How security at major events is nothing more than an illusion

Published: 17 February 2017

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Thanks to a friend who scored a free ticket I attended the Guns N Roses concert at Sydney Olympic Park on Saturday night where more than 40,000 rock fanatics were expected to pile in to ANZ Stadium.

As most females do, I was equipped with a shoulder bag carrying all my concert essentials. It was certainly big enough to hide anything prohibited, but apparently security weren’t interested in checking it.

The guard even asked me, “do you have anything in there that you shouldn’t?”.

Obviously I said “no” and he sent me on my way.

There was nothing more than a lip balm, my bank cards, ID, my phone and some cash in there. 

But that isn’t the point.

I could have had a bottle of vodka, a knife, pistol, rocket propelled grenade and I didn’t even have to open the zipper.

Getting waved through security at a major event without a second glance from safety personal is certainly enough to make you uneasy.

“How many people are they just letting through without checking?” and “I could have anything in my bag”, come to mind.

While it might not make you feel much better, it turns out there is a rhyme to their reason.

And it all comes down to the pre-event ‘risk assessment’.

CEO of The Australian Security Industry Association Bryan de Caires said if there was a need to pat down every single person entering an event, security generally would, and patrons would be warned to arrive early in a bid to avoid long queues.

However, while security companies, event organisers and police wish to ensure an event is 100 percent safe, they are simply doing the best they can, as they are the first to admit it is impossible to make safety an any event full proof.

For instance, there’s always going to be that one drunk hooligan who puts themselves or others in danger. And there’s not much security they can do about it as side from either not letting them into a venue or kicking them out.

But when it comes to terror threat, it’s a totally different ball game.

Mr de Caires explained that before an event, organisers, authorities and security companies collaborate to determine the risk and what to look out for at the event before putting systems and precautions in place.

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Photo: Guns N Roses at Sydney's ANZ Stadium (Twitter)

He said the level of risk, and therefore the safety strategies implemented, depend on the style of event, the demographic it’s expected to attract, the number of people there and where the venue is – among several other factors.

Mr de Caires used the Grand Prix in Victoria and the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games as examples of events which would require an extensive security plan compared to the likes of a country fair.

“That’s the hard bit. Getting the strategy right,” he said. “But people are so crafty these days. Flares still get into soccer matches.”

“But then we have to consider what level of intrusiveness we go to. Do we want to start subjecting people to full body searches?

“Well, we would if it was a very high risk event and then became necessary.”

Mr de Caires said there are a number of challenges authorities face when trying to organise a safe event, and one of them is determining what constitutes a “prohibited item”.

“A few years ago flags from certain countries were banned because they were being used provocatively,” he said.

“I guess it’s a case of, ‘what would you consider to be a public nuisance? And then working in conjunction with police.”

And ever queried why you’ve been ushered through security but your mate with a beard and tattoos is stopped at every checkpoint?

Despite popular opinion, in terms of targeting particular individual at events Mr de Caires assures that there’s no distinct profile which authorities look for.

Instead they keep their eyes peeled for people carrying bizarre items, like a tent into a day-long music festival or an esky into a non-alcoholic occasion. 

“At some events everyone will get checked, but at others where the risk is lower sometimes it’s a case of checking every second or third bag,” he said.

“In the end, everything comes back to the risk assessment.”

Additionally, if there’s a terror threat involved there will be a high-police presence coupled with countless security staff.

“It’s about getting the balance right and that can be difficult,” Mr de Caires said.

“But the main thing is, we want the public to feel safe.”

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Photo: Guns N Roses at the MCG in Melbourne (Twitter)