Safety Planning for Major Events
As tragedies like Vegas, Orlando and Sandy Hook stay top of mind for Americans, venues of every size across the country should assess how they tackle the difficult questions raised when evaluating security concerns for their events. Whether your organization is a university, school, stadium or office, planning for major events follows a systematic process that demystifies and simplifies what can feel very overwhelming. No matter the size or location of the area you are trying to protect, following these steps will help you have a safe and enjoyable event for your attendees and staff.
I. THE PRE-PLANNING PHASE
The pre-planning phase of event management 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 nighttime; outdoor versus indoor; private versus public; speaker versus music, etc.
Before you make decisions about how to mitigate particular risks, you have to understand those risks and ask yourself:
- 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 law enforcement? Other venues in your network? The news?
- Do you have access to services that identify risks and threats shared publicly on social media?
It’s important to note that the security of an event is not limited to the space that you and your organization inhabit. During a trip to Israel to study security applications in light of terrorism, I recall an Israeli general telling me that if your security planning starts at the entrance to the event, then you’re not adequately prepared.
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 prioritize them so that the next phase has both direction and purpose.
II. THE PLANNING PHASE
Now that the kinds of risks and vulnerabilities impacting your event and venue have been identified and prioritized, you can begin planning how you are going to prevent and/or 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 staff needs to ensure they are best able to protect attendees and the venue. Additionally, this phase is where you plan how you will work with local officials in the event of an emergency. Above all, the planning phase is about asking and operationalizing 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?
- 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?
- 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, public-address system, social media or mobile app?
- Are signs clear and is lighting adequate?
While some of these questions might feel obvious to most of us in the security industry, I’ve found that, over and over again, 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, screening, and permitted 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 impressive and more advanced than at any other time in our history. For example, cameras 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 the ability to see in the dark.
Additionally, some venues are using gunshot detection equipment to more quickly identify a potentially catastrophic situation. While this type of technology can’t necessarily prevent a horrible event from happening, it can reduce response time 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 contraband and 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 every day. 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. So how do you leverage this information to help keep event attendees (and staff) safe? How do you find the needle in the digital haystack? Fortunately, new technology is helping us bridge this gap, and pioneering services like Social Sentinel (www.socialsentinel.com) provide near real-time insights into threats being shared publicly on social media before or during your event. By leveraging the photos, videos and words people are sharing in real time, you are able to collect another layer of information and promptly relay that information to safety responders. The type of data collected off of social media can let you know when a threat has been made targeting the performer or arena, or when a large fight is breaking out, sometimes well before the call to 911 is made or before someone making a threat has even been able to access the venue.
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. Your security staff will need to know a plethora of things from who they report to through their post assignments, to where the operations center and command post is located. I am personally a large supporter of the incident command system (ICS), so I would expect to see, at minimum, sections that include operations, planning, logistics and financial.
The days of hiring a college student or retiree, giving them a yellow jacket, and telling them to sit by an exit or entrance are long gone. Staff need training to understand their responsibilities, organizational structure, post assignments and other related policies. In some instances, they may require additional, specialized training such as walk-through or handheld metal detectors, x-ray inspection equipment or cameras. A trained 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 organization may need to use other security systems and technology as a force multiplier.
Finally, if you’re not including local public safety officials (police, fire, EMS) as part of your event staff, you need to ask how you are addressing communication needs both in the field and in the command post. Are you deploying two-way radios, mobile phones, satellite phones, etc.? Are fire and rescue teams on standby or on-site? It is important to think through these matters before the event and have and resources identified and/or staged well in advance.
III. 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 organized mitigation strategies for these risks, vulnerabilities and hazards that may combine human resources with technology. You’re organized in the command post, and have communicated and/or conducted a safety briefing for all attendees. You’re now prepared to tackle what’s coming at you during the event and to respond with confidence.
IV. THE RECOVERY OR REVIEW PHASE
Assuming all went as planned, or as close to plan as possible, the recovery or 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 forward and not blaming in reverse. Pulling together the team and debriefing each aspect of the plan is an important step to understand what was more or less 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.