While the Summer Olympics have just concluded, much was made of event security issues in Rio prior to the Games. Other large events are on the horizon too, such as Major League Baseball’s World Series and the National Football League’s Super Bowl. Non-sporting events such as the Toronto Film Festival and The Academy Awards will take place soon, too. 

These events attract attention and main-venue security is heavily scrutinized. However, outside the event are hundreds of corporate parties, receptions, dinners, meetings and more. Security is just as important to the host company’s reputation and yet, it’s our experience that too many times, event security management planning is done far too late in the process. Pinkerton’s Jason Porter, Vice President - Central Region, and Eric Rose, Director, describe some of the most common event management security issues and offer tips on how to prevent them.

Too Late Can Be Too Late

“It’s like steering a large ship, ” says Porter. “You can’t just make a quick right turn to avoid a problem. It takes advanced knowledge of potential obstacles and a plan to adjust for them if they arise.” “It’s important to have as long a buffer period as you can to give the event security team time to plan for contingencies, ” says Rose. “Even before the venue is selected, security should be at the table so that a suitable and safe location is chosen.” Venue selection for event planners is usually based on things like location, convenience, size, quality of cuisine, reputation, service, and of course, availability. Very often security considerations and possible issues are not given the same weight at the start of the planning process. “Last year, a company was hosting a dinner in conjunction with a major sporting event, ” Porter explains. “The guest list featured many high-profile celebrities. When we were contacted, the venue had already been chosen and the event was taking place in a few hours. Unfortunately, they did not consider the popularity of the restaurant. It was packed and had a long line of patrons waiting to get in. While a private room had been selected, it was on the second floor. There was no plan for how to discreetly get the guests in and out while avoiding delays caused by autograph and selfie seekers. Celebrities risk damaging their reputations if they ignore or refuse their fans’ requests so, it created quite a bottleneck. Had security been a focus from the start, our recommendation would have been for a different venue that could assure private, secure access…giving everyone peace of mind.” Choosing a venue is just one aspect that can be positively influenced when security is included far in advance of event. Another related tip is controlling guest attendance.

How Did They Get In?

Anyone who has ever hosted an event knows that guest list management can be a major challenge. Prior to an event, it seems rather straightforward. The host has invited X number of people and is expecting Y guests to attend. A venue is selected that can handle that many, with some extra capacity for those who didn’t or weren’t required to RSVP. Simple? Not quite. “So many times, especially at corporate events when C-suite executive are attending, people not on the guest list are admitted entry, ” Rose says. “This can happen for a multitude of reasons. Someone meets a celebrity or athlete and says they can come in…and they usually have additional people with them. Someone who IS on the guest list brings a few extra people and all of them are let in. Or, in some cases, no one really has control of the guest list so many non-invitees get in. Very quickly this adds up and you have far more people at the event than you intended.” One common, yet mostly unanticipated, result of that scenario is a fire code violation and the immediate shut down of the event, which is damaging to the host’s reputation. “It is a Fire Marshall’s job to ensure the safety of citizens, ” says Rose. “They may give a warning first but, it is well within their authority to shut down an event if attendance exceeds a building/room’s legal capacity.” One might think the solution is simple….just don’t let that many people in. However, a key issue security teams and event planners face is that they work for the host client. If an executive of that client insists that people off the guest list are let in, it puts both teams in a difficult situation. Creating clear guidelines and authority can alleviate that problem.

Under Whose Authority?

“It is imperative that there be one person who has ultimate authority to make on-the-fly decisions at event, ” says Rose. He explains that when an event has multiple people “in charge” it leads to confusion, especially with guest access issues. “Our team was handling security for a corporate event recently. Thankfully, we were brought in early and we recognized a problem right away….too many people with some form of authority. We urged them to choose one person who would be our ‘go to’ person for when immediate decisions needed to be made.” The result was that the guest list was very tightly controlled and other key issues were dealt with quickly instead of having to get input from multiple sources.

Unanticipated Guests

A tightly controlled guest list is important, as noted above. But just as important is knowing who may show up uninvited, another common problem encountered in event planning. “When a security team is brought in early, it gives them time to vet each of the guests to determine if there are any risk of protests or other disruptions, ” says Rose. “If we can anticipate protests, for example, we can then create an alternate security plan that could include changing travel routes, using secondary entrances/exits, and increasing the security detail prior to the attendee’s arrival.” A key part of a security plan should include protective intelligence elements. GPS tracking of key executives and guests can help ease the flow of guests in and out of the venue. Situational awareness is also key. Security teams should have access to up-to-the-minute intel about the surrounding region so that if a security incident were to take place nearby, they have time to react. Monitoring social media chatter has become a critically important measure for event security teams in these scenarios, allowing them to manage potential protests or other planned disturbances. “Protest organizers use social media to communicate quickly to their followers, ” explains Rose. “Many times, they will share key details about a protest. That information is golden to a security team and we can plan accordingly.” “There are all sorts of uninvited people who might try to attend an event and many times, event planners have not anticipated them, ” says Porter. “For example, if you are hosting an event that even one celebrity is attending, is there a plan to handle paparazzi and fans? If not, you risk putting the celebrity in jeopardy and causing a preventable disruption to the event, even if the person has their own security team.” Private security teams for individual attendees are also a concern for the event’s security team. Many times, VIPs, especially government representatives, will have their own security team with them. This can cause issues for event planners. “Recently at an event, we had a government official attend and their security team asked that no other security be allowed in the room while the person was delivering the keynote address. We advised our client not to accept this request since during the speech, security for the whole room would rely on this private team whose primary responsibility is the safety of the speaker. We were able to arrive at a compromise because we had enough time to work with the event planner and the other security team. Had it been a ‘day of’ decision, it would have caused stress and might not have worked out as well.” Event planners have a lot on their plates from catering to agenda coordination to event staging and so many other elements. As a result, security concerns can sometimes be left to the last minute. As we hope this post demonstrates, preventing issues takes some long-term planning. “A lot of what we do is planning for things that may not happen” says Porter. “We ask clients to adopt a “have and not need” mentality so that systems are in place to deal with security issues even if they, hopefully, don’t arise. It gives planners and hosts peace of mind. That alone is worth the effort!”

Published September 19, 2016