National Approach for the Protection of Places of Mass Gathering from Terrorism


The National Counter-Terrorism Committee (NCTC) has recognised the need to ensure a nationally consistent approach to the protection of places of mass gathering is taken by all Australian jurisdictions when addressing the threat of terrorism.

At the May 2005 NCTC meeting it was agreed that the national approach would be established through an NCTC member’s working group, with appropriate assistance from the Mass Gatherings Infrastructure Assurance Advisory Group and the

Australian Local Government Association.


Places of mass gathering are an attractive target for terrorists. By their very nature, these places normally encourage access for the general public with a minimum of security controls. This presents terrorists with various potential opportunities for mass casualties, symbolism, high impact imagery and economic loss.

All jurisdictions have robust and well tested arrangements for the planning and management of major and specific events. However, determining which places of mass gathering are at higher risk is not an easy task given the sheer number and variations of such places, and the limited security resources available. Once identified, they further present the challenge of what consistent risk mitigation strategies to develop and implement.

This document has been developed to ensure a nationally consistent approach is taken by all Australian jurisdictions in the development of their own guidelines for the protection of places of mass gathering from terrorism. The approach supports a systematic process identifying security risk management activities which can be

integrated into existing jurisdictional emergency management arrangements. It provides a basis for:

  • identifying places of mass gathering that are vulnerable to the threat of terrorism
  • risk management arrangements associated with this threat, based on the roles and responsibilities shared amongst all private and public stakeholders.


Places of mass gathering are characterised by the concentration of people on a predictable basis, in venues or precincts that are open or enclosed. Identification of places of mass gathering for the purpose of this document is based on risk and not on any arbitrary numerical threshold.

Given the pervasive threat to a diverse range of targets, the identification of places of mass gathering cannot be precise. Places of mass gathering at risk from terrorism

may include but are not limited to:

  • sporting venues
  • shopping complexes/open air markets
  • business precincts
  • tourism and entertainment venues/attractions
  • cultural facilities
  • hotels and convention centres
  • public transport hubs, and
  • major planned events.

The identification of places of mass gathering potentially at risk from terrorism should be informed by the current security context.

Security context

The Current Security Context for mass gatherings is provided by ASIO and is at Annexure A.

Places of mass gathering are potential targets for terrorist attack, particularly in larger cities, as they may satisfy the following criteria:

  • provide opportunity for attack in terms of
  • accessibility and vulnerability
  • cause high-impact imagery likely to be
  • generated by an attack
  • have high symbolic value
  • have consequences in terms of mass casualties,
  • economic impact and public anxiety in the
  • broader community.

By concentrating large numbers of people at high density in accessible places, at regular or predictable times, mass gatherings present the opportunity for terrorists to inflict mass casualties, cause economic damage, and instil public fear.

Places of mass gathering, or the events themselves, may have symbolic value, or be representative of Western culture. Furthermore, any terrorist attack against a place of mass gathering would generate considerable media interest.


The national approach is based on the following principles:

  • Counter-terrorism preparedness for places of mass gathering focuses on the protection and safety of people.
  • All levels of government contribute to the prevention, preparedness, response and recovery from a terrorist incident.
  • Event managers and owners and operators of places of mass gathering are responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure the protection and safety of people.
  • Prevention and preparedness arrangements for protection from terrorism are underpinned by an intelligence led, risk management approach.
  • Security arrangements for places of mass gathering recognise the dynamic nature of the terrorist threat and are responsive to changes in the security environment.
  • Effective security outcomes in complex mass gathering environments require cooperation and coordination between all stakeholders.

Note: Security at public transport hubs is considered more specifically under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Surface Transport Security.

Process for engaging with places of mass gathering at risk from terrorism

The national approach relies on an active business–government partnership. This partnership will be achieved through three principal methods of engagement based on an intelligence led, risk management process.

  • Guided self assessment: All owners and operators of places of mass gathering have an obligation to consider the risk of terrorism in their security and emergency planning processes.
  • Governments will make available tools through which owners and  operators can self assess the risk of terrorism to their operation.
  • Top down: Intelligence led advice will be provided to owners and operators when relevant.
  • Bottom up: Responses to enquiries from industry/owners and operators about the threat of terrorism to their operations will be provided.

Risk management in the current environment

The Australian and New Zealand Standard for Risk Management (AS/NZS 4360:2004) is the standard by which all places of mass gathering will be assessed. In accordance with AS/NZS 4360, it is first necessary to establish the strategic context for actual and potential threats. In the current security environment, all security risk assessment processes should consider terrorism in all its forms. Refer to Current Terrorism Context for mass gathering at Annexure A.

Following completion of an assessment, the development of appropriate security and on-site emergency management plans may be an appropriate treatment strategy. Additionally owners and operators should engage with state/territory and local governments regarding recovery issues.

Roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders in the protection of places of mass gathering

Role of the Australian Government

The Australian Government has responsibility to:

  • communicate relevant intelligence and information to state and territory government stakeholders
  • participate in the promulgation of a nationally consistent approach to the protection of places of mass gatherings
  • where relevant, liaise with and support state and territory governments in providing security and protective arrangements for places of mass gatherings
  • assist industry through peak bodies and advisory groups as appropriate (see section on TISN – p4)
  • coordinate the establishment of a task force for major events where Australian Government action is required, and
  • manage and coordinate public information and the media at a national level.

Role of state and territory governments

State and territory governments have responsibility to:

  • provide leadership and whole-of-government coordination in implementing the nationally consistent approach for the protection of places of mass gathering by providing owners and operators with jurisdictionally or otherwise developed guidance material
  • where relevant liaise with the Australian Government on mass gathering protection arrangements
  • communicate relevant information through jurisdictionally agreed arrangements
  • manage and coordinate public information and the media within the jurisdiction.

Role of state and territory police

Where appropriate, state and territory police have responsibility to:

  • assist in the provision of protective security information to event organisers and owners and operators of places of mass gathering and develop protective security strategies to counter terrorism
  • provide guidance to event organisers and owners and operators of places of mass gathering regarding security arrangements, and
  • advise event organisers and owners and operators of places of mass gathering of relevant threat information, in accordance with jurisdictional arrangements.

Role of National Counter-Terrorism Committee

The NCTC (senior representatives from relevant Australian Government agencies and First Ministers’ departments and police from each jurisdiction) has responsibility to promote the protection of places of mass gathering in a manner consistent with broader counter-terrorism arrangements.

Role of local government

  • Provide local leadership and community based coordination in promoting the nationally consistent approach to the security and protection of places of mass gathering at the local level, and
  • Promote the importance of security and protection at places of mass gathering within local communities.

Role of owners and operators of places of mass gathering and event organisers

Owners and operators of places of mass gathering and event organisers have responsibility to:

  • identify and where appropriate implement suitable controls to remove or minimise risks associated with terrorism as part of their risk management planning process in accordance with Risk Management Standard, AS/NZS 4360:2004
  • liaise with local government and police
  • conduct a review and exercise of risk management plans to ensure terrorism threats are incorporated
  • participate in any exercises to test plans conducted by government authorities, and
  • report any incidents or suspicious activity to state or territory police or to the National Security Hotline.

Role of the Trusted Information Sharing Network for Critical Infrastructure Protection (TISN)

The TISN, through the appropriate Infrastructure Assurance Advisory Group shall:

  • provide a mechanism for communication between owners and operators of places of mass gathering, the Australian Government and state and territory governments
  • assist owners and operators of places of mass gathering with the management of risk through the provision of guidance on best practice in the design and operation of community assets, and other appropriate measures and strategies, and
  • share information relating to dependence on and interdependence with other sectors.

Roles of peak bodies and associations

Peak bodies and associations shall disseminate and promote information to support the nationally consistent approach to the protection of places of mass gathering from terrorism.

Distribution of relevant intelligence and information/ communications protocols

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is the national assessing authority for security threat assessments and security intelligence reports (SIR).

Threat assessments and SIR are prepared on the basis of information available from Commonwealth, state and territory resources, overseas liaison and open sources.

Responsibility for the distribution of relevant intelligence and information is as follows:

ASIO has responsibility to provide intelligence to relevant Commonwealth departments and agencies and to Commonwealth, state and territory police services.

  • Where there is particular urgency, ASIO will telephone the Protective Security Coordination Centre (PSCC), relevant police and other relevant organisations as soon as possible and in advance of the dispatch of the written product via the Australian Secure Network.
  • State and Territory Police have responsibility to pass relevant intelligence and information to First Ministers’ departments, other relevant intelligence agencies and concerned organisations. This will of course be dependent on time sensitivity.
  • State/Territory Governments have responsibility to coordinate a whole-of-government process that ensures the relevant information is passed to all relevant government departments and agencies, and affected owners and operators of places of mass gatherings, through a network of contacts established within States/Territories, and that appropriate protective security measures be considered.
  • The PSCC has responsibility to pass relevant information to state and territory governments and to liaison officers within Commonwealth agencies responsible for coordinating sector forums within the information-sharing network.
  • Commonwealth liaison officers have responsibility to inform relevant sector forums of the relevant unclassified threat information.
  • Members of these sector forums, including state and territory government agencies, peak industry groups and other industry representatives, will be expected, in turn, to contact relevant key infrastructure operators.
  • Existing forums and mechanisms should be used for information distribution as far as possible.
  • The owners and operators of places of mass gathering and event organisers are expected to provide information to the police on incidents and suspicious activities.

While some overlap may occur in information being passed from industry peak bodies to their constituency and the mechanisms within states/ territories, this is preferable to the possibility that information might not be passed to some owners and operators of places of mass gathering.

Annexure A Current Security Context for Mass Gathering

The main terrorist threat in Australia comes from Islamic terrorists. Australia has been identified by al-Qa’ida and associated jihadist groups as a suitable target, both in propaganda statements and through terrorist planning.

There has been at least one aborted, disrupted or actual terrorist attack against Australian interests every year since 2000.

The National Threat Assessment Centre assesses that Australia will face an enduring threat from al-Qa’ida, associated groups, and individuals committed to violent jihad, for the foreseeable future and that Australian interests are assessed as potential primary targets for attack.

Statements by al-Qa’ida and other Islamic extremists also resonate with individuals not otherwise associated with terrorist groups, who might be inspired to act.

Consequently, we need to be alert to the possibility of:

  • A terrorist attack planned and executed by an overseas terrorist cell coming to Australia with no involvement of local extremists.
  • A terrorist attack involving terrorists originating overseas and local extremists. This includes operations directed from outside Australia but using local supporters, and operations originating in Australia but drawing on terrorists from outside Australia for operational expertise and support.
  • A terrorist attack planned and executed by a local Islamic extremist cell with no, or very little, direction or support by extremists from outside Australia.

The targets of successful, aborted and thwarted attacks by Islamic terrorists globally include government buildings, diplomatic and consular offices, commercial and military shipping, aviation and oil and other energy and transport critical infrastructure.

Terrorist attacks against mass gatherings have included shopping centres, schools, stadiums, commercial buildings, hotels, tourist facilities and places of worship.

Such attacks demonstrate that as security is increased at official facilities, terrorists and their sympathisers will seek softer targets.

The requirements for places of mass gatherings to be successful–open and accessible nature, large crowds, convenience–are those which make them vulnerable to terrorist attack. Places where mass gatherings occur, or the events they represent, may also have symbolic value.

Islamic terrorist groups have undertaken, trained for and considered a large variety of terrorist methodologies. Methods of attack have included suicide car, truck, boat and plane bombings, assassination, missile attack and remote-control car and truck bombings, placed bombs and bombs carried and detonated by individuals.

The attacks on the rail networks of Madrid in March 2004 and London in July 2005, and the bombing of restaurants and cafes in Bali in October 2005 demonstrate the continued willingness of home-grown Islamic terrorists to attack ‘soft’ targets in order to cause mass casualties.

More traditional forms of terrorist acts like assassinations and hostage taking have not

disappeared. Hostage taking was involved in the 11 September 2001 attacks as well as the Moscow theatre and Beslan school sieges, and has become a feature of Islamic terrorism in Iraq.

Terrorist groups worldwide have ready access to information on chemical, biological, radiological and, to some extent, nuclear weapons, via the Internet, publicly available scientific literature and scientific conferences. We assess that Islamic terrorists are currently only capable of a small-scale CBR attack. Nonetheless, we should stress that

small-scale attacks can still kill people and also cause high levels of public anxiety and disquiet.

While there have been no instances so far of cyber attacks for terrorist purposes, hackers sympathetic to terrorist groups including al-Qa’ida have undertaken low-level cyber attacks including web-page defacement. The principal use of the Internet by terrorists has been for communication, recruitment, fund raising and propaganda,

including the calculated imagery of the executions of hostages.

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation May 2006