Crowded placeWinnie-the-Pooh has such an ability to see and state the true nature of things that Benjamin Hoff has likened him to a Taoist Master. Perhaps the ability to identify and explain that which is obvious but not always recognised is something we should develop.

There is a lot of emphasis at the moment on protecting crowded places.  Should we, as security specialists, point out that “we can’t”.  We can reduce the attack vectors and we can put measures in place to limit the number of fatalities, particularly those that may die later.  What we can not do is stop someone from entering a public place and committing an atrocity.

Somebody has to state the obvious, there appears to be a perception, or perhaps a desire, by the public and even elements within government that everyone can be protected everywhere.  Why else would there be all these reviews and guidance on terrorism and crowded places unless it was to guarantee a safe environment?  We know better.

We can restrict the ways in which an attack can be launched, we can limit the size and speed of a vehicle that can enter a crowded place.  We can limit the size of an explosive item brought into an area.  We may be able to search people to prevent weapons being introduced.  But, the nature of the event, the built environment, the ‘image’ of the site and the willingness of the owners, operators and patrons all limit the Likelihood controls.  We can also look at how the site will respond after an incident; what Consequence mitigation measures are in place to limit the loss of life and to prevent further deaths?

One of the biggest problems is how we assess risks.  Normally “a fatality” is at the high end of the Consequence table and therefore makes the resultant risk rating unacceptable.  As a result, most assessments would recommend the activity not occur.  We saw this with Local Councils looking at cancelling ANZAC Day events last year.  Of course, if the business relies on crowds then closing down is not an option.  How can we provide effective and accurate risk assessment?

Perhaps we need to point out that if the incident being assessed is “an attack in a crowded place” then multiple injuries/fatalities will occur.  The ideal consequences would be no fatalities but medium consequences – for this type of incident – would be multiple casualties and high end/unacceptable consequences would be additional post-incident fatalities.

If we are willing to adjust the risk definitions to match the reality of such attacks then we can show owners how they can continue to operate and manage the risks in a realistic and practical manner.

It may not be palatable; owners and operators (and the public) may want to hear that they are protected and no one will die from an attack in a crowded place, but the simple truth is that they will.  To pretend otherwise and to work with risk assessments that avoid this fact is delusional and not helpful.

Perhaps we should access the inner Pooh and be willing to see and state the obvious.

Don Williams
Don Williams MIExpE, IABTI, CPP, RSecP is convenor of the ASRC Explosives 2014 forum. Don is a member of the Institute of Explosives Engineers, the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators, the venue managers Associations, ASIS International and the Australian Security Research Centre’s Activities Committee. He is the Author of “Bomb Incidents – the manager’s guide” and numerous other publications relating to explosive and bomb safety and security.