Government event security

In our May newsletter I opened with commentary on the tragic events that occurred in Christchurch on the 15th March and referred specifically that our “she’ll be right” attitude towards security left us vulnerable to some form of attack and that it was only a matter of time before terrorism found its way to New Zealand. I also commented on the challenge for government, and other parties such as the security industry, to create a more risk aware society where security becomes an important consideration across our every-day lives, but without significantly impeding the social freedoms that New Zealanders enjoy and value.

I was recently invited by the office of the Defence Minister, Ron Mark, to attend the launch of the New Zealand Government’s Defence Assessment “Advancing Pacific Partnerships”. The event was held at our national museum, Te Papa, and attended by a number of government ministers, ambassadors and senior ranking officials from New Zealand and Pacific defence agencies.

Prior to attending the launch the thought crossed my mind as to the level of security that would need to be extended to such an event. Given the media exposure of the launch, the iconic venue (Te Papa), the political subject topic (defence in the Pacific) and the profile of the attendees, my expectation was for a very visible security presence with a requirement for identity verification and the probability of screening similar to what is the norm at domestic airport check-in.

The reality however was very different and left me somewhat exasperated and disappointed at the example being set by lead government agencies and with the feeling that lessons haven’t been learnt.

I arrived at the venue a few minutes early and at the same time as two others who were both casually dressed (the dress standard was service dress or suit equivalent). I was carrying a small overnight bag and one of the others carried a large case which I later observed contained electronic filming and recording equipment. The in-house security officer at the entry was engaged in discussion with a tourist and waved us to go inside where we were met at reception and asked if we were attending the launch. On confirming we were, we were given directions to the meeting room on level four. When we arrived at the meeting room the two persons I was with said they were with the media and were allowed straight into the room – I was asked my name and when they couldn’t find it on the guest list, my details were promptly entered by hand and I was let through.

Whilst I am aware that there is extensive camera coverage throughout the Te Papa facility, there was no form of identity check, bags were not searched or screened and attendees were unescorted whilst on site, yet this was an event that even the most basic risk assessment would have identified as being of significant risk.

Unfortunately those who we would expect to lead by example, and staff who work for them, are often negligent in their own knowledge of security awareness and it is my concern that it will only be a matter of time before we experience another terrorism-related tragedy.

To exacerbate matters, there was no form of health and safety induction or message what-so-ever!!

Gary Morrison