Planning security for a special event requires a tailored approach that balances effective, non-excessive, security measures against a realistic assessment of the likely threats to the event. A "one size fits all" approach to security fails to consider the very aspects of the event that make it unique. Meeting planners are well served by obtaining a customized security plan. This article offers insight into the threats special events may face and what meeting planners can do to include appropriate security measures.
For the purposes of this discussion, special events fall into three categories: 1) unique events that warrant a focus on security simply because they are so rare (e.g., a summit meeting among industry leaders to forge or fight a new regulatory process); 2) events that would otherwise be considered normal, except for the unique nature of the guests or agenda; and 3) events that are controversial or worthy of media attention. The security strategy for these types of events should address threat assessment, the components of a basic security plan (to include emergency action plans), and the criteria to use when selecting a security vendor.
I. THREAT ASSESSMENT
A threat assessment should first identify and then quantify potential risk. The goal is to separate likely threats from perceived or even imagined ones. For the inexperienced planner, emotions can run high when considering possible threats, clouding rational thinking during the planning stages. The experienced event security planner, on the other hand, can distinguish the conceivable from the irrational and develop a plan that adequately addresses legitimate concerns without wasting resources on the unnecessary. Appropriate security measures offer three critical benefits; namely, they provide:
Target Evaluation Criteria
Potential attackers will assess the value of an event form several different perspectives, depending on their motivation and objectives. Consider asking the following types of questions to establish the total set of possible threats, and then you can begin to qualify them in terms of their likelihood and reasonableness:
Intelligence gathering plays a crucial role in assessing potential threats and therefore requires an honest assessment of the efforts made, if any, to discover specific threats. While it is true that most attackers seldom offer a warning and most individuals or groups who make threats do not act on them, it is not prudent to ignore specifically stated threats. Thus, finding out if anyone is gathering intelligence on your behalf is a crucial step in security planning.
History also plays a significant role in threat assessment, and event planners should determine if the history surrounding the event itself, the venue, or any of the higher profile attendees warrants concern. Just how important is history? Consider that the attacks of September 11th were the second assault on the World Trade Center. The lone positive note in this reminder is that some of the procedures and emergency plan modifications that resulted from the first assault probably created conditions that saved lives in the second, more serious attack.
Threat assessment for the event planner is not limited to threats with an obvious or even indirect connection to the event or it’s attendees. The representative or symbolic value of the event or venue may also constitute a potential risk. Terrorists and other politically or religiously driven groups seek to further their goals by first creating recognition of their cause in a theatrical manner and then instilling fear by eroding the public’s confidence in their protective forces. Ask yourself if your event provides an opportunity for the spectacularly horrific.
In summarizing the threat assessment process, the event must be evaluated not just as a singular event linked to a specific theme, but as an opportunity for exposure. First, think creatively in defining the total set of possible threats, then narrow them down to what are the more likely ones and define your security plan to deter, intercept or adequately react to those threats.
II. BASIC SECURITY PLAN COMPONENTS
Assessing the likely risks is only the first step in successful event security planning. The remainder of this discussion focuses on the other basic security plan components: entry criteria and access control, critical area protection, specific security concerns, specific deterrents and responses, and emergency action plans. These components are evaluated and implemented with four objectives in mind:
How will you control access to your event? Choices range from free and open public admission to access restricted to those who have been "cleared." Obviously, the very nature of the event will largely dictate the reasonable access options, and these options, in turn, will directly affect the security measures that are necessary for the event. Limiting access begins to address certain threats. However, choosing access criteria becomes a balance between the intended openness of the event and the resulting need for additional security.
If an event is intended to allow free and open public access, the security planner will not have the chance to screen out a potential attacker unless there is specific intelligence that would warrant entrance refusal on an individual basis. Other security plan components will have to take this into account. For example, more internal security monitoring is required than would be necessary for an event with restricted access. Requiring paid admission might reduce the likelihood of threat from random opportunists, but it hardly changes the security status of the internal environment.
Requiring picture identification to obtain an event access badge is one possible step up in access control. This would screen out many potential meddlers, as well as provide a record of who is in attendance. Requiring an invitation along with a photo ID to gain entry offers even greater access control and provides an immediate indication of uninvited individuals seeking entrance who may have sought to disrupt the event.
The most restrictive means of access control is probably inappropriate for most events — clearance only. Here, the potential guests are pre-screened to some agreed upon level. This method allows the security team to ensure that the individual does not represent a threat before being invited. In this type of event, the security planner can be reasonably sure that any potential disruptions or threats will not come from within the event and can adjust security precautions accordingly. In such applications, all of the event staff and any vendors’ staff will also be pre-cleared and identified with a badge or garment pin of some type. This level of security is usually reserved for high level gatherings that are smaller by nature and have an obvious need for such control.
Consistent with the access criteria is the level of scrutiny the attendees and staff undergo upon entry into the event. Limiting access to the event is one security measure and limiting what those people can bring into the event is another. Again, a number of alternatives are available, but the decision will be guided by the nature of the event and it’s attendees, as compared to the anticipated threats. It should be noted that ample notification should be given to all attendees and staff as to what items will not be allowed into the event venue. Notification should take the form of pre-event communication and obvious posting of the policies and forbidden items in parking areas and at the gates. The following inspection options will allow you to detect forbidden items:
One final thought regarding access control and inspection. Often the choice of a particular level of control and inspection hinges on the need to balance convenience versus necessary security. Event planners demand convenient and efficient entry for their patrons, and security planners focus on eliminating all risk. Security planners should realize that although security today may be given increased consideration, it is not the ultimate priority. Therefore, professional security practitioners have learned to offer recommendations, which are backed by logical analysis, that allow for relatively smooth and efficient traffic flow upon entry, without sacrificing the minimum required level of safety.
Critical Area Protection
Having addressed the security of the perimeter, we must now look at certain critical areas within the event venue. These areas require special attention because of the effect that disruption or other problems in these areas could have on the event itself. Critical areas within the venue include, but are not limited to:
Parking lots, especially those beneath the event venue, are vulnerable to large vehicle bombs and are also likely places for personal assaults. Loading docks are also vulnerable to the introduction of large bombs disguised as some other item, and they are a source of entry for those seeking to avoid the scrutiny of other access points.
Key event rooms make ideal targets for individuals who intend to disrupt the event, and VIP rooms and media areas are also attractive to potential disrupters who have an agenda they want to have publicized. VIP rooms are doubly attractive because they house the "controversial" special guest who may be the focus of an assault. Security plans should address emergency evacuation from or problem containment within these areas. Safe rooms where VIPs can be taken should be planned in advance.
Recent developments have raised the level of concern surrounding the security of ventilation and HVAC systems, as well as food set-up areas. The problem here can be summarized in two words — introduction and distribution. Airflow, food, and beverages all represent opportunities for a dangerous foreign substance to be introduced to the venue and distributed to its occupants. These scenarios, though unlikely in most events, must not be disregarded.
Specific Security Concerns
The security planner must assess general security concerns through the use of “what if” scenarios to determine whether enough has been done to deter or prevent disruptive occurrences. However, security planners must also address reactive measures that will have to be anticipated and coordinated. Evaluating the event environment for specific incident scenarios should include the following possibilities:
In addition to the intelligence gathering, access control, entry inspection procedures, and critical area protection issues we have discussed, event planners may need to consider other specific security measures to address the "what if" scenarios. The following general considerations may need to be evaluated (this is not intended to be an all inclusive list):
An effective response to an assault or disruption calls for the coordinated execution of a pre-determined emergency response plan. Ideally, this plan should be developed in concert with the local emergency service personnel who would respond. Coordination with local law enforcement and local fire and rescue teams will be necessary to ensure they and the security team work together to handle the emergency.
Communication is probably the most critical element of any emergency response plan. The security personnel will have to first establish their own communication protocols to be used in the emergency, then follow the directives issued by local authorities who will take over when they arrive. It is best to arrange for the division of duties and responsibilities, and linking of communication systems in advance to ensure the different entities can perform the tasks they are best suited for, without duplicating efforts or getting in each other’s way.
Communication channels and protocols may also change with the transition from normal event operations to emergency status. During a crisis, the venue’s public address system may be used differently. Security may be asked to change the radio channel they were using; however, they will want to keep a communications link with a law enforcement representative. Event planners will need to stay in touch with both security and law enforcement. All of this coordination of communication and tactics on the part of law enforcement and security will ideally take place in what is known as a command post. The emergency command post may be different than the event coordination office or even the security command post used under normal circumstances. Law enforcement may have their own mobile unit or may designate an area to be set up within the venue. The emergency command post becomes the center of communications, decision making, and coordination of actions during the emergency.
During the planning stages, the security coordinator and law enforcement representative should meet to plan how to most effectively use all of the resources available to them in the event of an emergency. There are certain functions that law enforcement will take over and there are other functions that security may be better suited to handle because of their familiarity with the event venue. Event planners should attend these meetings to gain an understanding of the best way to deal with the remaining time of an event or the attendees who may not have been affected by the incident.
Other considerations for the emergency plan, which will address a broad range of possible incidents, would include but are not limited to the following:
III. SECURITY VENDOR SELECTION
Security planning for events is a specialized niche within the security industry requiring unique skills and experience. When evaluating potential vendors, be sure to carefully review their qualifications in the following areas:
Earlier we mentioned the crucial balance between safety and convenience. The ability to strike this balance comes only from experience gained at specific events for which the security planner had to justify a particular security measure and the degree of application, as well as decide which security measures were not necessary. This requires far more than a rudimentary knowledge of what procedures should be followed. Balancing specific threat levels and deciding which security measures should be implemented requires experience with the outcome of these decisions. Look at the resumes and assignment histories of the executives, managers, and field supervisors of each prospective security vendor, and then ask about the backgrounds of the people who will be leading the charge at your event.
Reputation and Stability
There are literally thousands of security companies, but only a small percentage of them are respected for the quality of their work. The companies that possess the knowledge and capability to succeed, distinguish themselves in the industry. Ask for references. Ask other event planners who they have used and whether they were pleased with the outcome. Did their vendor discuss the issues that you have just finished reading? Also check industry publications. The companies with extensive knowledge are usually not afraid to share it, so pay attention to who writes articles and participates in speaking engagements.
Diversity of Capabilities
Select a vendor whose personnel can satisfy all of your event security needs. This may involve planning, staffing with security officers, security screening equipment, canine assistance, executive protection, and crisis management. Many companies will advertise diverse capabilities and then subcontract out all of the pieces, leaving you with a semi-coordinated hodgepodge. Ask the vendor how many of the services will be performed by their own employees. Be wary of companies who have to subcontract for more than one or two disciplines.
Ask the vendor to provide training outlines and schedules. Also ask to visit their training facility, even if you have no intention of doing so. The vendor's reaction will carry its own message. Security personnel training should include legal guidelines, operational procedures, fire prevention, first aid, communication skills and report writing, confrontation management, emergency preparedness, and practical exercise training as a minimum.
Planning security for special events demands the skills acquired through experience — experience working with event planners and local emergency responders to realistically assess likely threats to the event, and experience developing a focused security plan. The security plan must establish the minimum security measures required to accomplish a balance between safety and convenience, while effectively addressing potential threats. When evaluating these security measures, you must carefully weigh the deterrent and preventive value they offer against the threat level, as well as the reactive preparedness of the security team. The plan must be designed and implemented by a qualified team with the experience to win the confidence of event management and local emergency responders. For any plan to work, the decision makers have to trust the security advisors, and that trust can only come when the security planner is absolutely confident that the security measures are necessary, reasonable, and can be implemented with minimal inconvenience to attendees and staff.