Careful Planning in a Dynamic Environment: Securing San Francisco’s Moscone Center
Keeping up with risks, attendee profiles and VIP schedules makes convention and event security a 24/7 job for Ryan Briones.
Hosting more than 60 events a year, San Francisco’s three-building convention complex – the Moscone Center – changes its clientele almost every week. So security has to re-tailor its strategy for each event, while planning safety and operations procedures for future conventions months down the line, which is why Security Services Manager Ryan Briones calls securing the Moscone Center “the ultimate multitasking challenge.”
Briones, who started his security career in the Moscone Center, manages 53 in-house staff (including traffic control personnel) and coordinates security with outside contractors and security consultants for different events and clients. For the NFL Experience, held at the Center early 2016, Briones worked with the FBI, the National Guard, and Federal and San Francisco law enforcement by attending training conferences and seminars a year in advance, working to safeguard 100,000 guests over nine days of the event. A few weeks later, the RSA Conference rolled into town, bringing with it more than 40,000 attendees, technology-filled booths and displays, and some high-profile government speakers – including Attorney General Loretta Lynch and NSA Director Admiral Michael S. Rogers.
“We customize everything to a specific conference or event from the move-in to the move-out,” says Briones. “We might adjust the facility layout, determine which security posts are needed or not needed, figure out in-house needs vs. contract security needs… What’s important is keeping an open line of communication with our clients.”
Part of the venue management company SMG, Briones’s job revolves around pleasing the clients and the city of San Francisco, which owns the Moscone Center. Clients want to ensure that their attendees are safe and able to focus on enjoying the event. The city wants to ensure the events come back.
Typically, planning for each event starts approximately three or four months in advance, so as Briones works with one client to build contingency plans and hash out logistics, he is also managing security for different events in the facility each week along with his security management team.
“It’s a 24/7 type of lifestyle, staying on top of the latest information to keep clients happy and keep the events running and safe,” says Briones. “We want to know who the event base is, what attendees will be like… I do a lot of research months before events, on companies, conference updates and social media chatter. We want to make sure our clients understand that we do our due diligence, that we know what challenges are facing them, or if it’s their 25th anniversary this year, or if there’s a risk of disruptions. San Francisco is such a liberal city, there’s always a chance of a demonstration or protest. We get information from our clients on what has changed to the event since the previous year, and we update them on the changes at Moscone,” he adds.
For example, the Moscone Center is in the middle of a $500 million expansion, which will add multiple levels to both Moscone North and South, connecting the two via an elevated walkway. The expansion will be complete in 2018, but Briones and his team are working to tweak logistics and contingency plans to ensure that conferences are not impacted by the construction.
“We can’t have a keynote speaker delayed because of construction,” says Briones. “It’s all about timing, especially with VIPs. Conferences are highly orchestrated events, so it’s important for us to be on top of the schedule, with lots of backup plans in case of last-minute changes. We need to be able to evacuate 60,000 people at a moment’s notice, to get the VIP keynote speaker, plus a motorcade and security detail, in and out efficiently, and to react to any number of life safety emergencies.”
While in the Moscone Center, attendees are told to dial 511 on any of the white house phones throughout the facility instead of calling 911 on their mobile phones. This connects directly to the security control rooms, and security personnel can home in on the exact location of the emergency, and send help more effectively, guiding first responders to the appropriate location.
The Moscone Center covers more than one million square feet, says Briones, and it’s easier for security to coordinate with first responders to respond to specific locations such as the North Hall, first floor atrium, or the West building, third floor, by the escalators, than having first responders respond to a 911 call directing them to “somewhere in the Moscone Center.” Also, when someone dials 511, notifications are sent out to event management, Moscone staff and Briones, so everyone stays in the loop about potential incidents.
Briones works closely with law enforcement and first responder partners both throughout the city and nationally, attending regular leadership meetings with the San Francisco Police Department, Fire Department, Department of Emergency Management, the San Francisco Directors’ Association and more. These partnerships help keep the Moscone Center’s staff up to date on training and awareness.
For example, following the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino late last year, SMG Security Services put an emphasis on active shooter training and preparedness for all of its managed facilities. Briones had already been very involved with an active shooter incident training program with the city, so the infrastructure was in place to educate the whole facility’s staff, using video and training materials provided by the Department of Homeland Security.
“We’re always getting feedback from our clients on what they want to see here next,” Briones says. “Some events send in consultants beforehand for threat assessments, and we get their recommendations as well, plus technology demos, and insight from law enforcement partners. We want to ensure everyone is safe and that the Moscone Center is a memorable place to be.”