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June 24, 2021

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The Video Surveillance Report 2022

Trusting your instincts – The importance of behavioural detection training

Paul Mason, Managing Director for Air Partner’s Safety & Security division, explains why behavioural detection training should be considered an integral part of the training and development of security personnel.

It is widely acknowledged that human beings are social animals by nature. While this is undoubtedly true, we are also naturally suspicious. Our suspicious nature developed as a response to day-to-day life or death situations, where pattern recognition was key to survival. A period in our history where, if you did not learn that when the birds stopped singing it meant potential danger, you might end up as lunch.

Though the modern world insulates us from many of the dangerous situations we once might have faced, this form of sixth sense is still part of our makeup. You have probably found yourself in a situation where you knew that something wasn’t right. Call it ‘instinct’ or ‘going with your gut’, somehow, in a way that you were unable to quite explain, you knew that something or someone was out of place.

This feeling, and understanding and acting on this feeling, is the basis of what should be considered the cornerstone of an effective security ecosystem; Behavioural Detection. The definition from the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI) emphasises the importance of Behavioural Detection, explaining that “when incorporated with other security measures, behavioural detection can be a powerful tool that can be implemented in a range of environments, as part of a systematic approach to disrupt criminals and terrorists carrying out activities that aim to cause harm to others.”

A holistic approach, Behavioural Detection aims to identify persons who may pose a potential security risk through the recognition of their behaviour changes and their response to stressors. Approaches can involve triggering ‘Observable Behaviours’ in suspects by putting highly visible, stress inducing security measures in place (uniformed security personnel, for example) and having covert observers looking out for persons exhibiting observable behaviours. While the changeable threat landscape has security forces and potential attackers in an escalating arms race of methodology and detection, there is one thing it is nearly impossible to change; people’s behaviour under stress.

Manchester Arena Inquiry findings

Though this article was originally published before the first report from phase 1 of the inquiry into the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017 had been published, Paul believes it provides an example of where behavioural detection training could have played an important role. The inquiry has found that is “highly likely” more lives could have been saved and that “more should have been done.

“The ability for employees and trained staff to recognise suspicious behaviour and act continues to be a key consideration in most post-incident inquiries, and as large gatherings and events are increasingly allowed as COVID-19 restrictions loosen, security staff need to be equipped to mitigate the risks of the changing nature of threats. Through behavioural detection training, observation skills are sharpened as well as the ability to judge when observations need to be escalated.

“Frontline personnel need to ask themselves: When looking at a crowd of people would you be able to identify a person acting suspiciously? And how could you confirm this without them knowing? Would you be able to assess the reason for their suspicious actions? Is this potentially a life-threatening situation or is a teenager carrying a small amount of cannabis in his/her backpack?

“Another key element of behavioural detection is the observation of an individual’s response to stress. Visible security measures, such as uniformed security staff and the deployment of conspicuous observers, can induce stressed behaviour which trained personnel will be able to spot.”

The threat landscape has changed

Historically, terrorists sought to attack strategic governmental or economic targets. Large numbers of civilian casualties were not the goal, with some organisations even telephoning warnings of their attacks in order to give the authorities time to evacuate civilians. This is not the world we live in now. Terrorists are most likely to target areas outside of secure zones that are well populated with civilians, both to decrease the chances they will be detected by security personnel when planning an attack and in order to inflict the maximum amount of harm.

Areas with low obvious security and a larger number of potential targets are those most at risk of attack. ‘Soft’ targets include mass-transit, sporting events and concerts, hospitality venues and public spaces. These spaces balance implementing high levels of obvious security (i.e. airport style checkpoints) with a requirement to put the public at ease so they can enjoy themselves – obvious security may make people feel that they have something to fear, putting them off attending an event.

As the ongoing inquiry into the tragic 2017 Manchester Arena Bombing has highlighted, traditional security measures and training programmes put in place at events were not comprehensive or targeted enough to ensure that the perpetrator could be identified and apprehended before the attack took place. Experts concluded that security was “not sufficiently focused on identifying suspicious behaviour”, and it has become known that staff were notified and aware of the perpetrators’ potentially suspicious behaviour, but took no further action.

READ: Martyn’s Law in a security convergent world

Developing personnel through detection training

In order to reduce the risk of terrorist incidents, both those planned by a network of operators and by lone wolves acting more impulsively, there needs to be a comprehensive reassessment of security training across all industries that are now the new front line and are most at risk of attack, including events, transport and hospitality. This training must include a firm grounding in Behaviour Detection, both theory and practice.

The underlying principle of behaviour detection is to increase people’s innate observation and to reinforce the importance of trusting their instincts. Working in a particular environment, such as a concert venue or train station, will lead to familiarity with people’s patterns of behaviour that are normal within that context, and those that are abnormal for the given place and time.

Noticing something out of place, such as a person wearing a bulky winter jacket in the middle of summer, taking photographs of security systems or personnel, or repeatedly visiting a venue several days in a row with no reasonable explanation, and then escalating this to the relevant senior team member or authority figure is Behavioural Detection at its most simplistic form.

These steps allow for potential attackers to be monitored or challenged and their activity dissuaded, disrupted or successfully de-escalated. By being detected and interrupted, they may believe that a potential target has a great deal of security measures in place, and will shift focus to another possible target. If all current ‘soft’ targets were to have staff comprehensively trained in Behavioural Detection, then there would be no remaining soft targets for potential attackers to consider, forcing a change to their methodology or discouraging their activity altogether.


While (thankfully) not every instance of correctly performed behavioural detection will result in disrupting a potential terrorist plot, we have seen many examples of it disrupting other kinds of criminal activity. Whether someone is casing the target of a potential burglary, stalking someone in public, planning an arson or acting as lookout as part of a people trafficking operation, they will be exhibiting unusual behaviour that trained observers will be able to identify and report. This not only increases the likelihood of a potential terrorist threat being disrupted, but also helps make society safer from criminal behaviour of all kinds.

With comprehensive behavioural detection training able to be delivered in as little as 45 minutes, and remotely accessible in online formats, it ranks below physical security measures or other means of training in cost, but arguably outranks them in terms of its relevance, ease of application and potential impact. By channelling people’s innate ability to notice something out of place in their environment, it provides an intuitive security solution that would benefit not only the staff in the sectors most at-risk to attack, but also all members of the travelling public.

Find out more about the behavioural detection training on offer from Air Partner.

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