How Planning and Preparedness Saved 80,000 Lives

We all watched in horror last week as Paris suffered a tremendous tragedy when terrorists targeted innocent citizens in multiple locations across the city. People lost their lives as they were caught up in the evil cast by these ruthless extremists. Could this be a warning of how our society is changing? These events were suicide missions somberly exhibited by the self-induced deaths of a number of terrorists. The radicals struck nighttime places of entertainment—restaurants, bars, a concert hall, and a sports stadium. This is the enemy and it is extremely important to understand that they are willing to sacrifice their lives for their cause.

Of all the targeted locations, the stadium was the brass ring. The planned strike entailed three suicide bombers detonating explosives vests inside the venue where 80,000 people were cheering on a soccer game between France and Germany. Authorities have speculated this site was chosen because these two countries represent Western Christianity and the venue offered the potential for a high body count. The actions that security personnel took to prevent this attack contribute to a textbook example of how security planning and emergency preparedness can save lives.

If You Can’t Control Access, You Can’t Control Anything 

You can have every bell, whistle, and the latest, greatest, cutting edge, state-of-the-art, innovative, protective security countermeasure or risk mitigation tool in the world, and none of them will be effective in protecting your venue if you cannot control access. The definitive access control strategy is a disciplined, thorough, and comprehensive approach to filtering all personnel, assets, services, and equipment seeking entry into the site. This paradigm applies to everyone and everything—from employees, part-time workers, and general public to vehicles, mail, and deliveries to drones, helicopters, and unauthorized aircraft. It all begins and ends with controlling access.

The Importance of Gatekeepers

A suicide bomber tried to enter the stadium 15 minutes after the match started. The security officer at the gate followed established protocol to conduct pat downs before allowing access. This security measure prompted the terrorist to back away from the gate and detonate a bomb wrapped with hundreds of nails. The terrorist was killed along with one passerby. About 10 minutes later, another suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest outside another gate, killing only himself. Approximately 20 minutes later, a third terrorist detonated an explosive device outside the stadium, blowing himself up but no one else. Security did its job and prevented what could have been a mind-numbing tragedy.   

Lockdown and Shelter-In-Place

Following the three explosions, the authorities responsible for securing the stadium and protecting its occupants needed to make some critical decisions under tremendous pressure. They decided to keep everyone inside the facility and not allow anyone to leave, determining that the stadium was the safest place to be considering the events in downtown Paris at the time. The people were eventually allowed to leave hours later, but the German soccer team decided to spend most of the night on the field. Mattresses were made available and the team slept inside the stadium until transportation could be arranged for travel to the airport. The site of what could have been one of the most horrific terrorist events in history ended up as a safe haven for a city under siege. 

After Action and Lessons Learned

Professionals in law enforcement, fire, emergency medical, emergency management, and security all advocate learning lessons from real world events. The best example is an After Action Report that assesses security and emergency management plans and documents what went right and what could have been done better. What was done right at the stadium:

1) Searching and screening (pat downs at the gate)

2) Access control (preventing the terrorists from entering)

3) Shelter-in-place (80,000 people kept inside the stadium out of harm’s way)

Lives were saved by the brave individuals responsible for safeguarding the stadium who demonstrated great leadership and decision making in the face of unfathomable adversity.