Staying safe at Christmas markets

by Mark Rowe

Combining more than ten years’ experience as an emergencies and counter terrorist planning officer at Police Scotland with his current role as the founder and managing director of incident management software firm Raven Controls, Ian Kerr, pictured, offers advice on how to keep Christmas events safe.

Few gatherings can match the excitement of a Christmas market in full-swing: the warm glow of the lights, the enticing smell of the mince pies, and the excited laughter of children on the fairground rides. A Christmas market may put smiles on the faces of families, but the challenges of staging such festive celebrations are causing increasing headaches for their organisers.

While the threat of a terrorist attack may be the fear that keeps organisers awake at night, the risk of such a threat should also be kept in proportion with more common problems, such as slips, falls and bad weather. As the number of Christmas events around the UK continues to grow, it’s those minor but more common risks that will create challenges to maintaining safety.

The number of Christmas markets in the UK has snowballed from just 30 a decade ago to more than 100, according to recent figures from the Local Government Association. The number of visitors attending these events is enormous, with some cities recording between four and five million visits.

Thankfully, there are practical steps that organisers can take to ensure that, should the worst happen, their staff are prepared and able to react quickly. Organisers should consult Action Counter Terrorism (ACT), the UK government’s counter-terrorism policing campaign. ACT provides online training for organisations to enable them to plan and minimise the impact of current terror threats.

For Christmas, the campaign has focused on getting businesses to evaluate their contingency arrangements by having them create 60-second security plans. Focussing on improving staff reactions in an emergency scenario, these plans require organisations to ensure that all of their staff know the answers to the following questions:

Who is appointed to make decisions on the shop floor, and do they know what they’re doing?
How do you enter and exit the building in emergency?
How do you lock down quickly?
Where can you hide?
How do you communicate and how do you stay updated if you find yourself in a Run, Hide and Tell (RHT) scenario?
Have you briefed your staff?
All organisers should also be aware of the current ‘Run, Hide and Tell’ guidance, which has been issued by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office. Encouraging those trapped in a terror scenario to “run” to the nearest escape, or to “hide” if this is not safe, before they then “tell” the emergency services, this advice can save lives and organisers should ensure that all event staff are clear on it.

Yet terror is not the biggest threat facing these events. Organisers should show equal concern to issues such as severe weather and missing people, which are more likely to occur at a Christmas market or light switch-on.

To ensure events are prepared for these incidents, it’s crucial that tools and processes are in place which join up communication and ensure that all parties across the incident management network are kept in the loop with real time information. Technical solutions can help achieve this, allowing multiple agents on the ground to report incidents back to a central control room or members of the incident control network, such as security teams or the emergency services.

But, good communication is also essential for these technical solutions to be used to their full potential. Educating relevant staff on who to contact and how to report incidents is crucial to ensuring quick response times and that all information is available to decision makers so that the best course of action is taken.

Having an appropriate and considered response for different scenarios should also be a focus for event organisers. Realising, for example, that different responses are needed for say a fall to an attack is crucial and organisers should ensure that staff understand and have access to these appropriate responses. Digitising processes and having this information available in a shared, mobile-accessible digital location ensures staff remain in the field and deliver quick, effective action for a range of scenarios.

Organisers should also invest in their staff. While security features and equipment are necessary, it’s important to realise that these only exist to support the work of security and incident control staff. It may be tempting to scrimp on staff and the other security basics for the latest and greatest in security tech, however, this can be a recipe for disaster.

Organisers should work on the basics and make sure that they have them down to a tee. Staff are an organisation’s greatest asset so it is essential that organisers make sure that they understand and can fully carry out their roles. Creating a capable security and incident management team gives organisers a fantastic platform to build on and enables them to figure out what additional security measures are needed to keep their event safe

Plan well in advance and consult partner organisations such as the emergency services, local authorities and transport operators. Having an open channel allowing these organisations to communicate with one another ensures that everyone involved in event delivery is on the same page and that staff and customers are kept safe.

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