Effective Security Measures for Protecting Concerts, Festivals and Sporting Events
Event safety is back in the limelight with the recent tragic loss of lives at the Travis Scott concert at Astroworld. Ten people, including a 9-year-old boy, lost their lives due to a crowd surge at the event. Now with nearly a billion dollars in lawsuits filed against Travis Scott and promoters, the event industry is wondering what could be done in the future to better control crowds and prevent future tragedies. This article explores the incidents and provides security strategies to improve the safety of the many people that attend large-scale outdoor events.
Concerts, Festivals, and major sporting events draw large crowds, making them susceptible to mass injuries and casualties from unexpected events. Injuries and deaths can be caused by crowd surges, collapsing bleachers, lighting strikes, heat exhaustion, and other weather-related events. Losses can also be caused by sinister means such as active shooters and bombings. Examples include the 2015 terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded 494, the 2017 Active Shooter incident in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and injured 422 others, and the 2018 bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England that left twenty-two people dead.
Events always have the potential for widespread casualties, but consulting with a security professional specializing in event security can mitigate many issues that event organizers, planners, promoters, and attendees worry about at large-scale events. Over the past thirty years, we have provided security for seven presidential inaugurations. We have also protected PGA golf tournaments, ATP Golf Tournaments, MLB All-Star games, countless concerts, festivals, and large-scale outdoor events. So to say we are event security specialists would be an understatement. With that said, we would like to share some of the security strategies that work for us with event planners, promoters, and security professionals across the globe.
The most critical factor in having a safe event is “Security Planning.” Security planning cannot be rushed and should never be an afterthought. Unfortunately, many event planners, promoters, and security firms fail to put the necessary time and energy into developing solid security plans.
“FEMA agress that planning ahead reduces stress for organizers and promoters during the event, if an incident occurs that requires public agencies to work together.”
Event organizers, promoters, and planners should be thinking about consulting a security firm the moment they begin planning events. It’s a good idea to confer with a security consultant at least 3 to 6 months in advance of the event to discuss the event layout, potential risks, security countermeasures, and a rough estimate of the number of security staff that may be needed to manage crowds and safety at the event effectively.
Once event organizers hire their event security provider, there must be regular meetings and communication between both parties leading up to the event. These meetings are crucial for large-scale events with one thousand or more attendees. Security topics that must be discussed include the type of event, the anticipated number of attendees, the event layout or blueprints, access control, credentialing, emergency procedures, emergency exits, police and fire support, and potential risk and issues that may arise during the event. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. Security is often hired just weeks before the event date, which creates challenges for the security company and creates huge liability concerns. Often the event planners tell the security firm how many security officers they need and where they need to be posted. That should never be the case, as event planners are not security specialists. Often, the number of guards and post assignments they want is not enough to provide ample coverage or safety for their events or those who attend them. Security planning for events should always be left to the security consultant with input from the event planning team.
There are several factors that determine what stakeholders should be a part of the event planning team. Some of the factors include the size of the event (space used and projected attendance), the type of event, the anticipated age of the crowd, and who the performers will be. This group should include the promoter or sponsor, the security director/vendor, and all agencies that hold a functional stake in the event including but not limited to:
- Emergency Management
- Law Enforcement
- Fire and Rescue
- Public Works/Utilities
- Public Health and
- The local Transportation Authority
The planning team should talk at length about the potential risks and the event’s impact on its surrounding community. The team should also develop contingencies to address the potential security issues should they arise.
Layered security, also known as layered defense or defense-in-depth, is the practice of combining multiple security controls to protect your event. Layered security creates redundancies to prevent adversaries from attacking your assets and resources. Any security measures implemented must detect, deter, delay, and deny and defend against security breaches and safety issues (Physical Security Principles).
When protecting large-scale events, a layered security strategy should have the most valued and vulnerable assets residing in the innermost zone (most protected). This zone is usually inside all access control points, fence lines, perimeter barriers, and security checkpoints. The inner zone may contain an even tighter internal control zone if there are stages, VIP, and other critical areas, i.e., power generators, etc. Stage areas should have buffer zones between the stage and the crowd. Buffer zones should be defined by stage barricades and staffed by experienced security personnel. The middle zone is safer; this is where the event attendees, vendors, medical staff, and emergency personnel usually reside. The inner and middle zones are where you will find the bulk of your security personnel. Fences and barricades usually protect the middle zone. On the opposite side of those fences is the outer zone. The outer zone is where all vehicles are parked, and the access control points begin. The key to having efficient outer zone security is having a keen access control staff.
Access control deals with who and what comes in and goes out of your event. The level of access control should be governed by the type of event you are having and the number and type of crowd you anticipate. Access control points should be controlled by security personnel. There should also be ticket takers, bag checkers, and volunteers to assist with credential checks and wrist bands.
Every large-scale event should have walk-through and handheld metal detectors at the access control points. It’s key to remember that each walk-through metal detector should be staffed with a minimum of three security officers. One for the initial check, one searcher, and one observer. Successful security managers create a fair balance of male and female security staff to deal with members of the opposite sexes. You should also have contingencies for the disposal or transfer to the proper authorities for prohibited items, illegal contraband, and weapons.
The most important part of the access control point is supervision and management. Some events may have as many as sixty security officers controlling one access point. One supervisor can’t supervise that many people. Inevitably, someone or something will slip through the cracks. Therefore, it is critical to remember “Span of Control,” meaning each supervisor should only be responsible for eight to ten employees. For security teams with thirty or more guards, I highly recommend one or more security managers be assigned as well.
An effective way to set the tone for an orderly event is to use correctly designed line queues. Line queues work great when combined with signage and crowd control personnel or security guards. Line queues can be designated for general admission tickets, will-call, and VIP access lines to facilitate efficient crowd movement. When planning line queues, one should consider the projected number of visitors and design queues that will most effectively reduce mass gathering and line cutting.
Outdoor line queues work well when bicycle racks are used as barricades. Rope and stanchion are practical for indoor events. I highly recommend that queues be staffed with security and volunteer event personnel to give direction for ticket scans, admission and to provide search procedures. I also recommend using bullhorns, as they effectively relay information to masses of people clearly and quickly.
Appropriate signage is beneficial to event planners, security professionals, and patrons alike. Signage provides attendees directions on where to go and how to behave. Event signage should also include general rules, prohibited items, and how to exit in emergencies.
Some examples of signs you may see at events are “No Weapons Beyond This Point,” “All Persons and Bags are Subject to Search,” “No Photos, Videos,” and “Emergency Exit.” As a general rule, I recommend that signs be placed throughout the event, especially in critical areas such as access and egress points. The letters on each poster should be at least eight inches tall and visible with the naked eye from a distance of at least fight feet away (Physical Security Principle 207).
Event Security Personell
The success of your event may hinge on the security company your hire. Hire an experienced security company. Often event planners and promoters find themselves either in trouble or in frustration from hiring cheaper security. I recommend selecting your security provider based on the following three criteria, in the exact order they are written:
- Experience & Reputation – The company should have experience in handling the types of events you host. Their security guards should be trained in access control, customer service, conflict resolution, search procedures, magnetometer operation, crowd management, and mass evacuation. When vetting security companies, always consult the potential vendors’ websites and social media pages for past work. Also, be sure to check past client references.
- Availability – Experienced security companies are always in high demand, especially from April through mid-October. If you’re having an event during those months, I highly recommend getting your security vendor on board in the early planning stages. You should also have a signed security agreement in place at least sixty days before your event.
- Money – is a factor, but it should not be your primary factor when hiring event security. We get what we pay for in life, and security is no exception. Unqualified security reveals itself as sure as the sun rises. Lawsuits arising from security-related incidents cost millions yearly. Don’t scrape the bottom of the barrel to save money. Your security should cost you roughly 3 – 4% of total gross sales for your event. You should be able to find a reputable security company in that price range. Just make sure you do your homework before signing an agreement.
Efficiently run events are a direct result of experienced security management. An excellent guideline for security management is (1) supervisor for every (8-10) security officers and (1) Security Manager for every (30) security personnel. Adhering to these numbers facilitates streamlined communication, rapid response to security incidents and medical emergencies, efficient oversight over the security staff, quick resolution of customer service issues, and better liaison between the client/event planner in addressing security issues.
An event can be evacuated for many reasons, including weather-related events, collapsing seating, stages, or scaffolding, fights, stampedes, bombings, suspicious packages, active shooters, or other terrorist acts. Crowd management best practices call for an evacuation plan and dedicated emergency exits for every event. The entry and exit points for an event should always be in separate locations to prevent injuries and death from stampedes in the event of an emergency. There should also be enough emergency exits to accommodate the anticipated crowd. All exit gates should be clearly marked with signage on a white background, with red, bold eight-inch tall lettering. If your sign has arrows, symbols, etc., the signs should be at least fifteen inches high (Physical Security Principles 207).
Surveillance and Awareness
Surveillance is everybody’s job. If you “See Something, Say Something” plays an essential part in event security. Surveillance does not have to be via camera, but cameras are helpful depending on the type of event you’re having. I encourage event planners and promoters to communicate “See Something, Say Something” in all print and social media campaigns with a brief description of how to report things that seem out of place or represent a security hazard at their events.
Finally, an event can go as only as good as its communication. Event planners are responsible for communicating with attendees, employees, vendors, volunteers, and security staff. The communication channels include signage, digital display boards, loudspeakers, bullhorns, event hosts and MCs, and handheld radios. I highly recommend ordering radios for your security manager and their supervisors to ensure that security issues are communicated and addressed as expeditiously as possible.
Social media is an effective form of communication. Events planners would be wise to engage their attendees while promoting events. Doing so will get the attendees accustomed to communicating with them. Use social media platforms to tell the attendees what to expect before, during and, after the event. Be sure to encourage the use of event-themed hashtags (security should be one) and geo-location tagging to help security personnel quickly respond to issues and patrons to find points of interest at your event. Large monitors that relay vital event information also proves very helpful to get mass communication out quickly.
Finally, event security plans must consider how the team will respond to security or safety incidents. As mentioned earlier, we recommend identifying all potential risks that could be associated with the event. Once the risks are identified, contingencies can be planned. I highly recommend staffing a contingency of security officers to act as your incident response team. The officers should be trained to respond to incidents and be led by an experienced security supervisor. The response team can be used to patrol the event to watch for and handle minor issues with attendees, fights, medical emergencies, and breaches in the security perimeter. Additionally, the incident response team should be tasked with facilitating evacuations if needed. The incident response team should work closely with the emergency services units such as law enforcement, fire and safety, and medical staff.
Large scale events such as concerts and festivals provide good times for people who love entertainment. The events also are known to draw large crowds, sometimes in the tens of thousands. Sometimes these events can become dangerous, with events goers being susceptible to injury and death due to natural events such as lighting strikes, crowd surges, falling equipment, fights, and terrorist acts, but event planners, promoters, and organizers can take steps to prevent injuries and mitigate risks. Event planning is a team approach; therefore, we recommend that event planners, organizers, and promoters consult with security professionals at the onset of the event planning. Other team members should include local law enforcement, fire safety, and EMT personnel, public works, transportation, and government officials. Your planning team should meet regularly leading up to the event day. The team should consider all risks that could happen during the event and plan contingencies to mitigate the risks or respond if an incident occurs.
To provide optimal security and mitigate risks, your event security plans should consider security alternatives for access control, layered security, line queues, signage, evacuations, surveillance and awareness, experienced security staff, communication, supervision, and management and incident response.
Having a security plan and contingencies may not eliminate incidents from occurring, however, a well-thought-out plan and teamwork can improve safety, reduce liability, mitigate risks and ensure a more efficient response.
For more information about event security planning or event security services feel free to give our security company a call at 301-423-2636 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org