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Illustration by Security Management; iStock

Hand in Hand: Using Guest Services to Mitigate Security Risks

Concerts, sporting events, and other large-scale attractions are not inherently known for providing individualized attention to visitors, but elements of concierge services can help a venue’s security team recognize, prevent, and mitigate threats.

“Guest services, safety, and security, they go hand-in-hand,” says Mark Herrera, director of education for the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM). Herrera, who is a retired police officer and spent roughly 16 years working on SWAT operations, now leads training sessions for event spaces and venues. 

While these training sessions tend to focus on de-escalation and active threats, such as preparing for an attack from an active assailant, they also include an emphasis on visitor services. Developing a cross-trained, resilient guest services and security team makes a significant difference in deterring violent incidents, according to Herrera.

“If I can provide the best in customer service or guest experience, I can mitigate security risks,” Herrera says.

Maintaining situational awareness and threat monitoring at popular events can seem initially overwhelming, but Herrera adds that event personnel can filter through a crowd watching for red flags or inconsistencies.

For example, a guest services or security employee might notice someone wearing a heavy or bulky jacket during an event on a day when the temperature reaches triple digits. The employee can then alert other staffers about that guest and continue to watch for other concerning behavior.

“I always believe that if teams can deploy the best in guest services, when they see the anomaly or something that’s unusual, they can start drawing out the behavioral patterns that pique their level of suspicion as to why that person is there at that event,” Herrera says. “…Because remember, a threat’s going to want the path of least resistance.”

But staff should not solely focus on red flags that correspond with one type of attacker, such as a terrorist. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Herrera says he thinks anxiety levels have increased. Those still experiencing a heightened level of anxiety might decide to deal with unresolved frustrations by taking them out on others as the opportunity arises—including at popular events. This means that an attacker does not have to be linked to a foreign or domestic terrorist group; he or she could be an erratic, opportunistic lone actor.

This is why when event staff are keeping an eye out for potential threats, Herrera recommends they focus on behavioral profiling, looking specifically for “behavioral patterns that are not conducive to the environment,” he says, like that individual wearing a bulky coat in 100-degree heat.

And it goes beyond a person’s wardrobe. If a high-energy concert has most attendees highly engaged, but someone is exhibiting low energy or seems hyper-focused on an element that is not the performer or performers, that qualifies as anomalous.

“It’s incumbent to start training teams and sprinkling them out there to actually look at behavioral patterns,” Herrera says. “…There are ways to look at the crowd to identify to see who’s in tune with the event and who’s not. That should warrant your attention.”

Once security staff is aware of a behavioral anomaly, a visitor services approach can help determine how serious the situation is. Approaching the person with the bulky jacket and asking if he or she wants to place it in coat check can provide solutions for multiple scenarios. For example, if the attendee is unaware of the coat check or has a medical condition requiring the extra layers, security can assist to improve his or her event experience.

If the person is indeed intending to harm others, the softer approach can still defuse his or her plans. That initial contact indicates to a threat actor that he or she is projecting ill intentions and that security is aware of it.

“Sometimes that is a deterrent. They’ll move on, and that’s what you want them to do,” Herrera says.    

Even in instances with more determined threat actors, these interactions are still interruptions to attackers’ plans and alert them to the fact that they are under observation.

During training sessions, Herrera teaches security staff how to empathize and de-escalate potentially hostile situations. These elements can be leveraged during interactions where security presents as guest services, dissuading threat actors from proceeding with the initial plan.

Facilities aiming to improve their security stance should consider “cross-pollinating” their staff by having them undergo guest service-related training, Herrera recommends.

“I might be wrong in the assessment of an individual based on the profiling, but I’m never going to be wrong in the approach if it’s from a guest service approach,” Herrera says. “…Providing the best customer service, guest experience to mitigate security risks is so critical.”


Sara Mosqueda is associate editor for Security Management. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or on X, @XimenaWrites.