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Securing Special Events

Whether hosted at a sports arena, outdoors, a convention center, or elsewhere, security practitioners are frequently called upon to provide support to large-scale events with sizeable crowds. Preexisting event security plans may exist, and will dictate the type of resources or response to be applied to the event. In other cases, security personnel receive a task to provide protection or security without much in the way of instruction, information, or coordination.

Whatever the nature of the event, security professionals are responsible for conducting a coherent planning process that addresses the needs of the specific event and outlines what resources will be needed. Practitioners should understand the potential hazards, risks, and threats that may be encountered during all phases of the event.

Any organization with experience in successfully hosting events will understand the importance of preparation for high levels of security and protection. Senior management and event planners must also understand the need to follow a structured planning process that take into account the general security requirements, access control measures, and emergency action plans.

While some events have a high profile because of VIPs, celebrities, and politicians on-hand, they have nowhere near the number of attendees, spectators, and protestors that global conferences, conventions, or major sporting events do. But regardless of the size, time, or type of event, security planning for any gathering should be embarked upon as early as possible. With so much in terms of stakeholders, logistics, and multiple venues or activities, the process can seem daunting, especially if events span several days or weeks.

The event-planning steps outlined below were successfully employed and have been refined for use in any organization engaged in security, safety or protective operations. 


Regardless of the size and scope of the gathering, once you receive notice of an event or function, the analytic process should be initiated. Make a list of the five W's–who, what, why, where, and when–surrounding the event. Security should involve the same level of planning and coordination for every event, whether it be internally held function, or an external operation connected to a major event.

What is the event? In cases where the event is a largescale one with multiagency, multi organizational resources, you will likely be part of a task force or committee that comes together to prepare a comprehensive plan in concert with one another. If you are a single security coordinator preparing resources for a small scale, single venue, short duration event, you should still prepare a plan. 

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Notwithstanding the dimension, size or scope of the event or function, the risk or threat could be quite elevated depending upon the type of activity and what organizations or people are involved. Conduct research on previous events that are similar to gain an understanding of any lessons learned, resources applied, and previous threats or concerns. Questions to consider for the "what" aspect include: Will there be alcohol served, will children be present, will there be any high risk physical activities, will outside media be present, is the event open to the public?  All of these considerations help determine resources that you may need.

Who is involved in the event? With the Republican National Convention (RNC), DNC, and other political events, the pre-planning processes for each takes consideration exactly who may be attending. Consultations with event planners, local law enforcement, and even previous hosts and attendees will lead you to consider several questions; How many are expected? Are there any at risk, special groups or those requiring special accommodation, support or resources?  Who are groups or individuals that may be targeted here?  Are there any VIPs attending? Have the attendees or participants been threatened or attacked in the past? Are they the subject of any controversy or concern?

You should conduct a brief review researching news, legal findings, and law enforcement bulletins related to the group(s) or event you will be supporting. For VIP guests, prepare to liaise with other government or security organizations as well as conduct walk-throughs. The "who" should consider not only the participants, speakers, and attendees, but the potential threats as well. Who owns and operates the venue? Are they a potential target? Who are their neighbors, what is co-located or nearby that may be of concern? Who are the groups or individuals that may attempt to infiltrate or would intend to do your event harm? Can they be identified?  Is there active intelligence on their modus operandi? Although the Republican National Convention in Cleveland was considered to have a higher potential for risk, the very same levels of diligence, intelligence, and preparation were applied to other similar events.

Why is the event occurring? Is the event a one-time gathering, conference, or rally, or is it reoccurring? Is there a political or religious agenda? The "why" question may determine the need for involvement or engagement from government or public safety agencies. In some cases, the "why" may lead you to relinquish certain duties to another organization, or to advise against the event taking place altogether.  Although it may be easier to stop everything, restrict an event, or bow out of it completely, you should conduct the planning process so that you can explain concerns, document issues, and identify any pitfalls.  In the case of the 2016 RNC in Cleveland, the why was well known.  Recognizing that the RNC was going to occur, media would need to work and report on location and protestors and agitators would be present, security personnel initiated planning with direct contact and inputs from local law enforcement and area oriented experts, and although there were innumerous concerns, each was carefully analyzed and mitigated for.

Where is the event taking place? In many cases, the event venue–whether a sports arena, convention center, arena, park, or major hotel–may already have security plan templates, as well as the staffing and service personnel for the function or event. Familiarize yourself with any plans, diagrams, or maps that are available and incorporate them into your planning documents, as well as alarms, security measures, or emergency action pans that the venue has. The where will require a site survey; the best practice is to employ a comprehensive checklist discussed later in this article.

The RNC presented a number of unique challenges when it came to the location. Many press venues and public access parties were located along a corridor contained within the secondary perimeter next to the "press chute" and main access point for staff and media entry.  This of course, created additional concerns with potential protest activity and crowd control issues. Being flexible is important. The Security Team must remain honest in their assessment and impart knowledge and decisions based on best application of security and safety rather than emotion or convenience. Having the ability to effect rapid planning processes and shift on a moment's notice is essential.  At times, matters beyond the control of the coordinating staff and events planners can result in a late change of venue, forcing the need for a new site survey and security assessment.  Such changes can be frustrating, but often present opportunities for improvements in security or additional unanticipated resources. 

When is the event occurring? The exact date, time and duration of the event will have an effect on your planning process. In some cases, events are planned for years in advance and in a deliberate and well documented process.  In others, you may face a situation where a CEO elects to have a gathering of corporate VIP leaders for a special get together or breakaway meeting at a private function.  The "when" will drive how much planning you can conduct and what resources you can bring to bear. 


At this stage, assemble your team, advise them on the 5 W's you have so far, and begin to address what resources may be required. During this time you can conduct an analysis of the mission or detail, the event participants both internal and external, the personnel you have available, the planning time you expect to need and the date and time of event execution.  Some security practitioners use a backwards planning process where you prepare a timeline working backwards from "zero hour" or "time on target" (TOT) at the activity to the full plan and movement schedule related to the execution of the event as depicted below.

Tentative Plan

It is important to look at the location with a critical eye as early as possible in planning process, and preferably with your event or venue specialists. They will be able to tell you what their desired end states are, where they will locate certain activities or resources and then you, in turn, will be able to identify any risk or threat associated with the intended activity at the location. The use of a Pre-Deployment Site Survey (PDSS), which is a comprehensive checklist that allows you to undertake a full review of the location(s) to be used, is highly recommended.


The coordination does not need to wait for the plan to be complete.  Leaders or managers should communicate their plans and send out the people to conduct necessary coordination.  As the plan evolves or things change, the leadership should communicate and instruct on course corrections.  Hold people accountable, and ensure you are getting feedback in a timely manner on tasks requiring coordination.


Inspection and reconnaissance of the venue is essential to the plan.  You will not be able to truly gain awareness of the location or concerns regarding safety and security without physically inspecting the scene. When possible, inspect the location at the same times of day and days of the week it will be used.  A weekday morning inspection on a of a park venue that gets massive influx of pedestrians on weekends serves no purpose if you are planning for a Saturday event.  Photograph, sketch and get schematics or diagrams if possible. Include views of exits, access-ways, map routes, roadways, and streets nearby to determine any construction, detours, or other transportation concerns.  Have a route plan; map distances and time to separate venues, hospitals or other emergency resources.

For larger events you will need to visit several times and conduct full walk-throughs. Set up a visit with security and or public safety entities partnering with you on the event. They can assist with knowledge of any police, fire, or EMS concerns related to the venue. A threat rating for the area is extremely useful, which should include complete analysis of crime, political threat, health or environmental threat or other risks based on current open source or formal intelligence, local knowledge, or debriefs and law enforcement bulletins.

Plan Completion and Supervision

As you meet with coordinators or planners, you should be able to complete the major muscle movements of the plan. Put it together and initiate the 'pen to paper' phase incorporating your findings from the reconnaissance and preparation phases. Conduct a pre-briefing with your team and key stakeholders to determine if there are any gaps or issues that have not been resolved. Consider a "walk-through-talk-through" with personnel from each area–coordination, communications, logistics, and execution–to ensure that their respective areas are addressed.

At this point, your pre-event site security survey questions should be answered. You can now complete the plan with enough information to understand operational requirements and application of resources and how you will manage them.

Having a comprehensive plan with exhaustive detail and diagramming may not be needed for each and every event or activity. But the more you put into your event planning processes, the more you will prepare your organization to succeed in events of any size.

Whether you are a small security provider or a manager for a Fortune 100 company, you should recognize the value that effective planning has on the security of your events. The fruits of your labor will pay off huge dividends in terms of your ability to respond to potential emergencies or incidents.

​Eduardo Jany is the executive officer for Global Security Operations at Bloomberg LP Global Security Operations and director for physical security in the Americas. He manages protective operations and physical security for more than 19,000 people at over 190 locations internationally.