Law enforcement discusses soft targets, ACL security

Preventing attacks on 'soft targets'

In less than two weeks, hundreds of thousands of concert-goers are expected to pack Zilker Park for Austin City Limits, one of the most popular music events in the country. 

And while they'll be there to see some of the world's biggest acts , security officials will have a much different task at hand - keeping hundreds of thousands of people safe. 

In light of terror attacks in Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York - law enforcement says they're prepared to handle the influx of visitors to Austin. 

"Every weekend is a mini-special event downtown. We barricade the roads every Thursday, Friday, Saturday night from Red River to Brazos Street in the 5 and 600 block," explained Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Chris McIlvain. 

Local law enforcement works with regional and federal authorities when determining threat assessments for major events.  

"Is anybody targeting this event via online or social media-wise, or are (other agencies) hearing anything from any other venues. And any possible threats that are identified, we start working them from every angle to try to determine if there's any validity to it. And adjusting our overall security plan as needed. So that has already begun. And as we get closer toy the event that will ramp up to where we're constantly monitoring 24/7," explained Chief McIlvain. 

While there will be security and law enforcement present over the two-weekend festival, Assistant Chief McIlvain stressed their biggest asset is the public. 

"Our greatest force multiplier is the public. We can only do so much. We only have so many officers. We do as much as we can with the resources we can," Asst. Chief McIlvain explained. 

With that in mind, he encouraged people to speak up should they see anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. 

"When we're dealing with these lone-wolf, homegrown violent extremist types that - again if they're not on our radar, it really comes down to somebody seeing something that just doesn't look right. Middle of the summer, and you're wearing a long coat. That's out of place," said Asst. Chief McIlvain. 

Fred Burton is the Vice President of Counterintelligence at Stratfor, an Austin-based global intelligence firm. In his opinion, the major events that Austin attracts on a regular basis are putting a strain on law enforcement resources. 

"I think the city has grown so fast that public safety is behind the curve, we're not ramped up to where we need to be," explained Burton.

With that in mind, he added that there is only so much law enforcement can do in certain situations. 

"The ability for the police or public safety to protect every potential soft target doesn't exist.," explained Burton. 

Burton pointed to the 2014 SXSW drunk-driving crash deaths and this summer's attack in Nice, France - where a terrorist drove through a crowded street, killing 86 people, including two Lakeway residents

"If you look at the damage done by that drunk driver, and compare and contrast that to the damage done by the terrorist in France, that's the kind of scenario that becomes very, very difficult to mitigate," explained Burton.

In response to the SXSW accident, APD fortified barricades around the event.

With so many major acts performing, it's not uncommon for artists and bands to bring their own security detail.  Burton said they often work alongside local law enforcement. 

"They usually are (on the same page).  What you'll find in the private security realm, or the executive protection realm, is that you'll have former police officers or federal agents like myself that have done executive protection for a celebrity. And typically they will interface with for example the Austin Police Department on visits. And in some cases, you will get off-duty police officers that help that can facilitate and work on the logistics and make sure that that celebrity is not going to be attacked when they're on stage or at their hotel," explained Burton. 

Dr. Pete Blair is the Executive Director of ALERRT, Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training.  He says they study and review attacks throughout the world when training their officers. 

"We are constantly looking at events that happen to see what lessons we can learn from those events. And almost every event we look at, there's something that could be taken from that event that can be plugged into the training that we provide. So our training is constantly evolving, constantly changing as the threat is changing and evolving," explained Dr. Blair. 

He added that he is expecting extra security at Austin City Limits, and echoed Asst. Chief McIlvain's plea to be aware of their surroundings. 

"If they see something that's out of the ordinary, they should report it immediately, even if they're not sure about it. The other thing is for them to be aware of where the exits are, where they would get out of a location in case something was to happen. And lastly, if you hear something that could be gunfire, treat it as if it is gunfire and move away from it as quickly as you can. Do it safely.  Don't stampede, don't rush, but start moving away toward those exits rather than waiting to find out if it's something else," said Dr. Blair. 

For a list of prohibited items at Austin City Limits, click here.

(© 2016 KVUE)


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