Risk-based Approach to Festivals and Fairs
Venues require specific strategy and a road map, including facility orientation
- By Travis Strawbridge, Ty L. Richmond
- Dec 01, 2022
The event security industry, which includes concerts, conventions, sporting and other special events, was one of the sectors hit hardest by the global pandemic, as events ground to a halt overnight, but the sector has come roaring back to life with lightning speed.
While pre-pandemic, there were generally one two major festival at a time across the county, today, there are often six to 8 festivals occurring simultaneously. As the sector is in ‘catch-up’ mode with more events occurring than in any time in recent U.S. history, a risk-based approach to event security at festivals and fairs is more important than ever.
Risk-based Approach to Event Security
What is a risk-based approach to event security? A risk-based approach to event security starts with pre-planning through post-show wrap-up. It ensures that security has a seat at the table from start to finish. Security management teams work closely with event leaders and organizers to ensure consistency and success from show to city to venue.
Event security entails far more than staffing the venue with security staff. The process is complex and requires extensive coordination, communication and advance planning. Every venue requires its own specific strategy and roadmap, which includes extensive facility orientation.
Advance planning requires teamwork with the venue’s facility management and local law enforcement to put together a ‘best practices’ methodology that can be used to address a myriad of emergency scenarios.
Risk is a critical concern for every event. It is important for leaders to recognize risk management as a foundation of operational success and implement strategies to address risk proactively. Risks associated with employee well-being may be due to the lack of a strong safety culture, and therefore a workplace safety program needs to be an integral component of the event planner’s overall approach to risk management.
The organization can begin to safely manage risk by engaging in 360-communication. Event security leaders create a safety culture when they actively engage their team to communicate their safety vision and model safe practices. It is important to make the time to communicate your safety commitment through regular meetings, written communications and safety events. Open communication between leadership and employees supports expectations, engagement and motivation—all essential to a safe event security workplace.
When an event security team starts their preparation for a major festival, they review and analyze a comprehensive master list of what happened at other festivals. Under review includes everything from how many people required medical intervention, how much water was given out to festivalgoers, crowd management, potential assaults, thefts and occupancy rates. Hazard identification is a key part of any injury and illness prevention program. Unidentified, hazards cannot be mitigated properly. Review event records of accidents, injuries, illnesses and near misses to recognize trends.
Mitigating Future Tragedies
On Nov. 5 2021, at an Astroworld Festival near Houston, a concert turned into a tragedy when the crowd surged, causing multiple fatalities and serious injuries. The state of Texas formed the Texas Task Force on Concert Safety.
“Live music is a source of joy, entertainment and community for so many Texans—and the last thing concertgoers should have to worry about is their safety and security,” said Gov. Greg Abbott. “From crowd control strategies and security measures to addressing controlled substances, this task force will develop meaningful solutions that will keep Texans safe while maximizing the joy of live music events.”
The Task Force issued a report with recommendations on unified on-site command and control, permitting, training, planning with risk assessment and centralized resources. Gov. Abbott’s report highlights the importance of a risk-based approach to event security; highlighting every critical component necessary to reduce overall risk exposure.
Continual Training is Critical
Security and event staff require comprehensive training for each specific event. “A series of preshow steps, including tabletop exercises, site walkthrough drills, and security briefings before and after shifts, establishment of a clear and well-disseminated communication tree, and agreed-upon show-stop triggers and responses are some of the elements of successful event protocol,” reports the Texas Task Force on Concert Safety.
Detailed, comprehensive training is vitally important for event security staff. Training methods include classroom training, field training, hands-on simulation training, tabletop exercises, workshops, E-learning, certification courses, Guard Card courses and annual refresher classes.
Crowd Control, Emergency Evacuation Training
Event security professionals do not need a Ph.D. in psychology but they do need a thorough understanding of ‘crowd psychology.’ What is crowd psychology? It is the collective psychological mindset of a large group of generally like-minded individuals in the same general vicinity of each other.
In an organized crowd environment, many of the social barriers that exist in conventional behavior have decreased, or ignored. This stems largely from a person’s identity being, in part, in congruence with the crowd as a whole. For example, people who attend a concert have a shared and common interest with every other person in that crowd with the general enjoyment of the music/artist.
Equipping security personnel with the knowledge, awareness and basic tactics to safely engage, monitor and move large crowds of people in a safe and effective manner is of critical importance. This specific training prepares event security staff to recognize different types of crowds and crowd behaviors, understand basic psychological phenomena, which may arise within individuals and crowds. Training also prepares security staff how to move large crowds in safe and efficient manners, understanding how to properly manage and direct crowds in emergency situations, how to safely evacuate a facility and how that venue layout may affect and alter evacuation procedures.
Event Security Staff: Most Valuable Assets
Employees are the most valuable assets of any event security company. It is vitally important for an event security firm to adhere to strict guidelines for hiring and training. In addition, the event security’s management team should be coaches and mentors to all front-line employees.
Experienced, trained security professionals, who are licensed, and who have undergone background checks and drug testing, are the foundation of event security.
Event security is a dynamic sector that demands that the security professionals engage in extensive training, which includes how to deliver First Aid and CPR, understanding the signs and symptom of heat stress, how to handle attendee slips, trips and falls. This also includes workplace fire safety, workplace violence and active shooter, emergency response and disaster planning, hazardous materials and best practices for arenas, stadiums and amphitheaters.
In addition, there is venue specific training including crowd management that includes technical and guest services skills, line control, front of stage, back of house, ushers, roamers and overall venue security and safety.
Event security professionals should have an open line of communication to their supervisors. A 10 to 1 ratio of security professionals to supervisor is recommended to ensure that there is continual communication and that exceed expectations.
Without active participation by all members of an organization, a safety program will not reach its full potential. Employees feel valued when their ideas and suggestions are taken seriously, and will better support safety policies, processes and programs when they are involved in forming them. It is important that everyone be empowered to have input when it comes to safety.
Event Security High-tech Screening
Event security professionals work with their clients to design and implement screening solutions that best fit their environment, requirements and existing security operations. Today’s security professional is a highly trained individual with access to cutting edge technology including artificial intelligence which consists of state-of-the-art technology that connects artificial intelligence and human response to better protect people with accurate real-time data.
“Event security is fluid and ever changing with crowd movement and dynamics,” said Thushan Rajapaksa who started working in event security at the age of 18 as a ticket taker and today serves as a senior executive leader in event security. Rajapaksa held every position from guest services, security guard, cashier, box office, parking, access control, bike patrol, ID checking, red carpet staff, usher, talent escort, supervisor, recruiter, scheduler, event manager, account manager, director, executive director, general manager, vice president to senior vice president.
“In my 25-plus years, I have never worked a concert that has the same crowd management plan,” Rajapaksa said. “During these turbulent times, ensuring the safety and security of event participants at NAMM or other high-profile events demands the use of cutting-edge technology paired with the best security professionals in the business.
“My event security team plays a multi-faceted role that includes alcohol enforcement, audience management, bike patrol, crowd control, ID checkers, 24-hour event security, access control, parking services, red carpet staff, ticket takers, ushers and VIP/talent escort. We assist from pre-planning stages through post-show wrap-up; working with the client from start to finish.”
As standard practice, security supervisors implement a plan that includes a network of people, processes and technology to deter and mitigate threats. Law enforcement is a partner with physical security and may ask to access video footage. Today’s access control includes biometrics and video analytics, and with facial recognition. Video analytics is also able to measure and gauge crowd behavior, social distancing, detect suspicious packages, and instantly alert security and law enforcement so that preemptive action can be deployed. Social media platforms are monitored using specific key word analytics to assess if there are any potential issues that are happening.
Security professionals together with local, state and federal law enforcement are able to work together to leverage multiple technologies and share information to mitigate potential threats. Ultimately, it is important to determine the policies and procedures that are in place that allow security personnel, law enforcement and other entities to work effectively as a blended team.
This article originally appeared in the November / December 2022 issue of Security Today.