Tech Tools for Event Security

November 4, 2016 - By Sonny Schürer & Mark Jaques

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In this blog, we focus on the tech tools that improve event security. As there are many different types of events that need security – from private parties to massive rock festivals – the tools we use to help secure them come in many shapes and sizes, and cover a broad spectrum of applications.

Before we dig into the tools, let’s be clear that while important, technology is only one of the four pillars of security. Without the other three – physical measures, personnel and procedures – tech adds little value. All the tech in the world is ineffective without properly trained personnel following smart procedures to integrate it within the overall protective effort, and then operate and monitor it effectively.

Indeed, tech tools tools are only as good as their operators and the follow-on procedures that we employ should a tool help identify suspicious items or persons. Ideally, such identification takes place as far as possible from the event or potential targets, and helps create time and space between potential threats and victims.

Good event security starts with a good RTVA

Just like other forms of security, good event security should always be informed by a risk, threat and vulnerability analysis (RTVA). Once the RTVA has been completed, we then select our tech tools based on the specific threats we’re attempting to mitigate. If we’re providing security for the same type of event year after year, we’ve found that it’s a good idea to periodically review tools and threats to ensure that our tools, procedures and training are all adequate to counter current and pertinent threats.

Tech tools for event security can be categorized into three main types according to their role in protective procedures:

  • Threat deterrence
  • Threat identification
  • Incident management

The one thing that ties everything together, of course, is communication tech – but we’ve already taken a good look at that in another blog. So let’s now examine the types of tech tools we use in event security.

Tech tools for threat deterrence in event security

Threats can be deterred at events in a variety of ways, and the tech we use for this depends on the situation.

Physical security tech restricts unauthorized access to events themselves, and to restricted areas within an event’s perimeter. They are also useful in managing crowds, and in getting event guests to form neat lines rather than surge toward an entrance.

Starting at the periphery of the event venue, we find things like bollards designed to keep vehicles away from people or buildings. These can be as permanent as concrete planters filled with flowers or trees, or more mobile systems that can be installed temporarily to secure an event.

At the soft end of the scale are low-tech but often-used simple access control devices such as plush ropes and stanchion barriers familiar from theatres and hotels. Their slightly more innovative cousins are the retractable webbing and post devices often used in airports. Although easily breeched, these devices are great ways to manage traffic flows in many situations where people politely wait their turn.

Sometimes, though, velvet ropes and good intentions are just not enough. Management of large crowds at rock festivals, for instance require a whole different level of sturdiness than do cocktail receptions. Mojo barriers are great for outdoor events where large numbers of people need to be kept from stages and other restricted areas. The company offers a complete product line of barriers that can be configured in many ways.

Turnstiles, in conjunction with scanners that read credential information, are particularly useful at high-volume access points where many people need to be checked before being allowed entry to restricted areas.

Name badges and ID cards that carry credential information are an essential part of security for events such as trade shows or conferences. At the simple end of the range we find printed badges that enable security staff to visually identify who should be allowed access to which areas, typically by using color codes, or scanners to check bar codes.

RFID cards offer even more possibilities to fine tune the match between credentials and access. Content on the embedded chips can be updated so the card can be deactivated in case of theft or loss. Speakers can be granted backstage access for rehearsal and performance times only.

Another type of physical security tech used to control access is CCTV surveillance. Cameras are a simple but helpful way to discover and monitor emerging threats, for example the movements of individuals, groups and crowds at large events. They also enable agents to spot “holes” in crowds, and thus discover that people are lying down and not standing – a sure sign of trampling danger.

Similarly, thermal cameras like Flir reveal important information on changes in crowd density that allows event security staff to spot areas that are “heating up” – and put event guests at risk.

Contact pressure sensors on fences or barriers detect and record the pressure exerted by crowds on barriers. This gives event security staff real-time information on barrier hotspots so they can take proactive measures. Analysis of data collected over time also provides insight into where barriers come under most and least pressure, so security planners can adjust barrier layout accordingly in future events. Mojo Barrier’s “Barrier Load Monitor System” is a good example of such technology.

A recent innovation that goes beyond simple visual monitoring uses Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections – and the ubiquitous smartphones almost everyone carries – to provide real-time location analytics of crowd density and movement, enabling event security managers to deploy staff where it’s needed, or initiate other measures to deter or defuse risky situations. These can include instances where too many people are gathered in one place and crowd surges from one place to another. CrowdConnected is one company providing these tools. Bluetrace is another.

Social media listening and engagement tools provide a different kind of crowd management capability. Security managers can observe what people at an event are communicating about – and where they’re doing it – and then deploy staff to deal with emerging security situations if necessary. They can also communicate security-relevant messages directly to event participants.

Finally, let’s not forget event-specific apps and digital signage. These are useful in providing event guests with a constant stream of updates, some of which can deter security threats. For example, security managers can prepare security and information that can be quickly communicated from one to many if needed, or session overflow can be reported to prevent crowd build up and better manage crowd flow. Apps and signs are also practical for things like lost and found information, helping a traveller find a misplaced passport before he or she leaves the event for the airport.

Tech used to identify threats

A number of tech tools are useful in detecting items that pose potential threats:

Security wands, or hand-held metal detectors, help agents discover weapons or other metal objects – and are very easy to travel with.

Walk-through metal detectors, also known as magnetometers, are good for high-volume situations where a lot of people need to get through access control in a short period of time. Both CEIA and Garret provide excellent options, including portable solutions are easier to transport.

X-ray scanners enable agents to inspect bags – as well as freight and mail, if necessary – for weapons, explosives, bottles, etc. We like the technology that Astrophysics and Smiths Detection put into their products.

Sniffer dogs: While some might quibble with us for referring to our four-legged colleagues as “tech tools”, we need to include them in this blog anyway. K-9 EDD (a.k.a. Explosive Detection Dogs) have proven their efficacy in detecting explosives (as well as everything from cannabis to cancer), and event security managers rely on them for both pre-event sweeps and access control.

Tech used for incident management

The most important tools for managing event incidents are emergency medical kits. Well trained event security staff have to be able to provide emergency care if needed. We won’t go into medical gear here, but do suggest you check out Eric Stewart’s excellent blog on the matter here.

GPS trackers for geolocating security staff, medics or assets are also helpful in managing incidents. The trackers allow managers to determine where people and things are located, then direct them to other locations as needed. Geofencing can also be set up, so that alarms are delivered should people or assets enter or leave designated areas.

Operations centers pull all relevant information and communications in one place. Tech used here includes monitors, software and communication tools.

Legal issues regarding tech tools for event security

Certifications. Licenses. Permits. Training requirements. Before you deploy any tech tools at an actual event, public or private, you need to understand and comply to all relevant legislation in your jurisdiction.

It’s beyond the scope of this blog to dig into all legislation, everywhere. Suffice it to say that legal requirements for event tech vary considerably from country to country, state to state, and even city to city – and that event security managers need to know where they stand.

Sonny Schürer

Senior Vice President

Sonny has helped manage AS Solution since its founding in 2003. A leading member of The Danish Trade Organization for Safety and Security and an active member of ASIS, Sonny has extensive experience in executive protection, event security, investigations and maritime security.

As a member of AS Solution’s management team, Sonny heads the company’s European operations from its Copenhagen-based European headquarters. Sonny has also overseen the development and growth of AS Solution’s anti-piracy services, Scandinavia’s largest maritime security service with operations worldwide.

Mark Jaques

Operations Manager

Mark Jaques is an event security operations manager with responsibility for managing global teams, working closely with client security managers and vertical business lines, and logistics vendors. He has organized security for client-sponsored events around the globe.