The show must go on - securing an event

Posted on Tue 30th Apr 2019 at 4:47pm

One of the more complex and challenging environments for the security professional is that of event security. We have what is in effect a crowded place, crowded with people, crowded with valuable and at times sensitive equipment and its location and opening times advertised widely as its aim is to get people through the door.  Philip Ingram MBE looks at the challenges with Lee Doddridge from the security consultancy Covenant, who advise venues on security matters and Mark Folmer from the Canadian company, TrackTik, who produce manned guarding management software. 

The Challenge

Visitors, exhibitors, contractors, deliverers and VIPs all bring with them differing priorities and unique challenges. For an organiser to ensure everyone who descends on a venue to deliver exhibition displays, to build the stands and then tear them down, to man the event facilities and man the stands, to speak at conferences, to visit the exhibition, is properly accounted for and secured, is a very real challenge. 

There are a huge number of moving parts but the priority for the event organisers is to ensure the best experience possible for the visitors and the exhibitors, so security has to complement that experience.  However, with the ever-evolving threat landscape events must be considered targets not just for gate crashers and low-level criminal activities, as the opportunities are huge, but also for terrorists and criminals with more in mind, data theft and intellectual property theft.

There is a careful balance to be struck between security and the event experience, no one wants to have to queue for 2 hours in the rain just to get into an event because the security is backed up. Designing security into the event from the outset is key. 

Lee Doddridge from Covenant said, “Probably the single biggest challenge you will encounter is the differential in risk appetite between the three elements that deliver an event, the venue, the event organisers and the lead contractors. Finding the middle ground can be a tricky and time-consuming process, after all the event organiser is the client, they are paying, but the overall ownership and responsibility falls on the event venue. This is why advance planning is essential, regardless how many times the event has been held previously. The old adage ‘Prior planning prevents poor performance’ is so true.”

Mitigate with planning, people and technology

So, how do you best balance off the challenges between the event organiser, venue owner, the needs of the contractor for access whilst ensuring the best experience for visitors and exhibitors alike?  One way is through the use of technology.  “Gone are the days when companies can afford to assign more and more manned security guards to events to deal with the plethora of threats,” said Mark Folmer from TrackTik.  
“Properly applied technology augments the security stance allowing for well-trained human responders to handle the judgement calls, the responses and the touchy situations while technology takes care of the mundane, repetitive, actions. Technology should impact each and every one of the 5Ds of physical security (Deter, Detect, Deny, Delay and Defend),” he added.  

There is another advantage of using modern security technology and that is exploiting the data that is available to enhance the business side of the event.  Security cameras can be used not just to identify potential threats and target scarce human resources to deal with them quickly but can also be used to look at people flow, build-up of crowds or issues with contractor access and thereby inform business and operational decisions to deal with any issue at its earliest stages.

Lee Doddridge added, “to ensure good event experience you must understand the event itself and working closely with all key stakeholders, the triumvirate of the venue, organiser and lead contractor. I would produce a Security Needs Analysis and compliment this with a detailed Security, Threat and Risk Assessment. Only then can you properly identify the level of security required balanced against any identified risks. The security needs for a travel show will be markedly different from those of a defence show.” 

Looking at what the top tips Philip, Mark and Lee would give event organisers and venues, they suggested; 

1. How security can enhance the experience of the visitor and exhibitor; see it as an enabler rather than a burden. Remember for many the security staff are the first people encountered so are your shop window.

2. Plan your security into the event and ensure it is considered at each stage. It should not be treated as a “bolt on” after everything else has been finalised. The venue requirements will remain fixed but the priorities between the event organisers and the lead contractors will change as the event is built, delivered and dismantled.

3. Work closely with the venue management, it’s your show but their site. Include the lead contractor in all discussions. If you require a third-party security company, make them a stakeholder and ensure they are integral to the event planning.

4. Ensure you have a good team that are experienced in delivering large events. Within this you should have a dedicated security adviser who can coordinate with all of the stakeholders as a single point of contact. Use previous experience but also approach each event as if it was your first, make sure everything is covered, complacency can be costly and reputationally devastating.

5. Partnerships are key whether that be with local law enforcement agencies, neighbouring properties and businesses or other affected parties. Use security providers that are event savvy so that they can ensure the right security resources deployed to those locations at the times that you have identified - delivery can be critical. Treat the security team as part of your overall team.

6. Be bold, if the threat is high, if the risk is too great to accept, have the courage to cancel. You can refund people, you can reschedule events, you can’t turn back the clock.

Lee Doddridge summed up his thoughts when he said, “planning is essential, communication should be seen as an asset, rehearse emergency procedures and run exercises when you can, and learn from them. From senior management to cleaners and caterers, an event takes a team of people and departments, utilise each one.”

Mark Folmer concluded when he said, “it sounds cliché, but security is everybody's business these days. Just as technology is a security force multiplier, event attendees should be aware and alert of their surroundings able to easily share their findings. Security teams should be able to easily collate and gather these insights and act and react accordingly.” 


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