Protecting the fans should be the goal of every stadium

With a track record of dealing with hard to manage crowds, large volumes of people and significant safety risks, stadiums are often ahead of the curve when it comes to crowd safety and venue security. But threats, vulnerabilities and risks change, along with the events for which stadiums cater, the facilities that need to be protected and, of course, the people attending those facilities. Consequently, it is vital that stadiums regularly take stock of their safety and security requirements and take action to address them.

A recent Crowdguard project at Aston Villa FC’s stadium, Villa Park, provides an excellent example. The stadium itself has a robust protection strategy in place, but the football club has recently created a new fan zone for home games, which falls within the perimeter of the stadium’s grounds, but outside the protection of the stadium. The fan zone is available to Aston Villa fans three hours before each match, during the match and for two hours afterwards, so during this time, pedestrians need to be able to access the area easily, while vehicular access must be prevented and fans – potentially thousands of them – need to be protected from errant vehicles and vehicle as a weapon attacks.

Following the football club’s risk assessment, our team provided expertise and advice, specifying the ATG Surface Guard hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) system to provide the level of protection and flexibility needed for the fan zone. Vehicle access plates have been included in the installation to enable vehicles to move freely in the area for maintenance and delivery at times when the fan zone is not in use. On match days, this provision will also allow rapid access should blue light services be required.

Building this type of flexibility into stadium safety and security is important because it enables the installation to remain in place for the entire football season, while adapting to different safety and operational requirements at different times during that period. Stadiums, after all, are commercial businesses and workplaces, as well as venues, so the HVM specification needs to consider how effective safety and security will dovetail with every-day practicalities. At Villa Park, for example, the flexibility of the Surface Guard system means that the fan zone could be used to generate footfall – and income – for the stadium during the FIFA World Cup later this year, or as a venue for other events within the ground. And, because it is surface-mounted, it could even be reconfigured or adapted with the addition of other systems, which our team could advise on if required.

Our project at Aston Villa not only showcases how we are working with stadium management teams to help them balance their safety duty of care with security risks and operational requirements, it also highlights trends in the industry. From fan zones and match day events, through to corporate bookings, use as a live music venue, and even temporary health screening facilities, stadiums are diverse businesses that often attract large crowds. They also occupy a huge footprint and have multiple access points, so their risk factors are complex and constantly changing.

Whether it is to protect the main stadium or other facilities within the stadium’s grounds, any stadium security project should begin with a threats, vulnerabilities and risk assessment (TVRA), along with a briefing on the stadium’s operational and commercial requirements, to establish the right solution or combination of solutions.

Vehicle as a weapon attacks are now the most prevalent terrorist tactic, with the potential to cause mass casualties very quickly, so HVM protection has an important role to play in protecting the stadium’s most important assets – the fans. Often the measures taken to protect fans, and customers for other events, show an appreciation of vulnerabilities but do not adequately safeguard against risk. For example, cones my aid crowd management but they provide no protection against vehicles. Meanwhile, the use of HGVs to create a barrier for road closures surrounding the ground is not an IWA-14-1 rated solution, so it is not insured and puts both the driver and pedestrians at risk, as the force of a vehicle attack could make this type of barrier part of the weapon.

Conversely, an IWA-14-1 rated HVM solution, designed specifically in response to a TVRA, provides effective protection of people and property. Our installations are underwritten by Crowdguard, providing full assurance that the protection is effective, fit for purpose and insurable.

At Crowdguard, we not only ensure the solutions we provide enhance safety; we also focus on practical benefits. For stadiums that need rapid deployment of rated protection on a temporary basis, our RB50 system may be the most appropriate solution. Taking only five minutes to deploy a 4m array it is almost always deployed ‘as tested’ and configured as 4m arrays with 1.2 metre gaps, so it is completely pedestrian permeable while preventing vehicle as a weapon attacks or errant vehicle incidents.

For more long-term, yet flexible protection, Surface Guard is often the ideal answer and this provides the added benefit of enabling customisation. Both the Surface Guard and The Claw HVM systems within the Crowdguard portfolio offer stadium management teams the opportunity to recoup the cost of safety protection in advertising revenues, with The Claw providing a 3m banner display. Alternatively, this customisation can be used for wayfinding or information displays. Or, for a semi-permanent option, the Unafor Core is ideal, with minimal shallow mount civils works that enable rapid deployment of IWA-14-1 HVM posts to allow a protected fan zone as and when required.

We are still awaiting the draft UK Protect Duty legislation that will formalise mandatory guidance for stadiums and other organisations responsible for gatherings of large crowds. We may not have the legislation, but the principles it addresses can already be actioned with the right expert advice and robust solutions.