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Man United’s bomb scare – where did it all go wrong?

Last weekend saw 50,000 fans evacuated from Old Trafford following a security blunder, which left what appeared to be an explosive device in the stadium’s toilets. The device was only a training tool, but the necessary precautions that followed included a controlled explosion to remove it and any potential threat. This, combined with refunded ticket sales and re-organising the match, means that the club is now facing costs of up to £3 million. So where did it all go wrong?

The security company in charge – Security Search Management & Solutions (SSMS) – had mistakenly logged the item as ‘found’ when carrying out the training exercise. They packed up the van and headed off, safe in the assumption that any items used during training had been recalled. Sniffer dogs on-site didn’t detect the device because there were no actual explosives, leaving only human error to blame.

I find it astonishing that this was the case. In such a high-risk environment, surely there’s a more sophisticated method than doing a quick count?

Well, of course, there is! In fact, any number of relatively low-cost solutions could have worked as a back-up to the people and processes that were in place; this would have automatically highlighted the failure to collect the errant device, and could even have given its location.

One simple, inexpensive solution lies with passive RFID stock tags (like those that loudly shame you on leaving a shop after the assistant fails to remove it from your purchase). A low-cost, stand-alone RFID reader in the van linked to a phone or tablet app would have given the security firm in question a binary check – confirming each individually tagged and identified item was either in or out of the van.

Requiring only marginally more investment and effort, the company could also have fitted a wirelessly rechargeable GPS / Wi-Fi / GSM tracker beacon to each device. Then, using a tracking-panel app on a smartphone or tablet, each device could be instantly found and accounted for pretty much anywhere in the area, or indeed anywhere in the world.

Between these two extremes are a range of options including Bluetooth beacons and Wi-Fi locator tags that each have their merits and limitations according to budget and application.

Of course, the beauty of hindsight is a wonderful thing. But in this case, I can’t help feeling that a little bit of “IoT” technology would have gone a long way.

With an urgent enquiry currently underway, hopefully, this is a suggestion that will be put in place moving forward.


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