Ensuring security at events is and should always be an essential part of any event planners thoughts when organising any size event.
With the recent spate of terror attacks around the globe, event security has now become what feels like a painful topic thrust under the spotlight for many event planners.
Like many in the events industry, over the years I have organised events in 5* hotels where things like general health & safety is not immediately a hot topic as you are in a building which has already passed many security checks. Maintaining that this is still the case and making sure all attendees are furnished with the information is relatively routine, with general security already supplied by the venue.
A few years back, I was tasked with organising a unique event – the ceremony of the signing of construction contracts and inauguration of local development initiatives, for King Abdullah Project for Wa’ad Al Shamal City Development. The event was to be in the remote Northern Borders Region of Saudi Arabia; event security and our safety suddenly became a very obvious and urgent thought – especially with a host of ministers, senior executives and members of the Saudi royal family scheduled to attend.
The remoteness of the area (pictured right) and the underlying threat level of being so close to ISIS territory became one of the biggest challenges and learning curves of my career.
As terrifying as it was at the time (mainly due to the sheer scale of what we had to achieve but also due to the results of the crime analysis research we carried out) it was an incredible experience which could only have been made better if i’d known what I know now about event security. To help you avoid feeling the fear and enjoy the full experience, here are some of the things I learnt:
Know The Risks
The planning of your event should begin with a risk assessment taking into account an examination of your venue and the potential harms that can occur if you do not address them.
Your risk assessment will serve as your blueprint for the number of security officers you may need. It will also lay the groundwork for other resources that security may require to have a successful and protected event.
In conducting your risk assessment, you want to make sure a crime analysis has been conducted for your venue. A crime analysis is simply a survey of crimes that have occurred in the area of the venue. You want to gather at least three years’ worth, starting with the present date and working your way backward.
To gather this information, you will want to work with the local police department. For example, crime statistics may show that several incidents involving visiting foreign nationals have been reported in your event area in the past year. If this is the case, you may want to consider hiring security guards and implementing protective measures to act as deterrents to this possibility. If the crime statistics indicate a large number of burglaries, it only makes sense to add more resources for the protection of vendor assets that are on-site.
Attendee Safety Briefing
Taking a tip from the airline industry, event planners can do more than just provide safety information literature (which as we know sadly, most people do not read) or notices such as signage via electronic displays of exits and evacuations points in emergencies etc.; start the event with a safety briefing – a plane never departs until passengers learn safety measures. The same should be done for facilities and premises.
Security guards may or not be needed for your event but in our case it was necessary for contractors and ourselves whilst construction of the marquee and general build-up took place. Again, your risk assessment will dictate whether you should hire guards. It will also tell you whether those guards should be armed or unarmed.
In hiring event security guard services, you usually have a large choice of companies to pick from. However, there are many questions you should have answered before making your final choice. If the venue is large, undoubtedly you will need the services of a large company, or the combination of several companies. If this is the case, you may solicit these services through the use of a written request for proposal (RFP). Even if your event is small-scale, there are some basic questions you want answered:
- What level of protection is actually going to be provided?
- Will the guards protect the assets, venue/facilities or people?
- Will the guards only “observe and report,” or will they intervene in observed altercations?
- How often will they make and log protective sweeps?
- Who is responsible for managing the guard force?
Foremost, controlling access at your event boils down to two possibilities: vehicle traffic and pedestrian traffic. You can control access via tools such as:
- Identification badges or pins
- Identification of vehicles (during attendee registration pre event and on the day)
- Pre-screened guest lists
- Designated parking areas (e.g., for the general public, VIPs, contractors)
- Designated pedestrian walkways or gates
Not Just In The Movies
A largely overlooked area in security planning for events is the use of utilities to disrupt a function. The primary systems to consider are electricity and climate control i.e. heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). It’s not just Hollywood movie writers who need to remember this.
Foremost, consider the chaos that can ensue in a crowded room that goes dark, or if the room’s temperature suddenly plummets or spikes; also HVAC systems are a very viable way to deliver biological weapons, as mad as this sounds it is a real threat we must all accept is real – especially if its high profile event.
If electrical control panels/rooms cannot be locked, then they should be monitored constantly. Also, your emergency action plan should list a power alternative. To facilitate this, planners should work very closely with facility or maintenance personnel.
The same holds true for your HVAC system. If access to the system is not in a restricted area, you may have to employ someone to stand watch.
If vendors are present at your event, security planning is vital, because this likely means there are additional products and personnel to watch out for.
Ascertain what staff members are representing the vendor. They should be placed on a list and provided access through an area restricted for their use alone. Keep in mind that vendors will need access to the event site earlier than the general public will.
Remember, the products they are selling are valuable assets and your event security programme should provide for their protection. As a general rule, try to position their wares away from entrances and exits. You don’t want to make it easy for someone to “snatch and run.” Also, you’re not only concerned about protecting the stands, tables, etc., but you also concerned about temporary storage.
If your event is several days long and security personnel are not available, you will want to at least consider some video surveillance of the area. This option is very affordable these days and the exchange of money always calls for special precautions. Factor this in when you make your manpower allocations.
Moving on from the vendors, special care should be taken when handling the security of VIPs. First, you want their arrival and departure to be as smooth as possible. To achieve this, you should provide one entryway exclusively for them. Vehicle control into this area should be very limited, and pedestrian control limited to other VIPs and working staff.
Sometimes the area itself may be physically separated from the public, but the VIPs are still vulnerable to abuse and embarrassing gestures. This is remedied by using draping or other fabrics for concealment.
Handling The Media
Every event should have an emergency action plan (EAP) prepared. This tells who will do what, when, where and how. Your plan will be based on your risk assessment. At minimum, event staff and security should know the following:
- Evacuation routes
- Location of the assembly point
- How to communicate with emergency service personnel
Emergencies are unpredictable, but the one thing you can be assured of is that if one occurs, it creates a story, and following shortly behind will be the media trying to get that story out.
Your EAP should have designated an area for the media to work while on your site. At minimum, this area should include access to telephone lines, electricity and bathroom facilities.
Also, provide an area for camera and reporting personnel to conduct stand-ups. The last thing you want is to allow the press to run freely through your venue. Remember, they are there to create a story, and you may not like the story that’s being created about your unfortunate situation.
If there are multiple locations within your site to receive camera attention, handle this by providing escorts. Designate one person per four of the press. Again, these details should be provided for in your EAP.
Lastly, have a “one page” drafted. A one page is a document that gives basic information concerning the event – perhaps from a historical perspective of the event, or your company as the body managing it. Conveying the information on your “one page” will assist in getting positive information before the public. Although attendee safety is the priority, your professional identity is at stake so making sure the correct information is out there is key.
Remember, with all the planning you provide for your event already, the essentials of event security make for just another day at the office and take the fear out of the unknown. Provide a primary event security plan, prepare for emergencies, and then have fun at your event!