SEATTLE — Whether it’s an upcoming summer music festival, a Seahawks game this fall or a concert at the Tacoma Dome, security experts say don’t stop going out, but consider changing how you go out.
“Get out there, go do your thing,” said Jeff Slotnick, who runs a security strategy and risk assessment company called Setracon. He says suicide bombing like the one at the Ariana Grande in Manchester, England, should not make you afraid; instead, it should make you vigilant.
“If we stop going to venues, if we stop going out, if we stay in a protective bubble that’s not good either — and the terrorist and criminals win.”
When Slotnick goes to events with his family he makes sure everyone is on the same page.
"My first question is do you know how to get back to our car in case of an emergency? Or if we get separated, don't worry I will wait for you there until you get there."
Slotnick says often in emergencies, cell phone calls won't go connect, but he says things like text (or SMS) messaging, tweets or updating Facebook take less bandwidth and can often work in an emergency. He says just make sure everyone is using the same system -- it's just one of the many steps to plan ahead for those worst-case scenarios.
"If this were to happen, what would I do?" asks Slotnick. "If there was an earthquake, what would I do? If there were an active shooter, if there's a bombing?"
For more than a decade, Slotnick has been in the security consulting business. He's paid to think about worst-case scenarios and come with best responses to the most horrific "what-ifs" a person could imagine. Slotnick says being ready in a large event space means things like checking out a map of the venue before you even set foot inside, taking note of the emergency exits once you get to your seat.
Luckily, Slotnick says local law enforcement already follows best practices outside and around large event in the Seattle area. He gives the example of many streets closed around Seahawks and Mariners games and many officers both in and out of uniform mingling through the crowds. But, both he and Seattle police agree the missing piece of the puzzle is often the public itself.
"It's a thousand eyes versus just a few dozen," says Assistant Seattle Police Chief Robert
Merner, who was part of the Boston Police Department during the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. "If there's something that makes you say 'hmmm', we want to know about it."
Merner says too often the public doesn't speak up, he says the public needs to be part of the solution when it comes to what security experts call "soft targets", which are places or events are relatively unprotected or vulnerable, especially to military or terrorist attack.
"People need to understand that they have a responsibility too," says Slotnick.
He says each of us being aware of our surroundings is a key component to everyone staying safe at large events. "And if I see something, if something doesn't make me feel right, if somebody's activity and behaviors cause me concern. [You should] trust that instinct." He says things like an unattended backpack or odd behavior are all things that might warrant calling authorities. But often, people don't.
"A lot of people are afraid to use [that instinct], they're afraid of being wrong. They're afraid of burdening law enforcement. Let me be the one to say 'burden law enforcement', make that call."
Slotnick says people noticing things thwarted many attempted attacks, including one right here in Washington state when utility workers noticed an explosive device near Martin Luther King festivities in Spokane several few years ago.
Q13 News contacted large Puget Sound venues from the Seattle Center to the state fair to the
Tacoma Dome if they'd be changing their tactics or security proceedings around large events. The ones that got back to us in time for this report mirror the statement from the Tacoma Dome:
"The safety and security of our guests, performers and employees has always been our utmost priority," says the written statement. "In February 2016, the Tacoma Dome introduced security measures that include metal detectors at all entrances and size restrictions for bags. Backpacks remain prohibited and all bags are subject to search. We will continue to work with local and federal authorities and security experts to remain vigilant in providing a safe environment at events."
Security at large events seems to be a constantly evolving process -- as those that would do harm are always looking for new ways to inflict both damage and terror. Seattle Police tells Q13 News that they already do their best to clear crowds from large events as quickly as possible.
Merner says there's often what he called 'a sigh of relief' as an event is finally over -- but he says while people often trickle into an event -- there's often a surge of people that will leave when they leave a venue. So, that's an area where security best practices could be looked at and perhaps some improvements going forward.
For the rest of us, Slotnick says, staying calm in an emergency is a key component. The bomber in Manchester exploited a vulnerability at the end of the Ariana Grande concert. But, despite the fact that the threat was outside the venue -- many people rushed outside anyway. He says staying alert but calm can allow you to rationally evaluate the threats and dangers around you. Since the bomb was outside the concert hall in Manchester, perhaps sheltering in place might have been the best option.