The bomb attack at an Ariana Grande show at Manchester Arena last year was the catalyst for E3S. (Getty Images)

When Salman Ramadan Abedi detonated a bomb in the foyer of Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017, it wasn’t the first time terrorists had chosen a live concert to take the lives of innocent people in order to spread fear, nor was it the last.

It did, however, lead to an unprecedented reaction from the international artist community and music industry. Ariana Grande and her manager Scooter Braun, enlisted the world’s biggest pop stars for the “One Love Manchester” benefit concert only two weeks after the attack, while the professionals working behind the scenes came up with a response of their own: the Event Safety and Security Summit, known in the industry as E3S. It took place Oct. 10, 2017, in London, a meeting of venue operators, concert and tour promoters, and security specialists.

The summit was scheduled to return for a second edition Oct. 30 at the Congress Centre in Central London, and 400 delegates were expected to attend. VenuesNow spoke with the creators of E3S and other health and safety specialists about the status quo of event security.

The head organizer of E3S is Greg Parmley, who is also in charge of two other industry gatherings in London, the International Live Music Conference and the International Festival Forum. Unlike those events, E3S focuses solely on what its name suggests: safety and security at live events.

Parmley developed this year's agenda with Chris Kemp, CEO of the Mind Over Matter Consultancy and the main man at Yourope’s Event Safety Group. According to Kemp, last year’s event made it clear that the professionals working in this industry are eager to develop “a European consensus on safety and security standards,” as well as “training and education across Europe from a more holistic standpoint.

Chris Kemp.

“There is much that we can learn from each other, and by bringing the best of Europe and the U.K. together we can really drive some important good practice home and learn from others. No one continent or industry or sector has all of the answers.”

Mike Downing, chief security officer at Prevent Advisors, the safety and security branch of Oak View Group (VenuesNow's parent company), agrees: “Governments, private enterprise and NGOs have come to the realization that no one entity can properly prepare for or respond to crisis. The magic formula today is collaboration, the forming of partnerships, and the sharing of smart practices.”

Downing said “the only competition we have between us in the entertainment industry relative to safety and security is to stay ahead of the adversary by understanding how to counter today’s threat and understanding that the real enemy is complacency.”

One of the speakers scheduled for this year's E3S was Carl Dakin, who launched his own security, business continuity and emergency management services company five years ago, after a 25-year career in the British Army.

“The one aspect of live music events that I am always mindful of relates to the mind-set of the revelers,” Dakin said. “When people attend music events, they quickly become immersed in the atmosphere of the event and take on a 'feel good' factor, which is a good thing!

“However, in the event of an emergency, the team need to understand that before they can influence the crowd they need to break through the mental 'ice pack' and bring them back into the present.”

Dakin said it seemed like a “delicate balance to strike” between making people feel safe and making them feel scared. “It really depends on the event. In some cases eventgoers are expecting a level of security and will not be fazed at all by comprehensive screening at the access point or other high-visibility security measures deployed throughout the event venue.

“However, security should be intelligent and physical and procedural measures matched to the threat level to enable the security system to be enhanced or reduced accordingly as the threat picture changes. Remember, security costs money — extra manning, etc. —  and time, extended contact time at the point of entry.”

A session at last year’s inaugural Event Safety and Security Summit in London. (Courtesy E3S)

The current U.K. threat level, indicating the likelihood of a terrorist attack, stands at “severe.” Dakin said, “We’ve seen a series of low-sophistication attacks in the U.K. with terrorists using vehicles as a weapon, there have been the person-borne IED attack at the Manchester arena and the failed placed-IED attack at Parsons Green, all of which demonstrate we all need to maintain vigilance and be aware that extremists do not discriminate age, sex, religion or race.”

Downing confirmed that the same need existed in the U.S.: “While the terrorist threat is still considered to be low volume, high consequence, we are seeing lower-level-capability attacks dealing with vehicle ramming, small arms attacks, and more recently activity with drones that have the potential to be weaponized.

“It is becoming harder and harder to detect individuals who are either inspired by or directed by a networked adversary. Technology is important. However, even more important is the human ring of steel that is informed, has good situational awareness, and knows how to report activity that is suspicious or is an anomaly for normal behavior,” Downing said.

Venues and venue operators from around Europe were scheduled to attend E3S, including Live Nation, AEG Presents, SMG Europe, SEC, Ahoy Rotterdam, SSE Hydro, AECC Aberdeen, Arena Birmingham, The O2 Arena, Forest National, Telenor Arena, Sportpaleis Group and Manchester Arena.

“Almost 100 percent of the conference program relates to venues,” said Parmley, “from learning transferable lessons across different sectors to in-house training and the development of common venue security standards.”

“It’s the same with our schedule of presentations, which range from facial recognition and high footfall screening, to drones and dynamic lockdown procedures,” he said.

When talking to Europe’s live event professionals these days, it emerges that although severe weather poses a far greater threat to open-air events than terrorism, it is the latter that takes up most of the discussions around safety and security.

This does not surprise Kemp: “When a new flavor of the month appears, people tend to dwell upon it and this takes the focus away from a balanced security and safety provision. We of course always try to bring people back to this balance, but sometimes some topics are too hot and it is difficult to reduce their impact.”

According to Downing, “if you prepare and plan for what could happen if your event or venue is a target of a terrorist attack, then you are preparing for any threat, manmade or natural disaster/crisis. It’s not one or the other.”

Which is why he aims to create what he describes as “a culture of 'first preventers,'” where patrons, venue operators, agents, managers and artists are trained and oriented to respond to virtually anything.

“When you have this level of confidence baked into the culture, and you have developed the playbooks for any crisis; trained with the state, local, federal partners through tabletop exercises; and mitigate all security gaps and vulnerabilities, then you have developed a resilient enterprise,” he said.

Many of the professionals required to devise such a playbook are present at E3S. From government departments to security specialists to police and security forces, a “wider range of voices (will be) represented,” Parmley said.

Kemp added, “At many conferences we become too insular, but with health and safety it is different because we all need the knowledge of how to survive in an environment which can become hostile very quickly. This is why people share, people learn and people become critical friends to each other.”

“It has been said that it takes a network to defeat a network,” Downing said. “We have a diffused, decentralized adversary intent on inflicting harm to innocent civilians and targeting soft targets.

“Our ‘hybrid’ network must be informed, nimble, and evolve faster than the adversary. We must be more willing to integrate state-of-the-art technologies, and more open to fostering organizational cultures that adapt quickly, surge when needed, and have in place organic security plans and protocols that are never considered to be in final form.”