The simple steps to planning successful event security
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As mentioned in my previous article, I believe that once the events industry takes shape once again professional organisers should ensure they hire an experienced and professional HSE Manager who will probably wish to implement additional measures to ensure crowds are protected from another ‘’wave’’ of COVID-19, whether it be thermometer guns, distribution of gloves and masks and additional screening requirements within a PSA, VSA or RSA.
All of these measures require a physical operator and, in most cases, will fall into the hands of security operatives on our front lines to implement these measures meaning additional resources will be required.
I envisage that event organisers who in the past did not take security and safety seriously (top of their agenda) may now feel the urge to do so and invest additional budgets towards resources and specifically towards hiring a seasoned Head of Security for the event well before the event phase has taken shape.
It is important to remember that in these circumstances, security operatives do not only ‘’secure’’ venues and patrons but aid in the safety of patrons and venues and often a simple presence is advantageous to assure the public.
After all, safety is everybody’s responsibility.
Despite a handful of event organisers having the mindset of ”it will never happen” or ”it won’t affect us” all venues and events of every size across the region should assess how they tackle the difficult questions raised when evaluating security and safety concerns for their events, especially now, as we face ongoing COVID-19 threats and the heightened probability of terrorist attacks due to some country’s decreased alert levels as attention has been drawn to tackling COVID-19 rather than national security in some cases.
Whether it be a large venue, stadium or small indoor venue, planning for events follows a systematic process that simplifies what can feel very overwhelming and time consuming for many event organisers, business owners and security managers.
No matter the size or location of the area you are trying to protect, following these simple steps will help you have a safe and successful event.
The pre-planning phase
The pre-planning phase of event management (Security Management Operations specifically, providing a seasoned Head of Security has been hired) is about gathering information and intelligence on the event and the venue. During pre-planning, you are conducting a proper risk, vulnerability and threat analysis, remembering that each event is unique and requires its own assessment. For example, risks, vulnerabilities and threats might be different for the same event, at the same venue, held in the daytime versus the night-time; outdoor versus indoor; private versus public; music versus boxing event, etc. Not one event is the same, neither should it ever be treated as such.
Before you make decisions about how to mitigate particular risks, you have to understand those risks and ask yourself these questions;
What are the potential vulnerabilities of the space and/or the event, itself?
Where is your information about these vulnerabilities coming from? Social media? Local government sources? Other venues in your business network or vicinity? The news?
Do you have access to services that identify risks and threats shared publicly on social media or in the news? Or broadcast updates from local authorities via email or SMS?
It’s important to note that the security of an event is not limited to the space that you and your organisation inhabit.
If your security planning starts at the entrance to the event, then you’re not adequately prepared, trust me.
The overall goal of the pre-planning phase is to identify risks, threats and vulnerabilities from natural, technological and human-made sources and then to prioritise them so that the next phase has both direction and purpose, maximising efficiency.
The planning phase
Now that the kinds of risks and vulnerabilities impacting your event and venue have been identified and prioritised, you can begin planning how you are going to prevent and mitigate these threats.
This phase includes thinking about technology that can be used to help combat your biggest risks as well as the type of training your security/ground staff needs to ensure they are best able to protect attendees and the venue itself.
Additionally, this phase is where you plan how you will work with local entities in the event of an emergency. Above all, the planning phase is about asking and prioritising the hard questions that will help drive you towards a targeted plan. These may include;
Are the risks you’ve identified addressed with people, policy, technology or all three?
Is your strategy going to be visible or invisible to attendees?
Number of attendees (ticket sales) and likelihood of people arriving without tickets?
How are attendees arriving at the event and/or participating and what is the impact on vehicle and pedestrian traffic?
Have you coordinated traffic with local public safety entities?
Where will attendees enter the venue and how will they exit?
How are you communicating with the attendees before or during the event? Through a website, emergency notification system, signage, ticketing, public-address system, social media or mobile app?
Are signs clear, concise and is lighting adequate?
While some of these questions might feel obvious to most of us in the security industry, I’ve found that, repeatedly, we hear of instances where one of these details was taken for granted and was missed with devastating consequences.
Whether it’s clearly identifying exit signs or clearly communicating your policies to attendees – including ticketing, re-entry, alcohol, smoking areas, screening (PSA and VSA) and prohibited items – these small steps can make all the difference in securing your event and its venue.
When facing the more daunting questions that don’t always have a clear solution, it’s important to remember that today’s security technology is more advanced than at any other time in our history.
For example, cameras (CCTV) are now far less expensive than in years past as well as being remote controlled and portable and some even come with facial recognition capabilities, license plate readers and night vision capable.
While this type of technology can’t necessarily prevent an event from happening, it can reduce response time, identify a threat long before it reaches the venue itself and, in return, help event security identify the threat and potentially save more lives.
Advanced access control and ticketing technology is another security technology frontier transforming the industry, not only giving you greater control over who can enter and re-enter but also greater fidelity identifying weapons. This type of technology helps you to eliminate human error, even with the most seasoned security staff on hand.
The technology potentially having the largest impact on event security and certainly on our lives, is social media.
Social media has become an imperative issue point for security professionals and one that can’t be disregarded during any phase of event security planning. It is the largest spoken language in the world, with an excess of 1 billion public posts made worldwide daily.
It is the go-to communication tool for sharing thoughts, pictures and videos in real-time throughout people’s days, evenings and, of course, the events that security professionals have been charged with protecting.
It’s a rare event or venue that can be secured with just technology, so one of the most important aspects of risk mitigation and security planning is staffing.
Whether you in-source or out-source, you’ll need to recruit a team with the right skills, attitudes and knowledge to ensure a successful security operation, remembering that the cheapest option is never the best option and often hiring amateurs will cost you much more in the long run.
Your security staff will need to know a plethora of things from who they report to, through to their post duties and responsibilities, to where the event control is located, medical points and the emergency evacuation plans.
The days of hiring a shirt filler and relying on cheap labour is long gone, as most recent issues arising from poorly planned concerts in the region have shown, giving a body a yellow jacket and telling them to sit by an exit or entrance are days past, it simply is ineffective and irresponsible.
Staff need training to understand their responsibilities, along with pre-employment vetting and tests to ensure capability, organisational structure awareness, post duties and responsibilities and other event/company related policies. In some instances, they may require additional, specialised training such as walk-through or handheld metal detectors (PSA & VSA), x-ray inspection equipment or cameras.
Trained, professional and educated staff can truly make all the difference, but it is important to remember that if the size of the venue creates significant challenges for sheer volume of staff, your organisation may need to use other security systems and technology as a force multiplier.
Finally, if you are not including local public safety officials (police, fire, first aid) as part of your event staff, you need to ask how you are addressing communication needs, both in the field and in the event control.
Are you deploying two-way radios, mobile phones, satellite phones, etc.? Are emergency teams on standby or on-site? Do they have allocated parking and facilities?
It is important to think through these matters long before the event and have resources identified and/or staged well in advance.
The operations phase
The big day has arrived and it’s time to put plans into action. Through the pre-planning phase, you’ve identified risks, vulnerabilities and hazards. In the planning phase, you’ve organised mitigation strategies for these risks, vulnerabilities and hazards that may combine human resources with technology. You’ve organised the event control and have communicated and/or conducted a safety briefing for all staff. You are now prepared to tackle what’s coming at you during the event and to respond with confidence.
Post event or review phase
Assuming all went as planned, or as close to the plan as possible, the review phase is a time to ask the question, “What will we do different next time?” Regardless of significant issues that may have arisen, this part of the event management process is always about learning and not blaming. Pulling together the team and debriefing each aspect of the plan is an important step to understand what was or was not effective for the event and/or the venue.
Whatever the scale, a structured and straight forward security planning process can help you ensure the ability to bring order to chaos in those moments when things go wrong, not just when they go right.
Stay safe, stay healthy.
Adam Green ASyl has been a security management professional for 18 years across six continents. Adam can be contacted via his LinkedIn profile here
To read Adam’s previous article for International Security Journal, please click here