Without doubt, concentrations of large numbers of people in accessible places are potential targets for terrorist and criminal attack and present a unique set of challenges to security professionals.

Places of mass gathering include sporting venues, shopping complexes, open-air markets, business precincts, tourism and entertainment venues, cultural facilities, hotels and convention centres, public transport hubs and major planned – and unplanned – events.

Mass gatherings, particularly in larger cities, provide opportunity for attack because of their accessibility and vulnerability. They potentially have high symbolic value and high‑impact imagery is generated by an attack. Above all, mass gatherings have potential consequences in terms of mass casualties, economic impact and generating fear in the broader community. The Melbourne Bourke Street attack in January this year, the truck attacks in Berlin and Nice last year, the attacks at the Bataclan Concert Hall and the Stade de France in Paris in 2015, and the 2013 Boston Marathon attack all highlight the vulnerability of planned and unplanned mass gatherings in their many forms.

While event managers, and owners and operators of places of mass gathering, are responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure the protection and safety of people, responsibilities are now more broadly shared. In 2009, the Australian National Counter Terrorism Committee noted that the protection of places of mass gathering is most effectively delivered through a business–government partnership, and it agreed to coordinate at a national level the work associated with protecting places of mass gathering.

This was a notable shift in public policy and a recognition of the role of the private sector. Prior to 2000, national security policy focused primarily on securing state assets against international terrorism and it was almost exclusively delivered by government security services. At that time and in keeping with traditional views of security, security professionals in the private sector played little or no role. This has changed considerably today, where security professionals now play a valued role in securing and maintaining critical infrastructure and major events, as well as essential services and personnel. This change is evidenced by the number of public–private partnerships in which governments, national and state, have increasingly sought to cooperate with private corporations and businesses as well as with regional and local authorities.

While the media often focus public attention on the tragedies of attacks on mass gatherings, many mass gatherings, including those of significant size such as the Rio Olympics and the 2017 Super Bowl can, and do, take place without incident.

While the level of risk and vulnerability can never be completely mitigated for any mass gathering, contributing success factors reflect increased efforts to focus on preparedness and preventative aspects of the resilience cycle. This means moving beyond the ability to absorb shock, with the focus instead on the ability of businesses, governments and communities to take preventative action. This has been an important and significant step-change.

To assist security professionals to meet the challenges of mass gatherings, there is a wealth of publicly available material and tools to increase their awareness and knowledge to build resilience, security and safety at mass gatherings. For further reading on this topic, I suggest three important and useful publications. First, the National Guidelines for the Protection of Places of Mass Gathering from Terrorism (2011) which was supplemented in 2015 by the second publication, the Active Shooter Guidelines for Places of Mass Gathering.

The third relevant publication is Improvised Explosive Device Guidelines for Places of Mass Gathering. These improvised explosive device (IED) guidelines, released in 2016, are designed to help governments and businesses protect Australians from the potential use of IEDs in places of mass gathering and to prevent, prepare for and respond to an attack. All three publications were developed by the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee (ANZCTC).

Minimising and mitigating risks and threats at mass gatherings is a collective responsibility and all security professionals can contribute by building resilience to make future events safer and more secure.