In 2017, a night that was supposed to be a dream come true for fans of pop star Ariana Grande turned into a nightmare when a terrorist attack claimed the lives of 22 concert goers and their family members, and injured over 1000 more in Manchester, UK. The perpetrator turned out to be a local to the area who was able to carry out the attack easily, despite attempts by members of his community to get police to look into the potential radicalization of him and others. Following the tragedy, investigations turned up missteps taken by security at the arena that night, and safety measures for large scale events were forever changed. We can learn a great deal from this misfortune about protection from and prevention of attacks like this in the future.
To understand the Manchester Arena Bombing, it’s important to get a grasp on physical elements that affected its outcome. For instance, the arena itself is extremely large– at 21,000 seats it is the largest indoor venue in the UK. It has full, 360-degree seating across multiple levels, as well as a large open foyer. The attack took place after the concert had ended, so guests were streaming out of exits, as well as waiting in the foyer, where the bomb actually exploded. At the sound, guests panicked, unsure of where the danger was. Those caught up in the blast found themselves surrounded by strangers, unable find loved ones, tell who was injured, or even understand what had just happened.
The bombing itself was carried out by a Manchester local who built his own explosive device using nuts and bolts to serve as shrapnel. The blast was powerful enough to kill anyone within 66 feet of the attacker, who killed himself in the process. So, the question becomes, how did an attacker with a bomb large enough to harm anyone in such a large radius manage to get into the arena unseen? Well, the upsetting truth is that he was seen, and reported, but nothing was done to intercept him. The first report came from a civilian, who noticed the attacker wandering in dark clothing with a large rucksack on. They went to arena security, who did nothing. Next, a young security officer also noticed the soon-to-be-attacker, and registered his suspicious clothing and behavior, but didn’t approach him out of fear of being wrong. Although he himself didn’t confront the mysterious man, he did attempt to radio the security control room, but the office was unresponsive. Five minutes later, the bomb detonated.
Knowing how things went down moments before the explosion, the flaws in the Manchester Arena’s security protocol become glaringly obvious. However, these flaws can serve as examples of what can happen when a security team goes against their better judgement. Starting with the initial report by the civilian, security officers should take every report as seriously as possible. Encouraging civilians to report suspicious behavior can be immensely helpful when it comes to preventing emergencies, because they effectively act as thousands of pairs of extra eyes, covering areas security teams may not be able to access at all times.
Next, the young security officer who did not engage the attacker stated that he was worried about being wrong, and appearing racist, as the attacker was of Libyan decent. However, we can see that this fear was unfounded based on the suspicious activity that stood out to the officer in the first place. A man dressed head to toe in dark clothing is not itself suspicious; however, this man at the concert of a pop star, popular with young girls and known for her bright, feminine colors would certainly be out of place. Understanding the context of different environments is key when it comes to identifying suspicious activity. This logic can be applied again when we consider that the man was carrying a large rucksack, something that would not be necessary for a concert. Sometimes, the safest option is to go against base worries of being incorrect, relying on your training to help you correctly identify threats. Lastly, the young officer’s inability to contact the main security office points to a flaw in technology. It is important to make sure that all technology systems are up-to-date and working through frequent checks and tests, to prevent lapses in communication like this.
The Manchester Arena Bombing served as a sobering reminder of what can happen when security protocol is ignored or flawed. By using it as an example, we can remind ourselves of what can and should be done when we encounter suspicious activities or people, and fall back on our training and basic instincts to ensure we are protecting others at all costs.
Manchester Arena. Image: Wikipedia
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