Coordinating event security and executive protection

September 28, 2018 - By Christian West

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Event security is a significant and fast-growing part of what we do. Even though people around the world spend more and more time online and in front of screens, live events – the kind that bring folks together in space and time to share planned experiences – are gaining in importance and complexity. Worldwide revenue for the business-to-business event industry is over 30 billion U.S. dollars per year and growing. And security is the one line item in event budgets that is expected to increase in 2018.

Of course, executive protection is an even bigger part of what we do and is also a segment of the security industry that is experiencing strong growth. So, it’s only natural that we explore some of the issues that arise where these two growing security disciplines meet: when principals with executive protection attend events.

The objectives and methods of event security and EP: Related but different

Why and how we perform executive protection and event security are closely related but essentially different. While both disciplines share the same basic goal – keeping people safe – the beneficiaries of and the stakeholders in these two processes are not the same.

Event security has the broad objective of keeping everyone and everything at the event secure in addition to ensuring the overall integrity of the event and enabling event hosts and participants to achieve their own goals, such as presenting and discovering new products, networking, learning, being entertained, etc. Executive protection has the much narrower objective of keeping one or a few principals safe, happy, and productive – also while they attend an event.

In terms of space and time, event security practitioners are focused on the entire venue for the entire duration of the event. This includes everything from build-up to breakdown, access control to, and the physical security of the venue’s:

  • Outer perimeter, e.g., controlling traffic for vehicle-based and other threats as we discussed in a previous infographic
  • Middle perimeter, controlling access to the venue via credentialing, magnetometers, physical searches, etc.
  • Inner perimeter, controlling access to areas off-limits to the general public, reserved for VIPs, performers, officials, etc.

The focus of executive protection practitioners is much narrower and is concentrated on the close protection of the principals where they are right now – and where they will be next.

Threat assessment is key for both disciplines: risk mitigation begins with a clear-eyed understanding of the threats and vulnerabilities facing the event in general and a participating principal in particular. Given the potential impact on brand image, if something goes wrong at a corporate event, we find it interesting that the level of threat assessment practices in event planning is sometimes as low as it is. While general guidelines for threat assessment do exist, for example those developed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) concerning “special events of national or regional importance, such as sporting events, concerts, and cultural exhibitions”, the discipline of threat assessment is, understandably, not one that most event planners excel in. Although legislation on the matter is increasingly on the radar, as evidenced by Australia’s event security guidelines for government events, widespread adaptation of suitable threat assessment guidelines in the private sector remains elusive.

The various types of security at events often overlap

There are lots of moving parts at large events. Exhibitors, caterers, laborers, and the public might be there in the hundreds or thousands. Contractors building exhibitions or stages up and down might be there a week before the event and several days after. Even on just the security side of things, at least three of the following five security actors will typically play some kind of a role:

  1. Venue security: The more or less permanent teams in charge of security on an ongoing basis for a hotel, auditorium, conference center, stadium, etc., and paid for by the venue
  2. Event security: The temporary teams brought in to provide security for a particular event, contracted and paid for the event organizers
  3. Local law enforcement and first responders: Whenever major events take place, local police and emergency medical teams are involved to deal with public order, traffic, and more
  4. Regional or national law enforcement: If nationally prominent politicians, heads of state, or other VIPs are participating, then agencies like the U.S. FBI and Secret Service will probably also be involved
  5. Executive protection: One or more persons charged with the close protection of a participating principal

When a principal under executive protection participates in an event, figuring out logistics and movements is key. And while EP teams need to cooperate with everyone, our main counterparts in determining how the principals gets from A to B are usually our colleagues working in venue and event security.

If the principal is one of the “stars” of an event, for example the main act or a keynote speaker, then executive protection teams get to control more. But we still don’t get to control everything. When our principal is speaking or performing, EP teams need to work closely with venue and event security teams to pay special attention to:

  • The most suitable venue entrances and exits
  • The route from vehicles outside to the green room inside
  • Green room security
    • Ensure restricted access to the green room
    • Make sure the EP team has time to advance the green room prior to the event, but also immediately prior to the principal’s arrival, for example, to check up on catering and, when possible and relevant, do a TSCM sweep
  • Other VIPs: At major international events like the World Economic Forum in Davos, where heads of state and corporate CEOs mix things up over the course of several days, we need to know who else is coming to an event: if a president or prime minister is also participating, they’ll probably have priority and we will need to work around government security teams
  • Communication and other tech: We could do a whole blog on this, but let’s just mention a few items:
    • In the old days, event organizers used stage passes and “colors of the day” to signal who could be where, when; now, smart lapel pins like Ticto bring access credentials into the digital age
    • Instead of the bulky handheld radios of old, we really like the Stealth360 earpiece
    • GPS tracking and apps like ProtectionManager help teams on the ground and GSOCs back at home improve advances and situational awareness
  • Emergency contingency plans and gear: We need to know where escape routes are and carry basic tools like flashlights and escape masks in case we need to get the principal out – even if the venue is dark and full of smoke
  • Stage access: Is the stage high enough off the ground to prevent people from easily jumping onto it? Is there a free run to the stage, or only from aisles on the sides? Do we need “seat fillers” for the first few rows (vetted friendlies to prevent rushing the stage); and what about access control – what can audiences or other participants bring in?
  • Is the venue selling things that can be used as projectiles? For example, it makes a big difference if water and soda bottles are sold with or without caps: one can really pack a punch, the other will lose some of its liquid and destructive power when thrown
  • The ability of protection agents to see and be seen: We usually want to limit our own visibility, so EP agents don’t stand out but still have a good overview of the backstage area and the crowd to spot potential trouble

If the principal is “just another guest”, say, at a football game, concert, exhibition, or private party, then we don’t get to control that much. Still, we need to do our advances and know the venue, other security players, and event program as well as possible.

Some common pitfalls in coordination between event security and executive protection

With so many moving pieces, it’s no surprise that things can get complicated and sometimes go wrong for joint security efforts. Some of the most common pitfalls we’ve seen include the following:

  • The various security stakeholders don’t stay in their lanes: For example, EP teams need to understand that they are guests in someone else’s home and that venues and events have their own cultures, rules, and guidelines that need to be understood and respected; when EP fails to coordinate closely with event and/or venue security, when they don’t know the house, then they easily fall into the trap of working against the other security actors rather than with them – see the next bullet
  • Pissing matches: Event security, venue security, and executive protection get territorial and don’t cooperate but compete; this happens especially if someone is new in a role and is more into chest thumping than dialogue
  • Event coordinators are super busy, and sometimes treat security as an afterthought: 
    • Sometimes things are just plain hard for coordinators: maybe they are used to rock concerts, but now they’re running a stamp collector or a high-end fashion event
    • While the various security teams might be waiting for clear guidance from the event coordinator, this might not be forthcoming, and briefs might be muddled; all security teams need to proactively coordinate on their own, not passively wait for directions from someone else
  • Advances need to be done early, but not too early – and often more than once: Busy event venues are, well, busy, and the buildup of one might flow directly into the breakdown of another; to get an accurate picture of the venue, EP teams might need 2 or 3 advances – and do them all effectively
  • Misunderstandings regarding credentials and security zones: This is always a potential hassle (why can’t we just get in there and do our job?) but can be especially tricky when corporations are launching new products: if product marketing teams have spent millions on developing new IPs, you can be sure that they’re going to want to protect those investments in the highly porous environment of a conference center, too – nobody messes with them

Three keys to smooth coordination between event security and executive protection teams

We believe there are three key focus areas to ensure smooth cooperation between executive protection and event security teams:

  1. Good advance work: As we’ve pointed out above (and in previous blogs), preparation and forward thinking make all the difference in the world – and advances are how we do this. When executive protection teams perform comprehensive advances of the venue that include relevant dialogue with venue and event security teams, the foundations of success are in place.
  2. Good leadership: It’s easy to talk about, harder to do. But when managers from all sides of the security equation set clear expectations, assign responsibility so tasks don’t fall between two chairs, pay special attention to the predictable problem areas like hand-offs and cross-overs, and say what they’re going to do and do what they said they would, things just work out better.
  3. Good communication: We know, you’ve heard it before. But that doesn’t make it less important. Smooth communication before, during and after the event are what keep the good plans and intentions on track even when things get hectic. Before the event, this means good communication during the advances. During the event, we want to be sure that our antennae are out and that our ears are working even harder than our mouths. And after the event, let’s be sure to follow up with open and honest after-action reviews to remember the lessons learned.

Read more about event security services by AS Solution here

Photo by Ryan on Unsplash

Christian West

Founder and CEO

Christian has been active in the executive protection industry since the late 1980s, when he worked for Danish musicians who relocated to Hollywood. Upon returning to Denmark, he founded his own EP company, which he quickly grew into Scandinavia’s largest, before it was acquired by Securitas.

Christian founded AS Solution in 2003, and again in 2009 followed his international clients to the US, where he is now based. An active member of ASIS and a leader in the corporate executive protection industry, Christian has personally planned and led high-profile engagements in over 76 countries for a wide variety of corporate and high net worth individual clients, including the international roadshow for the biggest IPO in history.