By Benjamin D. Goss,
Ed.D., and Colby B. Jubenville, Ph.D.
On April 29, 2011, United States President Barack Obama authorized the U.S.
Government’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to conduct a raid on a
compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The raid, dubbed “Operation Neptune
Spear,” resulted in the announcement by Obama that Osama bin Laden, founder
of terrorist organization al-Qaeda, had been killed in the operation. bin
Laden had long been the arch-nemesis of the U.S. Government and helped
mastermind the September 11, 2001, attacks (among others) on American
targets that shut down major entertainment and sporting events for one week
While the killing of bin Laden in the raid doubtlessly
helped U.S. national security turn a corner by at least temporarily slowing
the efforts of al-Qaeda terrorists and providing a goldmine of data about
its operations, sound logic would dictate that, while perhaps abated in the
short-term, potential organized terror threats to public assembly venues in
the Western world have not completely disappeared. In fact, in the days
immediately following the Abbottabad raid, the U.S. Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned law
enforcement around the country that bin Laden’s death could inspire
retaliatory attacks in the U.S. Evidence collected from the raid indicated
that al-Qaeda had begun to shift its focus (at least strategically, if not
operationally) to softer Western targets in the transportation sector,
including U.S. rail lines.
Given the ever-increasing light-rail access to assembly
and entertainment venues (particularly in major cities), facility managers
should realize that their venues were just one step (or less) removed from
the potential range of an organized terrorist attack. Therefore, despite the
elimination of bin Laden, the threat of organized terror remains constant,
and venue security personnel must continue to prepare themselves as
vigilantly as ever. Although a reminder of vigilance regarding venue
security may seem a bit trite, sometimes the way a problem is viewed is
actually the problem itself, to paraphrase Stephen Covey.
Accordingly, this article offers what may be a few
fresh perspectives on this matter that may help shape or reshape rationale
about protecting facilities from organized terror attacks and spark a
renewed interest and/or break new ground in security priorities, strategies,
While attempting to offer event- and/or venue-specific
advice for security planning in the post-bin Laden era in a single trade
journal article would be futile, this article presents seven philosophic
points of thought to utilize as springboards for further strategic and
operational planning for specific venue needs.
1. Realize the power of
The first thing those involved with venue
security should realize is the power of collective passion.
What do we mean by collective passion?
Collective passion creates a united dominant focus that
connects people to ideas and moves them unilaterally to action. This is the
heart and soul of all cooperative social movements, including terrorism, and
can successfully serve as a catalyst for success in these movements,
regardless of the ethical nature of the dominant focus or the quality of the
resources possessed by the people.
History clearly proves this point time and again. For
instance, collective passion won the American Revolution. Stirred by a
handful of propagandists who lit a fire under a significant portion of the
colonial American population based largely on a single issue (taxation
without representation), a small, underdog group of relatively poor people
and ragtag citizen militia toppled the armed forces of the world’s reigning
superpower of that day.
Collective passion also started the American Civil War.
The drive to decide the questions of states’ rights (chiefly along the lines
of slavery) caused 11 states and two territories to secede from the U.S.
Government, fight against it for four long, arduous years, and sacrifice
roughly 260,000 lives (one in three of its soldiers) for that cause.
Other historical examples are readily available, but
those two should clearly suffice. Important to realize in the discussion of
collective passion is not the perceptions of the greatness of right or might
but rather of the power of values, or those things which one prioritizes or
prizes and around which they base the living of their lives. In the case of
organized terror, venue managers must remember that they are attempting to
safeguard their facilities and patrons against subcultures that do not prize
(and actually hate) Western values of life, liberty, pursuit of happiness,
individualism, freedom, property, and prosperity.
Furthermore, venue managers must understand that these
values are of the deepest-seated kind, according to Hodgkinson’s value
paradigm; i.e., they are what he labels as Type I values, which imply one’s
acceptance of them as edicts or commandments of ultimate, absolute authority
to be followed without negotiation or rationalization.
Simply stated, enough collective passion directed at anything can be
successful, which means that venue security personnel cannot relax in their
protective vigilance for their facilities against organized terror attacks.
2. Realize just how much
destruction a single person can cause.
Post-9/11 terror operations that came to public light seemed to be
perpetrated more by single persons rather than groups, which was a shrewd
shift in terrorist strategy for several reasons. First, a single person can
blend with a crowd better than a group can. Second, unusual conduct or
actions may not draw as much attention when isolated to a single individual.
Third, a single person can more readily be shielded by arguments of
political correctness (e.g., s/ he can argue that security personnel are
hassling her/him because s/he fits a profile or certain demographic
criteria). Fourth, a single person can typically move with greater speed and
stealth than multiple individuals. Fifth, if a single individual is caught,
s/he can argue or can be made to appear that only s/he had knowledge of or
responsibility for his/her actions.
At least two examples of single persons perpetrating
acts of organized terror illustrate the need for individualized terror
vigilance on the part of facility security personnel. British shoe bomber
Richard Reid’s attempt to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris,
France, to Miami, Florida, on December 21, 2001, by stuffing his shoes with
plastic explosives presents one classic case.
Reid insisted that he had acted alone and had
constructed the bomb by himself, but a palm print and a strand of hair not
belonging to him were found inside the bomb materials. Afterward, a
Britishborn man named Saajid Badat confessed to conspiring with both Reid
and a Belgian citizen named Nizar Trabelsi to simultaneously blow up
multiple U.S.-bound airliners with shoe bombs.
A second example of terror perpetrated by a single individual is Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab, popularly known as the Underwear Bomber, who attempted to
detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while aboard Northwest
Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan, on
Christmas Day 2009. The New York Times reported accounts from official
sources that said the suspect told them he had acquired plastic explosives
(that were sewn into his underwear) and a syringe from a Yemeni bomb expert
affiliated with al-Qaeda.
As the flight approached Detroit, Abdulmutallab
lingered in the restroom about 20 minutes, returned to his seat, then
covered himself with a blanket before other passengers heard popping noises,
smelled a foul odor, and saw Abdulmutallab’s trouser leg and the wall of the
plane afire. The explosive device consisted of a six-inch packet filled with
explosive powders sewn into his underwear and a syringe containing liquid
Yemen’s al-Qaeda subsequently claimed responsibility
for the thwarted attack, touting it as revenge for the U.S.’s role in a
military offensive against al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Though they were executed in slightly amateurish
fashion, these attempted acts of organized terror underscore the severe
threat level that a single person can create in a crowded venue.
Furthermore, despite their somewhat slipshod nature, under conditions only
slightly more favorable, these attempts may very well have been successful.
3. Recognize the lofty status
of entertainment & sporting venues.
question, if historians 1,000 years or more from now evaluate our present
society, one of the greatest portions of their assessments of modern times
would necessarily involve heavy discussion of the social institutions of
entertainment and sport. Naturally, major portions of a retrospective
relation of these pillars of modern culture would involve the enormous,
elaborate, expensive venues built to accommodate these entertainment/
sporting events for which almost all current civilizations from east to west
and north to south possess seemingly insatiable appetites.
Therefore, as widely recognized cultural symbols of
modern societies, entertainment/sporting venue managers must realize the
lofty social prominence of these facilities and therefore recognize their
status as highly desirable targets for destruction among organized terror
proponents. Such logic becomes particularly salient when one realizes that
cultural symbols (World Trade Center towers,|
the Pentagon, and perhaps the Capitol Building or the White House) were the
targets selected for attack by al-Qaeda on 9/11.
4. Use the open systems
approach to streamline strategies & operations.
To say that facility security operations are complex would be like saying
the Pacific Ocean is a large body of water.
As stated earlier, this article obviously cannot give
specific advice for each venue’s security operations, but it can serve as a
staunch advocate for the open systems approach to help streamline security
operations, unite planning efforts, and pinpoint strengths and weaknesses
effectively for all venues.
The open systems approach may be one of the most
underrated strategic approaches in the body of management theory. Perhaps
that’s because it’s one of the most simplistic, but as is often the case,
sometimes the most basic approaches are the most effective, particularly
when dealing with something as complicated as security operations.
This approach consists largely of three primary
aspects: inputs, which involve whatever resources are brought into the
system from its environment; throughputs, or whatever internal processes or
resources the system uses to act upon the resources placed within it; and
outputs, or those results that the system places from within itself into the
Also germane to the open systems approach are internal
and external feedback loops, which renew or recycle inputs within or through
the system, as well as the specific environment, or the external forces that
have a direct and immediate impact on the system, and the general
environment, which includes broad economic, socio-cultural, political/legal,
demographic, technological, and global conditions that may affect the
organization indirectly or subtly.
When successfully defined, refined, and understood, the
open systems approach can bring a world of operational and functional
intelligibility to venue managers by clarifying relationships between
different parts of the system, detecting cause/effect phenomena, identifying
and describing patterns of movement throughout the system, and internal and
external flow patterns. Knowing these things can greatly help venue security
personnel better address the two primary managerial concerns of
effectiveness and efficiency in their strategy and operations.
5. Protect your venue’s
One highly important part of your venue’s security operations system is its
perimeter. Some facts from a basic biology class can serve as an
excellent basis to build an effective, secure perimeter around an
entertainment as a cell membrane.
Think of a venue’s perimeter as a cell membrane.
The cell membrane’s basic function is to separate and
defend a cell from its adjacent environment. Embedded within this membrane
are various protein molecules that channel and pump different molecules into
and out of the cell. Cell membranes also contain receptor proteins that
allow cells to detect external signaling molecules such as hormones.
Accordingly, depending on the specific type and/or function of the cell, as
well as the conditions around it, the membrane will vary in levels of
permeability: it can either let a substance pass through freely, pass
through in a limited fashion, or not pass through whatsoever.
Just like a cell membrane, a facility’s perimeter can
be used to create a set of protective filters/funnels that can specialize in
certain specific screenings (explosives, drugs, weapons, suspicious looking
and/or unwelcome individuals, etc.). Fortunately, amazing technological
advances of many kinds now aid this perimeter protection, much like the
receptor proteins of a cell membrane.
An effective venue perimeter also keeps danger as far
removed from immediate venue area as possible, just as cell membrane does.
If an act of terror is somehow perpetrated against a facility, a
well-guarded perimeter will keep the hazard as far away from a more
congested, active area(s) where the greatest harm could be inflicted and
perhaps isolate it to a place where its effect could be minimized, if not
totally defused. Not only will a properly functioning perimeter safeguard
vulnerable areas of a venue’s interior, it will also help keep any unsightly
conflicts away from the views of patrons, thereby preserving the concept of
the venue as an island of pleasure, as discussed in a subsequent section of
6. Be proactive yet
protective with public relations.
Many recent scandals inside and outside the entertainment/sport industry
should teach a universal lesson that can readily be applied to venue
management: the cover-up is always worse than the calamity!
Similarly, venue security managers must be careful not
to appear to sweep the threat of organized terror under the rug, or act like
it can’t or won’t happen to their facilities regardless of market size or
With that in mind, yet without being fear-mongers,
facility security managers should always publicly acknowledge the
possibility of an organized terror attack. To pretend that the possibility
doesn’t exist only invites trouble from those with terroristic designs on a
facility and suspicions in the minds of discerning fans, and it will
completely undermine the credibility and image of venue operators if a
serious security breach or a near-miss does occur. After all, sound logic
dictates that no one can create a smokescreen of talk large enough to
disguise a problem as big as organized terror!
Keeping a proactive approach to venue security at the
public relations forefront will show both patrons and any potential
saboteurs the vigilance and seriousness with which venue managers approach
their security plans. This in turn will help keep patrons feeling safe and
protected while perhaps causing terrorists to think twice about targeting
those facilities due to a perceived high level of vigilance by venues
against their advances.
Another technique to send a strong signal of a
facility’s vigilance against terrorism is to ask for the public’s help in
thwarting attacks. Dedicated hotlines, texting numbers, email addresses,
etc., can be established to help combat any potential threats of terror and
may also be incorporated into the venue’s existing customer service
While enlisting the help of the public is certainly desirable in many
respects of terror prevention, venue security managers must be careful not
to tip sensitive security operation information to the public, either in
personal communication or via media. bin Laden videos salvaged from the
Abbottabad compound clearly indicate that terrorists monitor mainstream
media regularly and already can easily scout a facility quite well without
setting foot near its premises, thanks to modern media and technology.
Therefore, almost all venue security data should be considered classified
Remember, fans just wanna have fun.
In a previous section of this article, we briefly mentioned the concept of
entertainment/sport venues as islands of pleasure to which people can escape
to avoid the pressures and problems of their lives and simply be happy.
Unfortunately, the very notion of a secure venue can conflict with this
pleasure island premise per se, but that conflicting perception can
certainly be buffeted if venue security managers exercise a bit of
creativity and exhibit a human, personable touch in the facets of their
operations through which fans are directly contacted. A few low-to-no-cost
(and perhaps even profitable) measures can go far in preserving pleasure in
entertainment/sport facilities, such as the following practices.
To begin, insist that inspectors/security personnel be
friendly with patrons. While patrons will inevitably test their patience at
some point, these personnel absolutely must be trained to smile, be polite,
and keep jovial personas as though they were welcoming friends into their
homes, because patrons will contagiously absorb their attitudes. If these
front-line personnel are trained properly, they shouldn’t worry or feel
pressured about recognizing threats or dealing with problematic patrons, so
friendly front lines will go far in preserving the pleasure island paradigm.
Part of creating the pleasant persona of frontline
personnel involves giving ample thought to their appearances. Dressing
nonmilitary/ law enforcement personnel in clothing and colors that are
easily distinguishable but pleasing will help direct a second wave of
positive vibes toward arriving patrons.
Still another idea related to extending the
entertainment experience is to create fun zones for patrons to enjoy while
waiting in security checkpoint lines rather than creating areas of impending
apprehension. If they arrive at the checkpoints in jovial moods, customers
are much more likely to be forgiving of any inconvenience or hassle that may
inherently be part of security operations. Additionally, such fun zones can
either be ways for venue marketing personnel to add value to existing
sponsorships or opportunities to create additional sponsorship inventory
through which they can generate additional revenue for the facility.
Despite attempting to make these elements more
palatable, security personnel must not allow operations in security zones to
become too carnival-like. Keeping enough military/law presence around will
provide a subtle-yet-effective reminder to patrons that they are under
surveillance, which may thwart any planned disruptions.
With the passing of time since the 9/11 attacks, a false sense of ease
regarding organized terror attacks could easily emerge among venue security
professionals. Nevertheless, the strategy behind security operations must be
regarded with the same desire for innovation, transformation, and
improvement as any other aspect of venue management.
Occasionally, only one person will stand alone as a
change catalyst seeking to transform original or dated practices, but that
lone transformer is absolutely vital regarding security measures and
preparations against organized terror, even if s/he must stand alone. Covey
again provides wisdom for individuals found in such a predicament by
reminding them that they must first seek to understand, then seek to be
understood (i.e., prepare arguments well using the open systems approach),
as well as to remember life’s three constants: change, choice, and
principles (i.e., venue managers must acknowledge the ever-present, ongoing
development of the threat of organized terror; realize the power of the
principles that drive such behavior; and actively prioritize and innovate
security measures against organized terror attacks).
Benjamin D. Goss, Ed.D., is an Associate Professor at Missouri State
University. Contact Dr. Goss at email@example.com. Follow him on
Twitter @drbengoss, and visit his website www.drbengoss.com to read his two
blogs on management and sport business. Colby B. Jubenville, Ph.D., is a
Professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Contact Dr. Jubenville at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drjubenville, and visit his
websites www.drjubenville.com and www.collectivepassion.com.