Special event security management

Access & Identity Management Handbook 2005 News & Events

Special event security management is a critical part of successful event planning. Unfortunately, event managers do not always give sufficient emphasis to security considerations in developing their plans, and such failure can have disastrous results.

By definition, special events involve large crowds that can be expected to create a range of security exposures for event managers and security personnel. This discussion provides information on a process for addressing security issues as part of event planning.

This document is intended to introduce the reader to considerations in special event security management. It cannot be assumed that every acceptable security or safety procedure is contained in this discussion or that unusual circumstances may not require further or additional procedures to achieve reasonable levels of security. It may be appropriate to consult with a security professional experienced in special event security management.


What are we talking about when it comes to event security management? We are certainly talking about events that take place in sports arenas, university or college campuses, corporate facilities, office complexes, art galleries, music halls and other properties. The issues addressed here have to do with events on both private and public property, although law enforcement and public officials often have unique responsibilities. A public facility will often have special requirements.

Facilities that host special events may or may not have a security programme to deal with normal, daily activities. Even if they do, these programmes are often inadequate for large events that will stretch the limits of normal staffing levels. This is especially true when such properties are the scene of a special event, such as a musical concert, sports event, art exhibit or a VIP visit at which large crowds are expected. For such events, a special security programme must be implemented to control the crowds and avoid panic in the event of an emergency.

When the event takes place on public property, security is generally the responsibility of law enforcement. Event managers may typically augment police with other security services such as contract security officers. On private property, event, facility or property managers will be responsible for security, although the participation and cooperation of law enforcement may be required. Also, although a large event takes place on public property, the crowds from such an event can easily spill over onto surrounding private property creating unplanned security exposures.

Experienced special event security professionals appreciate Murphy's Law: 'What can go wrong will go wrong!' Experienced professionals recognise that the best way to manage seemingly 'random' events is through good planning, excellent training and drills.

This brief outlines the elements of a security programme for managing a special event on private property and discusses the liability exposures generally associated with such events.

Designing a security programme

Behind every successful event is a security and crowd control programme that is carefully crafted to meet needs that can be reasonably anticipated. The key to making the programme successful is planning and preparation. While a facility may have a general security and crowd control programme in place, the programme should be tailored to meet the needs of each specific event. This requires thoughtful planning by individuals who can anticipate potential problems and deal with them in a constructive fashion.

Event planning begins with a clear understanding of the audience. You must think of the audience as people that you are inviting in and hosting. By 'inviting' them into your facility, you have a duty to provide reasonable measures of security and safety. These people are your guests and you must make accommodations for their safety.

Establishing a security committee

Successful events often involve the formation of a security committee that can identify potential risks and hazards and construct an effective programme. In addition to the risk identification function, such a committee can ensure proper communication and coordination on issues relating to security.

The security committee should consist of representatives from event or facility management, risk management, safety, support personnel (eg, ushers, ticket sales personnel), event promoters, and security. It may be appropriate to include security personnel associated with VIPs who will be featured at the affair. A security coordinator should be appointed who will be involved in establishing the agenda for each meeting. All issues dealing with security at the event should be communicated through this individual. Ideally, such a committee can be formed early in the planning process and will meet on a regular schedule. Typically, the frequency of such meetings increases as time for the event nears.

The committee should be held on a regular basis to review plans for the event, discuss problems and report progress to management. By elevating the importance of security, other individuals involved in the event planning process can function smoothly in reviewing their needs and requirements.

The security committee should review experiences with prior events to determine what worked and what did not, and what problems were experienced and how these could impact the present event. It is often helpful to employ an experienced consultant or to check with event staff in other locations that have hosted similar events. However, your event is unique and you must reasonably contemplate the special issues and challenges that will arise at your event.

Writing a mission statement

Management or the committee, as early in the process as possible, should promulgate a mission statement. The mission statement should serve as the foundation for organising security operations from the earliest stages on. An example of a mission statement or statement of purpose is: "The goal of security for this event is to provide spectators or visitors, participants, and support personnel with a safe and secure environment in which to enjoy the activity, with contingency plans in place to address any concerns that may arise before, during or after the event."

Event planning measures


It is people that will ultimately make the security plan effective. Security personnel can be either proprietary or contract. Proprietary personnel are in-house staff, whether full- or part-time. Contract personnel are hired from an outside agency, under a contract. Companies can contract with an outside agency to provide all their staffing needs for the period covered in the contract, which can range from a special event to permanent staffing. If the event management team does not include a full-time security professional, it may be necessary to employ a security consultant that can oversee the security function. If contract security officers are to be used, such an individual can ensure that these personnel are properly trained and that appropriate staffing levels are achieved.

The hiring and training of security personnel should be in accordance with local or state statutes. Many states now have licensing laws, which generally call for minimum screening and training requirements for security officers. Training should, as a minimum, cover CPR, first aid, constitutional law, criminal law, crowd management, defensive tactics and report writing. Additional training can include drug awareness, emergency response, general and tactical communications, use of chemical agents, use of force, and mechanics of arrest. State laws may grant certain special policing laws to licensed security officers. Likewise, organisations often contract with police personnel for services.

Armed security personnel will require additional and ongoing training in the handling and use of weapons.

Special events generally will require additional security personnel beyond the regular staff. These can be contract personnel or police officers. The temporary security officer's role is to assist the regular staff in spotting and preventing trouble and bringing it to the attention of event staff.

It is becoming increasingly common to employ police officers or other off duty law enforcement personnel to meet security personnel needs for special events. This practice has many advantages. In most cases, police officers will have completed appropriate background screening, have the necessary training to perform the job and can be called upon to handle ejections and arrests. However, there are problems with this practice. One difficulty associated with using police is that they can be called away, even during the event, to handle a local emergency.

If contract officers are used, the agreement with the contract agency should call for a level of screening and training that meets local and state requirements, and supplemental training as needed to fulfil their duties. For example, if contract officers are expected to perform the same function as the regular staff, then their level of training should be equivalent.

Special events will also require the hiring of temporary workers to assist in handling concessions, custodial services, and other non-security tasks. Because of the short-term need for these workers, they are generally hired without undergoing any background or reference checking. This could result in the hiring of workers with felony or violent misdemeanor convictions. One option is to hire temporary workers only from agencies that perform applicant background checks. The contract with the agency can stipulate that all workers be properly screened, as spelled out in the contract.

The type of event (eg, football game, rock concert) and the estimated crowd size will determine the number of crowd control personnel (security personnel, law enforcement personnel, as well as ushers and ticket takers) required. Events where alcohol is served or drugs are likely to be present require an elevated level of security and, possibly, special training for security personnel.

The event planners and/or sales personnel should keep the security committee informed on the latest projected attendance figures, and staffing needs should be adjusted accordingly. While there are no hard and fast rules to determine the number of crowd control personnel required at an event, a review of past events can provide a yardstick for making a determination.

The telephone number for contacting emergency medical service (EMS) personnel should be readily available for all events. At large events involving crowds larger than 10 000 people, EMS personnel should be on-site. Crowd control and security personnel should be instructed on how to initiate a medical response.

The media

The media can make substantial demands on those managing a special event. Demands can rapidly change so you must approach media-related issues with flexibility and care. Media demands will reflect their perceptions of the newsworthiness of the event and consequential plans for coverage (eg, sports event featuring prominent teams).

Since special event planners typically want news coverage, it is important to accommodate the media in every possible way. This is easier said than done especially when it involves large events in open spaces.

While you must plan to oblige the press, media interest can grow literally overnight. It is not unusual for the scores, even hundreds, of members of the press corps to attend an event when original plans called for a much smaller number.

In some cases, the television media, which can have many camera and broadcast positions, will have numerous and often very demanding requirements. If this is likely to be the case, try to include one or more media representatives on the security committee.

ID badges

Each full-time staff member should be provided with picture identification cards that are required to be worn visibly at all times. Other staff members may also be issued ID badges and all badges should be colour-coded to limit access to areas appropriate to that individual. ID badges are often supplemented with T-shirts or blazers depending on the type of event.

ID badges can also function as access control cards. Even contract or short-term staff should be provided with temporary identification cards. These cards should be of a distinct and easily noticed colour and should be worn at all times.

Increasingly, special event staff will wear uniform clothing. Often this will entail a brightly-coloured polo shirt or blazer depending upon the formal nature of the event. This will help your guests to immediately recognise event staff.

Access control

Exterior entrances and loading docks should be controlled before and during an event. All exterior doors, except those used for visitor entrance, should be kept locked at all times, in accordance with life safety or fire code requirements.

Employees should be required to enter the facility through a controlled employee entrance. Admittance can be automated through the use of a card access control system.

Control centre

Events should have a control centre situated in a strategic location offering the best possible views of the event. A control centre should be established to serve as a central communication point for coordination of all activities related to the event. Representatives from security, law enforcement, EMS, and facility management should be assigned to the centre, which should be centrally located within the facility.

Communication for security personnel can be by a handheld, two-way radio (walkie-talkie) or other means. It is especially important that supervisory personnel have an effective means of communication with the control centre.

Radios or other communication equipment should be tested prior to the event.

Parking and traffic control

Traffic control plans and management will leave patrons with an impression of how an event is managed. Parking and traffic control play integral roles in the success of an event, since delays caused by either can result in delays in crowd ingress, which could delay the start of the event. Traffic control can also greatly affect crowd egress. For events at which a large volume of vehicles is expected, law enforcement should be requested to provide traffic control on local roads.

Based on the projected attendance, a determination can be made if there will be sufficient parking on property. If on-site parking is insufficient, arrangements may have to be made to provide for satellite parking. Providing transportation to and from the satellite parking, and safety, security and traffic control at the satellite parking will also need to be addressed.

Close proximity parking problems can also affect emergency medical assistance plans. EMS personnel should be provided a route to efficiently evacuate injured or sick individuals. Parking areas must be monitored to ensure that emergency vehicles have access to and from the facility. Also, a few vehicles parked in the wrong areas can create chaos both when guests are arriving and when they are leaving.

Ingress and egress

If special screening of patrons or guests will take place, it is important that this information be widely communicated as early and as frequently as possible to avoid bottlenecks. Likewise, patrons should be advised regarding regulations prohibiting the presence of certain items (eg, cameras).

Since most patrons or guests arrive within 20 to 30 minutes before the start of an event; staffing needs for ticket personnel and/or gate personnel are greatest during this period.

Once the event starts and the ingress traffic slows, staffing levels can be reduced and personnel reassigned to patrols or elsewhere. In the event of an emergency, a plan must be in place to facilitate the orderly exiting of the crowd from the facility; gate personnel should be readily contacted so they can assist in the effort.

Life safety will require that means be provided for guests or patrons to exit the facility throughout the event.

Emergency exits should be clearly marked. Emergency exits should allow for the smooth flow of the crowd from the facility.

If turnstiles or gates are used during crowd ingress and these same portals are used for egress, at the end of the event the turnstiles and gates should be opened to facilitate the exiting crowds. While most of the crowd will exit at the end of an event, it is common, especially during athletic events, for a large portion of the crowd to begin leaving before the event ends.

Entry screening

Entry screening is especially important for high-risk audiences (eg, rock fans). If high-risk guests can be anticipated, then pre-event announcements should be made concerning restrictions on behaviour or the presence of inappropriate items.

Entry screening can range from visual inspection and bag searches of suspicious people to searches by metal detectors and handheld wands of all people. The goal of the screening is to remove items that can turn into dangerous missiles or weapons. Another objective is to avoid substances that can impair the judgement of your guests. The type of event can help to determine the level of screening used. Patrons who refuse the search should be denied entry.


It is important that security professionals be visible during the event. The best method for asserting such a presence (other than by identifying clothing and badges) is through patrols.

Security personnel should be assigned to patrol the crowd during the event and should plan on providing ample coverage at choke points or areas where problems are most likely to occur.

Patrols serve as the eyes and ears for the staff in the control centre. Patrols should report on a regular basis to the communication centre.

Other issues

The destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 has changed the face of security. Security professionals must re-double their efforts to protect a demanding public. Throughout society security has been elevated and special events will be no different.

Bomb threats

Now special event planners must consider the prospect of terrorists, who have long seen bomb threats as a weapon of choice. Terrorists are hardly alone in their use of such intimidation. Disgruntled employees and others can use bomb threats to disrupt the event. A bomb threat plan should be in place for managing such threats and procedures for evacuating a facility and conducting bomb searches if warranted. Key elements should include:

1. Protocols for informing the command centre.

2. Decide what primary and alternate communications will be used.

3. Establish clearly how and who will evaluate a bomb threat.

4. Decide what procedures will be followed when a bomb threat is received or device discovered.

5. Determine to what extent the available bomb squad will assist and at what point the squad will respond.

6. Provide an evacuation plan with enough flexibility to avoid a suspected danger area.

7. Designate search teams and areas to be searched.

8. Establish techniques to be utilised during search.

9. Establish a protocol to report and track progress of the search and a method to lead qualified bomb technicians to a suspicious package.

10. Have a contingency plan available if a bomb should go off.

11. Establish a simple to follow procedure for the person receiving the bomb threat.

12. Review your physical security plan in conjunction with the development of your bomb incident plan. Special events also present an opportune time for groups to express their views through a public demonstration. These demonstrations can occur without any forewarning and, at times, escalate to violence.

13. Local law enforcement should be contacted immediately at the first sign of a demonstration.

Response readiness

There are a number of steps that you can take that can help staff be ready for a range of contingencies. Studies show that staff members are more able to deal with a crisis if they have been drilled on such problems. These steps include:

* Staff should work on drills for evacuating patrons from the event.

* When staging drills, check to see that employees are following the procedures outline in your plan.

* Test your system of accounting for employees.

* Work on specific scenarios to see if your plan accommodates them.

Liability considerations

Reducing risks and liability exposures is an important consideration in special event planning. By successfully managing risks, planners can not only achieve a safe event, but they can substantially reduce their liability exposure.

There are several legal issues related to establishing security policies and implementing security procedures that event managers should consider. If questions arise, it is always appropriate to consult with an attorney that has expertise on premise liability matters. The following are some of the important liability issues that should be considered:

* Inadequate security.

* Negligent employment practices.

* Handling disturbances, ejections, and arrests.

Inadequate security

A lawsuit for inadequate security may arise when a business fails to provide reasonable security to protect against foreseeable criminal acts committed by third parties against authorised individuals on property which the business owns, possesses or controls. Event managers must consider security issues as soon as a guest is invited on their premises.

Inadequate security exposures at special events can include but are not necessarily limited to the following:

* Lack of proper policies and procedures.

* Failure to follow established policies and procedures.

* Poor access control.

* Inadequate lighting in and around the facility, including parking lots;

* Insufficient CCTV coverage.

* Inadequate patrol patterns.

* Failure to maintain security equipment.

* Failure to install or maintain property fencing.

* Failure to properly maintain landscaping to minimise hiding places for would-be criminals. Each of these issues can be managed through adequate planning and proper execution.

Negligent employment practices

Negligent employment practices include negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention. For proprietary personnel, it is crucial to have the proper controls in place. For contract personnel, it is important to ensure that key issues are addressed in the body of the contract.

Negligent hiring

Liability arises when personnel are employed without being adequately screened and commit or contribute to an act that injures another person. The extent of the screening check will vary depending on the level of risk posed by the employee. For security officers, because of their interaction with the public, a thorough investigation should be performed of their backgrounds. This is a complex issue that must be treated with care. Most states presently have licensing laws for security personnel that require, as a minimum, FBI criminal record checks. If an individual is hired and, subsequently, found to be unfit for a security position but still retained, this can subject the employer to negligent retention.

Negligent training

Negligent training occurs if the employee is unable to perform the functions of the job because of inadequate training. Training should be in accordance with local or state licensing laws, industry standards, and/or company policy and procedures. It is incumbent upon management to be confident that all employees are adequately trained for the jobs that they do.

Negligent supervision

Management's failure to properly supervise security personnel has also been a factor in a number of lawsuits alleging negligent supervision. Supervisors must take appropriate action to be sure that personnel are complying with appropriate procedures and policies.

Ejection, arrest and disturbance issues

Lawsuits can also be brought against event planners for the inappropriate actions of staff, in particular security personnel, in handling disturbance issues (eg, altercations, rowdy behaviour and fights), in ejecting customers, and in making arrests. The inappropriate actions of staff can include charges of assault and battery, unlawful detainment, and false arrest. Adopting appropriate procedures coupled with proper training can prevent such problems.

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for the acts of an employee committed within the scope of employment.

Event planners must develop policies and procedures as a means of providing staff with guidelines in how to handle disturbances. Staff should also be trained regarding actions that can be taken within the limits of the law in dealing with disturbances and, in particular, in ejecting and/or arresting spectators. Event planners should request assistance from the local police in training staff on the proper procedures to follow in ejecting a spectator or making an arrest.

The following are some suggested guidelines for staff to follow to avoid potential liability:

* Incident report documentation forms should be established well in advance and staff should be trained on completing such reports. The importance of such forms cannot be understated.

* A full report should be filed on actions taken by staff immediately after an incident has occurred. A supervisor should carefully review the report to make certain that it is legible and complete.

* When a confrontation occurs, staff should stay calm and speak clearly when dealing with those involved in the disorder. Ideally, they should be trained in diffusion techniques. They should avoid being patronising or contentious, which can escalate a conflict. Staff must keep a level head at all times.

* If alcohol will be served at the event, policies must be developed and staff trained in serving alcohol and in handling intoxicated spectators.

* If it appears that a fight or altercation may take place between spectators, staff should immediately call for help by law enforcement. Depending on the circumstance, it is generally preferred that staff wait until help arrives before attempting to quell the disturbance. If possible, staff should remain in contact with the control centre throughout the disruption.

* The first action taken by staff in handling any disturbance is to ask the individual(s) involved to comply with policies.

* Spectators who are uncontrolled, who exhibit rowdy behaviour or endanger the safety of others, or who fail to cooperate with the repeated requests of staff should be ejected from the event.

* Staff should never get physically involved in fighting among spectators. The only time it would be acceptable is in self-defence or to break up a fight. In these cases, only reasonable force should be used. Some occasions where the use of force may be acceptable is for self-defence, in defending others and protecting property, in preventing criminal acts and in making an arrest.

* Arrest should always be the last resort taken by staff. Any individual who attacks or fights with staff should be arrested, especially if an injury has occurred.

* If feasible, law enforcement should handle all ejections and arrests, since they are usually more experienced in the proper procedures to follow. There are a number of reasons why a person should be ejected. When in doubt, security personnel should communicate with a supervisor regarding the appropriate response.

Ejections after two or three warnings:

* Unsafe or rowdy behaviour.

* Refusal to cooperate with security personnel.

* Conduct endangering self.

* Failure to move to assigned seat or take seat.

* Taking photographs or videos without authorisation.

Immediate ejection:

* Entering without ticket or credentials.

* Immoral or vulgar behaviour.

* Fighting.

* Stealing, scalping tickets or illegal vending.

* Intoxication or use of illegal drugs.

* Stealing.

* Intentional property damage.


Special event security management is a critical component of special event planning and operations. Security professionals should be involved in the planning process as early as possible. A number of principles are clear:

* Prepare a plan;

* Write understandable procedures;

* Train, train and train.

There are many settings for special events. Public malls, large outdoor areas, colleges, universities, office complexes, museums and other private properties often are the scenes of special events, such as a musical concert, athletic event, art exhibit, or a visit by a VIP, at which large crowds are expected. For such events, a security programme must be implemented to control the crowds and avoid panic in the event of an emergency.

Additionally, these events create premises security liability exposures for managers. These liability exposures include inadequate security, negligent employment practices and liability for inappropriate actions of staff in handling disturbances. By addressing these exposures in the planning stages and providing proper training for staff, potential liabilities from these exposures can be controlled.

Joseph Kinney is president of Kinney Security (KinneySecurity.com). He can be reached at [email protected]

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