil losers” as our President has called them, struck in areas immediately outside of the venue, rather than inside of it, which they almost certainly would have done if they had been able to gain access. This “push out” away from the venue has created a more vulnerable “kill zone” where more intensive screening and security are often not in place. Open, public thoroughfares are the lingering security challenges for venue operators, public safety and law enforcement professionals to address.
If you are in a city like London, which probably has more video cameras and surveillance systems watching the public than anyplace in the world, the captured visuals can be incredible assets in collecting the forensics of the incident. But how those real time visuals are used to pre-police (and potentially pre-screen) a crowd are sources of tremendous debate.
As the threat of radicalized terror strikes against soft targets grows around the world (and becomes crueler and even more creative), new tools (e.g., biometrics, analytics, drones, venue design, etc.) will have to blend with conventional tools and practices (e.g., visible and covert security officers, cameras, etc.) to make attacks such as the Manchester murders even harder to complete. That is easier said than done, but counterterrorism practices are never stationary lessons. Like the threats they seek to mitigate, they have to evolve new solution sets and strategies to address the evolutionary means that the “evil losers” develop and execute.
Tragically, the lessons in this arena are cruel, painful and brutal, but it’s the reality of today’s era that none of us are immune from facing, regardless of where we live.