New CISA Guide: How to Check Bags to Lessen Threat of Attack at Venues

Venues need to ensure that employees and contractors are properly trained to search bags and spot potential accompanying suspicious behaviors or substances, states a new guide released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

The Public Venue Bag Search Procedures Guide applies to a variety of events with controlled access that can be targets for would-be attackers, including concerts, festivals, and sporting events. Training goals include education to deter people from bringing forbidden items, how to interact with patrons who are having their bags searched, how to properly conduct the bag search itself and identify or handle items of interest, and the proper response when a no-go item is confirmed in a bag search.

“Across the United States, people should expect that they will be safe and secure as they cheer on a favorite team at a sporting event, go shopping, attend a house of worship, study in school, dine out with family and friends, or any of a myriad of activities that bring them to public places,” said Assistant Director for Infrastructure Security Brian Harrell.

Training can include how to watch for people who may be trying to evade security checkpoints, how to recognize harmful substances such as bomb-making materials, how to coordinate a response among bag-checkers and potentially law enforcement if an item is discovered, how to converse with and indirectly question people in line who may be acting suspicious, how to deal with someone angry about their bag being searched, and how to respond quickly to an active assailant.

The guide encourages test runs to correct any bag-searching deficiencies before the event, and including law enforcement in the training process.

“Bag searches (and possible magnetometer screening where appropriate) are recommended for everyone entering the venue, regardless of whether it is an event or non-event day. This includes employees, contractors, team players and staff, performers, media and official guests, and ticket holders,” CISA stresses. “Venue bag search policies should be enforced throughout the entire event, from gate opening to gate closing after the event. Any influx of guests should not cause deviations in standard bag search procedures, and it is strongly recommended that bag searches be conducted regardless of wait time.”

The setup of the screening procedures, including the response to finding or removing items of interest, will be determined by the assessed threat level, expected attendance, number of security staff, and more. Venues can also considered a separate, quicker line for attendees not carrying bags — though “staff should also be alert for people potentially concealing prohibited items through ‘pocket stuffing.'”

“The procedures described in this guide are presented as options for consideration; they are not definitive, applicable in all circumstances, or required by any regulation or legislation,” Harrell said. “A facility’s owner, operations manager, or security director may at their discretion implement any or all of these options as deemed applicable.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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