Pollstar speaks with Carl Dakin, the founder of Dakin Consulting, a company providing security, business continuity and emergency management services out of London, about safety and security at live events.
Dakin looks back on a 25-year career in the British Army (22 Special Air Service Regiment and Parachute Regiment), after which entering the security industry seemed a natural progression for someone with his skill set.
Since leaving the Army in 2013 Dakin has been developing work experience across the industry with the help of “some exceptional mentors,” which include Jon Jacobsen in Norway, as well as Glen Payton and Prof. Chris Kemp in the UK, leading to the launch of Dakin Consulting Ltd. (DCL) five years ago.
Dakin is a member of the board of directors at the Security Institute in the UK, and carries the title of Chartered Security Professional (CSyP)
What kind of security service does Dakin Consulting provide, and to what kind of events? How many live events are among your clients?
DCL doesn’t just provide security services. We provide business continuity and emergency management services to a wide range of clients using highly skilled associates from across the industry.
However DCL has been providing event specific services to music, festival and country show type events as a sub-contractor to an event security company in Norway over the last five years and also manages the safety and security for a London based company with high-end travel experience trade shows in Miami, Marrakech and Bali.
Although these shows are not on the same scale as many music events, the formal party events that are scheduled throughout the show nighttime programme present many similar issues that are faced by festival organisers, especially when using greenfield sites.
Other services have included the Counter Terrorism Security review of a large-scale music festival in Denmark.
In what ways is securing a live event, whether its a concert in a venue or an open air festival, unlike securing other public gatherings?
As you can imagine there are numerous crossovers and areas that are almost identical between non-music and music events. However the one aspect of live music events that I am always mindful of, relates to the mindset of the revellers. 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 ‘icepack’ and bring them back into the present.
The Sousse beach attack in Tunisia in 2015 illustrates what I mean by the ‘icepack’ or not immediately understanding what is happening: holiday makers were enjoying the sun, sea and sand, a terrorist attack was far from their minds when the attack happened. I think the delay in recognising and understanding what was actually happening certainly enhanced the element of surprise by the attacker.
How do you make sure people feel safe and not scared by all the security that surrounds them?
It seems like a delicate balance to strike. It really depends on the event. In some cases event-goers 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.
At some of the events I support, delegates have been screened through an application process pre-event and then they have to check-in to receive their name/ID lanyard and name tag along with a wristband. At events like this my team and I will use screening measures that are based upon behaviour pattern recognition techniques where we observe delegates as they approach the venue, enabling us to identify anything that is above the baseline.
We’ll apply additional measures when necessary by conducting a bag search or perhaps just speaking to someone. This type of approach can work well and enables us to screen delegates quickly and efficiently but we need to be mindful that there are often so called security experts within the delegation whom will expect be be screened in the more traditional way.
Did the security setup at festivals change much over the years? I hear many now have proper control rooms, where they monitor everything side by side with their security experts.
I think things have progressed for the better. I know large-scale events are now operating a central control room where the event management team sits side by side with the police and other emergency responders. This type of set-up engenders a close working relationship and helps to coordinate the collective team to help keep people safe.
However many of the smaller events, such as the events I’ve worked in Norway, there is often a close working relationship between the event organiser, the security provider and the police but much of the relationship building takes place during the planning phase pre-event and key stakeholders usually meet for a face to face discussion before gates open each day.
Other developments have included physical barriers to protect crowded spaces from terrorists using a vehicle as a weapon and I’ve even seen seen measures employed at some of the smaller low key events in Norway, which demonstrates a good level of risk management.
Do concert venues also have such a control room, and is that room where you can usually be found at events?
In my experience venues such as stadia and arenas will have a formal control room and there will be space designated to each of the agencies with a role to play in public safety. You’ll often find the designated Safety Officer in the control room during the event, but I’m usually on the ground working with the team to ensure we are managing the plan to keep people safe, responding to changes to the plan and providing feedback to the control room to ensure collective situation awareness.
How has technology changed the way you work?
I can only comment from my experience across the smaller-scale events and trade shows overseas: technology hasn’t changed much in recent years for the smaller-scale events, which has very much been reliant on a manned security team and manual security screening methods at the point of entry.
Ensuring the security of the perimeter has always been a challenge, especially for events with a large perimeter, and I think the use of UAVs has real utility in supporting perimeter security as well as rapid deployment CCTV systems. In some places overseas I often come across the poor deployment of physical measures such as ‘walk through’ airport style metal detectors that are so sensitive, they alarm very time someone passes through, but with no follow up action.
In circumstances like this it takes time and effort to build a relationship with venue owners and the management team before you can influence towards improvement. This works well over a protracted period of time when you revisit the same venue but for one off events you really need a site survey to be conducted by a skilled and competent person.
There are some tech companies out there developing apps that show heat maps of audiences at festivals/concerts, and allow festival/concert organizers to communicate directly with fans. Do you see that becoming a security tool going forward?
There are some fantastic initiatives and developments to enhance the engagement with event-goers and I think we need to embrace the way younger people use technology to communicate with each other. It might be much easier and efficient to alert people to a potential problem and provide instructions on what to do next, via an app or similar.
What’s the threat level in the UK at the moment? How does that affect your work?
The current UK threat level is ‘Severe,’ meaning a terrorist attack is likely to happen. We’ve seen a series of low sophistication attacks in the UK 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.
What would you tell music fans that go to these events: how can they prepare themselves to be able to act confidently when a security situation arises?
Firstly, enjoy yourself. You should be reassured that the security services are working tirelessly behind the scenes to disrupt terrorist plots before they have occurred. Emergency services are highly skilled to respond when incidents occur and event planners and organisers take the threat seriously when planning contingencies.
But it makes good sense for concert-goers to maintain situation awareness, by that I mean maintain an awareness of where the nearest exit is to you should you need to evacuate quickly, be prepared to listen to instructions and act on them immediately and maintain an awareness of what is going on around you, such as unusual behaviour or an unattended article. The current Counter Terrorism public awareness campaign in the UK is called Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) and the strap line – ‘See it, Say it, Sorted’ makes very good sense.
Lastly, I’ve heard many festival promoters state that most of the health and safety talks and planning these days revolve around terrorist threats, although bad weather is still the far more common and therefore dangerous safety hazard. How would you address that?
I would always encourage event organisers to conduct a full and comprehensive threat assessment for the event, that would include man-made and natural hazards. Hopefully a full assessment will identify the full spectrum of hazards and threats, and the risk management will assist with designing measures to mitigate them accordingly. The main barrier in my humble opinion is the resistance to acknowledging the potential for a particular threat and I’m seeing in some cases ‘events drive change’ meaning the threat is only realised after it has happened.
If event organisers are serious about risk management then they will hire someone with the requisite skills and competency to assist with their risk management.