Public gatherings have become targets for security threats and acts of violence in recent years. In the United States, attacks on schools, religious institutions and large events have spurred evaluations of organizational security posture.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)'s Region 8 shared strategies for securing public gatherings in a recent webinar. Security leaders at houses of worship, shopping centers, commercial facilities, schools, entertainment venues and more can follow these security strategies to protect attendees of public gatherings from threats.

Security threats and vulnerabilities of public events

CISA outlined some of the top threats to public gatherings, including:

  • Active shooter
  • Vehicle ramming
  • Insider threat
  • Edged weapon attacks
  • Improvised explosive devices (IEDs)
  • Small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS)
  • Chemical attacks

Common security vulnerabilities at public gatherings include open access; wide entrances and few exit options; poorly equipped security officers; and a lack of visibility and surveillance.

How to prevent security incidents

The common threats to and vulnerabilities of public gatherings can put attendees and event organizers at risk of harm. CISA recommended the following mitigation measures to prevent security incidents at large gatherings.

#1: Procedural security

Revising security plans and procedures on a regular basis can help security leaders prevent attacks. CISA noted the importance of access control, credentialing or ticketing, and crowd monitoring for large event security. Review emergency plans and ensure that all stakeholders — security staff, volunteers, organizational leadership and attendees — know what their responsibilities are in the event of an emergency. A focus on business continuity at the procedural stage can prevent interruptions in the wake of an incident.

#2: Physical security

When reviewing physical security at public gatherings, the security team's top priority should be establishing a perimeter, according to the webinar. Remote parking lots, protections against vehicle entry, and visitor screening are all critical measures security professionals can employ to protect gatherings from threats. For indoor facilities, such as schools or houses of worship, CISA recommends installing window and door locks and alarm systems to prevent and deter the entry of an assailant.

#3: Threat intelligence

To maintain a high level of situational awareness around a public gathering, security should partner with internal and external stakeholders for threat intelligence. Establishing a security-minded culture with nearby businesses and organizations can help communities rapidly alert one another to threats, and involving local law enforcement in large events can provide security teams with real-time information on potential incidents.