For Pinkerton Director Eric Rose, large scale event security has been on his mind for several years. “People haven’t been taking security at events like sporting contests or concerts seriously enough,” he explains. “I’ve felt for a while now that it was only a matter of time before something bad happened.”
And sadly, it did. While we were working on this post, a topic Rose suggested months ago, tragedy struck in Manchester, England. A bomber killed more than 20 people at a Ariana Grande concert. And for Rose, it cast a spotlight on an industry that needs to dramatically alter how it considers security at events like these. “Event security just can’t be a budget line item or a box that gets checked,” says Rose. “Security must be at the forefront of any event planner’s mind as a critical element to the event’s success.”
A Show of Security Force is Not Enough
According to Rose, security at events has been traditionally handled by local law enforcement and/or hired off-duty uniformed officers. Simply alerting the authorities that an event was taking place and having them present was considered ample security. “The mindset was that if you have enough uniformed officers present, that alone would be enough of a deterrent to thwart any plans to disrupt the event.”
But the reaction to a visible security force is akin to a speeding driver seeing a police car and slowing down. The problem is that once the police car is out of sight, the driver resumes speeding. “Posting police at a venue only handles the issues that are right in front of them. Yes, they are a deterrent and they can certainly react to situations and maintain order. But more is needed to prevent incidents from occurring in the first place. Pinkerton recommends a layered approach.”
Layered Security Combines Multiple Tactics
Layered event security means that several tactics are used, some of them clearly visible and others behind the scenes, to provide protection to event attendees and staff.
“The first layer is law enforcement,” says Rose. “A venue absolutely needs to have highly visible officers that not only deter crime but assure attendees that security has been addressed. If an incident takes place, they will play a critical role in crowd control while helping to clear the crime scene so that an investigation can take place.”
The next layer is private security and Rose says the key issue is intelligence gathering and doing a full security risk assessment. That takes place far in advance of the event. “We will look at past attacks of similar events, learning all that we can about where vulnerabilities were that allowed the incident to occur. We will also use our global network of resources to monitor current events to determine if anything would be a trigger for a possible attack. We then communicate all that information to our team that has ‘boots on the ground’ so they can act on the intel.”
With a private security force, it’s unlikely event attendees will know they are there. And that is by design. “When our team is on the ground, they are there gathering information that can be shared through the security detail. An undercover agent can get much closer to suspects and monitor their movements, reporting to others as needed so that a plan to suppress a potential attack can be made.”
For best results, private security would act as the overall coordinator of the layered approach, keeping all parties informed of developments, while monitoring intel gathered from multiple sources. “At Pinkerton we take a holistic approach to how we manage event security,” says Rose. “Ideally, we are at the table very early on in the event planning process so that we can influence how the event logistics are addressed that could affect security. We work with law enforcement, venue management, event planners and promoters, performers, presenters and their security forces, ancillary business operators like parking lots and concessions, so that we address as many vulnerability points as we can.”
Advances in technology have both helped and hindered security in the past 20 years. Social media, as an example, has given security teams a way to learn about disruptive plans being devised by criminals. Teams can set up a “geo-fence,” which focuses social media monitoring to a specific geographic area, to look for messaging that could indicate an attack is being planned. However, technology has also sped up how fast those attack plans can be enacted since communication is nearly instantaneous, making it hard for security teams to stay ahead. Overall, though, Rose believes that the strategic and effective use of technology has advanced security efforts greatly.
“It’s easier than ever to communicate with our team who, at an event, could be spread out miles apart,” he explains. “If we learn a key piece of information from our intel gathering, we can now text that out instantly so that the whole team has it. We can communicate and act as fast as the criminals can.”
Intel Gathering and Surveillance
A critical layer to providing security at a large-scale event is the constant gathering of new information through ongoing surveillance. “Situations change in an instant,” says Rose. “It is critical that there are dedicated surveillance personnel who are trained to look for suspicious activity and report their observations.” Rose and his team recommend elements such as bomb-detecting dogs, undercover agents, rooftop surveillance teams and even drones, if permitted, to get a full picture of the event scene. The goal, he says, is to expand the perimeter of security for a venue beyond just the venue and immediate surroundings.
A Change in Culture is Required
More than any new or improved tactics, providing a high level of security for large scale events in today’s world will require a change in the attitude and culture found among venue owners and event promoters, according to Rose. ““It’s just not prudent to maintain a ‘It won’t happen here’ attitude when it comes to security. Security can’t be the first line item reduced when expenses get too high. Today’s security is complex because so are the threats.”
Rose says a culture shift like the one that took place in the air travel industry is required for large scale events. After the 9/11 attacks, airport security changed dramatically. Imagine telling someone prior to those attacks that before boarding a plane they would have to remove their shoes and belts, they would not be able to bring liquids larger than 3.5 ounces and that they should plan to arrive 1.5-2 hours prior to departure due to security checks. But today, the industry culture has changed and those rules are the accepted norms.
Recent terrorist attacks, like that in Manchester, have cast a spotlight on venue security but Rose says operators need not concentrate as much on why attacks occurred. Rather, he says, they should focus on how.
“Motive is not the major concern for security teams. Our concern about these recent attacks is how did they happen? Where were the vulnerabilities and why were they there? What systems and tactics might have prevented them? These are the questions that need to be asked far in advance of any future event so that risks can be mitigated before they become reality.”