Large public events, being high population density venues with significant politico-social importance, are highly vulnerable to CBRN terrorism. A terrorist attack involving the use of CBRN materials, could inflict large numbers of casualties and would represent a major incident for the emergency services. Administration and response forces could get overwhelmed unless proper planning and preparations are made.

Peculiarities of High Visibility Events. Large public events like International and National level sporting events, socio-cultural extravaganzas, public/political rallies and religious events, where people gather in huge numbers, are high priority targets for CBRN threats. Such events are characterized by the following peculiarities:

  • Multiple locations – dispersal of assets
  • Each venue may have multiple entry and exits
  • Some venues may be open air or in buildings
  • Crowd management – prior, during and after the event
  • Traffic management – prior, during and after the event
  • Euphoria Vs Caution – Iconic branding – huge media value
  • Multi agency security – issues of coordination and synergy

Planning for CBRN Security at Large Events

CBRN threats should be properly identified and emphasised in the terrorist threat assessment, risk analysis and counter-terrorism strategy for the event. Deliberate study of the event peculiarities, socio-political importance and impact of a CBRN incident will help formulate the best plan for securing the venues against CBRN threats. However, one best practice applies across the board: use a formal, three-phase planning process, with timelines and accountability built into each phase.

  • Pre-Event Planning: Phase I usually begins 6 to 12 months before the event. It involves the lead agency receiving authorization from its local governing body, establishing its mission, reaching out to collaborate with partners to help secure the event, meeting regularly with team members and partners, and developing detailed security plans and contingency plans.
  • Managing Security during the Event: Phase II begins just before spectators, officials, crowds, media, and others assemble at the event sites. Tasks include comprehensive communications monitoring; reporting; and ensuring that key operations are functioning properly, such as the communications command center, credentialing, and access control posts. This also includes checking the readiness of mobile response forces to deal with crowd control, intelligence support, arrest processing and emergency medical services (EMS)/medical support.
  • Post Event Activities: The final phase, which begins when the event is over, includes conducting a comprehensive review of successes, lessons learned, and areas needing improved security. It also involves accounting for all equipment and other resources.

CBRN Security Paradigm

To beat the myriad CBRN Security challenges, it would be prudent to follow a proven model. Over the years guidance, standards and policies have changed, but the universally valid paradigm is as enumerated below:

  • Realistic and holistic Threat Analysis and Vulnerability Assessment (TAVA) will lead to maximising and optimising value of networked threat detection, existing infrastructure operations, security systems and personnel resources.
  • Developing a CBRN Security Concept and Plan. Based on threat evaluation, incident strategies, objectives and response tactics are developed in the incident action plan.
  • In order to synergise efforts and optimally control personnel and resources, preparation of the venue, Site Preparedness and setting up of an Incident Command must be ensured.
  • Timely and accurate information flow to all stake holders is of paramount importance for optimal response. It is necessary to establish and maintain formal communications to share information, support the chain of command, and ensure unity of command while identifying and requesting appropriate resources needed to accomplish the objectives. Appropriate data management systems working to develop a Common Operating Picture are required.
  • Comprehensive and common equipping (type and quantity) and adequately trained manpower for CBRN Security. Conduct of mock exercises and table top exercises will provide realistic training to stake holders.
  • Controlled and structured exit and evacuation plan from the affected area through pre-identified holding spaces, secure exits, transportation logistics and isolation/segregation of victims call for meticulous planning and effective crowd control measures.
  • While life saving measures are of utmost importance, mitigation techniques such as damage assessment, mass decontamination and detoxification, clean up, disposal and rehabilitation are areas of focus. Casualty decontamination is an often neglected area.
  • Awareness Generation: It is imperative to enhance awareness about CBRN Threats, response and mitigation measures to a wide stratum of stakeholders. This will assist in crowd management during events.

Response Plan.  A key part of CBRN Incident planning at major special events involves developing a synergised response plan to hazmat situations. The plan should cover all resources that may be available to local law enforcement with respect to equipment, training and inter agency capabilities. The importance of intelligence cannot be over emphasised (information on sales or thefts of chemicals and other bomb-making materials, and on truck thefts and rentals). Multiagency response needs operational interoperability. Operational interoperability needs to be instituted through:

  • shared ethos (of what matters most)
  • common doctrine (a common set of operating principals or guidance)
  • unified command (clarity of who is in charge of what, when and where)
  • compatible and reliable communication systems
  • shared language (that ensure common understanding in pressurised operating environments)
  • common equipment and standards of professional practice

Optimal use of technology must be made to cover all areas. There should be continuous monitoring of the venues and vigilant searches for suspicious/abandoned items should be carried out. Plain-clothes CBRN specialists should mix with the crowds whilst undertaking their work without raising public paranoia.


Ease of movement across porous borders allows terrorists to slip into our societies and exploit our openness to inflict massive attacks. The possibility of CBRN terrorism during large high visibility events is potent. Large events are a security nightmare. We need to be extra vigilant and fully prepared to prevent and deter, and if faced with, respond to CBRN terrorism incidents.

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Dr. Ram Athavale has been a key advisor to the Government of India on CBRN Security and Incident Management, and is now deployed as a key CBRN Expert for On-Site Technical Assistance to the EU CBRN Risk Mitigation Centres of Excellence Regional Secretariat in Nairobi Kenya.