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Special Event Risk Assessment and Planning

Retailers today are conducting more novel promotional events to lure customers away from their devices and into stores to shop. Making sure those special events go smoothly is a complicated matter, however.

For example, the nation’s worst mass shooting, which left 58 dead at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, put security planners on notice just how far a security perimeter may need to extend.

It’s an area that has been notoriously difficult. With no routine to follow, special event security is chaotic by definition, and may demand protection personnel to pull together a team and a plan with little notice. Security questions that take years to answer from a corporate security standpoint must be addressed in a few weeks or months prior to a special event. A special event risk assessment could include questions such as:

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  • What are the risks?
  • What amount of security manpower do we need?
  • What communication systems are appropriate?
  • Should we coordinate with local public safety officials and emergency services representatives?
  • What coordination with suppliers is necessary to ensure safety and security protocols are in place?
  • What is the evacuation plan in case of emergency?

Helpfully, special event security is a more commonplace consideration. Meeting planners have traditionally rejected a strong visible security presence, but many event planners now believe that visible security is beneficial to an event’s success because it allays attendee fears.

Special Event Risk Assessment and Planning Solutions

How can loss prevention pros manage the confusion that is inherent in special event security? A good contingency plan is central to effective change management for special events, according to Richard P. Werth, CPP, a past president of Event & Meeting Security Services.

Special events are fraught with last-minute changes. Contingency plans help ensure that these changes don’t create security holes that expose store associates, customers, and invitees to risks.

Preparation also tamps down security costs. By planning for security up front and taking the time to consider what protective services you do—and do not—need, companies can resist wasting precious resources. Companies that fail to take a measured approach to event security needs may throw extra security at an event to compensate for poor planning.

Adequate preparation for a special event has numerous requirements. Three basic steps are:
(1) Soliciting the right information from event organizers.
(2) Conducting sufficient research into your event’s security risk level.
(3) Developing an adequate staffing plan.

LP Solutions

1. Open the line of communication with event organizers. It’s a good idea to provide a written list of questions to the planners as early as possible in the process. Get clear on the type of event being planned, who will be there, how long the event will last, and how organizers envision the role of security. Have a “security issues” meeting with them as early in the event planning process as possible. The security mission is sure to evolve as planning progresses, but it’s good to know up front the goals of organizers. Finally, the store security team should ask to be copied on all memos that identify changes in the event program, scope, or list of attendees. Otherwise, protection professionals can find themselves overseeing security at a very different event than the one they planned for.

To get planning on the right track, it can help to write a short (two paragraphs or so) description of the security mission early in the event planning process. This will make sure that your expectation of the event and the LP team’s role in it matches the view of event organizers and other stakeholders. Details can be filled in later, such as how many officers will be in attendance and what type of communication devices they’ll use, but experts say it’s important to identify the scope of responsibilities that LP will perform. For example, will they help with crowd control? Monitor parking areas? Check bags?

2. Research potential problems. Once LP is clear what the event is, it can start assessing it for problems that may arise. Answers from event organizers will help, but you can’t rely on them, advise experts. Staff should evaluate current crime statistics for the area and reach out the local law enforcement to identify if or how they will support the security function.

Also, for each possible event site, if your event includes high-profile attendees, find out what happened at other events they attended. Did protesters try to disrupt the event? Did boisterous fans show up? Research similar events and interview the LP managers who handled security. Ask them what unexpected problems they ran into relative to the type of event, crowd, or venue.

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3. Develop a staffing plan. Once LP understands the event, done their research, and has performed the event risk assessment, and has been briefed on the logistics, managers must decide what it will take to get the job done. Do you have enough LP officers on hand? Do you need to use an outside firm to coordinate and provide all security for the event? Or do you just need a few contract guards to supplement in-house staff? A few security directors tell us they’ve been burned by waiting too long to make this decision, which can result in not having enough time to conduct background checks and scrambling at the last minute to find additional officers.

LP also needs to develop a plan for when event security staff will get instructions and on what topics. Even if it’s just for a few hours the day before an event, supervisors need to measure all guards’ competency in the use of any special devices they will use during the event, such as communications equipment or wand metal detectors. Finally, because some officers may not show for assignment during the event, managers should cross-train as many officers as they can.

This post was originally published in 2018 and was updated November 12, 2018.

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