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May 25, 2008

SECURITY CONSCIOUS: Looking after number one

With companies facing a duty of care to look after the wellbeing of their staff, event security has never been a more important issue. But how do you assess and manage the security risks of any given event?

Event security primarily aims to ensure events run safely. The event organiser is responsible for the health and safety of the public and delegating that responsibility to a competent contractor engages the organiser’s commitment to satisfying the requirements of the HSW Act 1974. In addition to this, carefully planned security and crowd management gives your audience a sense of comfort and confidence.



Safe as houses: Looking after your staff
and delegate scurity is of paramount importance

In today's high-risk environment, there are many security issues that can affect events, and it would be great to be confident that they are at the forefront of organiser’s minds. After all, failure to recognise the possible risks and plan for the worst could jeopardise people’s safety and result in an event having to be cancelled because basic security issues have not been considered.

Who's responsible

“All event organisers are responsible for those attending their event – delegates, speakers, suppliers, everyone,” says Danielle Pham events manager at Lewis Media. “Whether it’s a meeting for 20 or a conference for 400, as the driving force behind that event, organisers are responsible for ensuring that delegates attend the event, enjoy the event and are kept safe whilst at the event.

“As a venue manager who is also an event organiser, I am doubly aware of the potential safety risks and the protective measures needed, and I am constantly surprised by the number of event organisers who do not ask for basic information, such as insurance coverage, liability and emergency evacuation procedures when dealing with venues.”

Today’s businesses face greater risk than ever before from crime and even terrorism, and event security is under close scrutiny. “London in particular, is facing unprecedented levels of threat and businesses play a vital role in terms of providing responsible security,” says acting managing director for the Royal Horticultural Halls Maugie Lyons. “Increased media focus on business risk management and the need for a higher commitment to protect assets, staff and customers, is also pushing the event industry to assess its attitude toward security.”

Minimum standards

Lyons explains how the RHH takes a holistic view of security so that a "total security solution" is formulated, implemented and monitored. Meeting the minimum provision demanded by your insurance policy at the lowest possible price is hardly responsible, let alone best practice.

“I think you always need to be aware of access control before, during and after your event,” she continues. “While it is a given that you need to employ an effective security presence, everyone working at the venue also needs to take responsibility for their own security. No one should be afraid to challenge someone hanging around who obviously doesn’t belong to your event. During the show, things will get busy, and although you should remain vigilant, you may not notice suspicious characters. So you need to be able to rely on the people on the door to do the watching for you.”

For Alan Wallace, Manchester area manager of security firm Showsec, it’s all about preparation. “Planning is absolutely crucial,” says Wallace. “Start by bringing together all the stakeholders in the event, including service providers, the local authority and emergency services. Devise a safety policy, covering site safety for contractors, crowd management for the public, as well as a transport control and an emergency strategy.

“The event risk assessment is a key planning tool, essential for protecting your public from harm. With each event phase, identify who may be harmed, identify existing controls, evaluate the residual risk and apply further controls to reduce it to an acceptable level.”

Assessing the dangers
As for what risks you face and how you assess them, Martin Litherland, event operations manager at London's Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (QEIICC), believes you need to look at a number of factors. “Threat levels really depend on several issues: the event subject matter; the hirer and their public profile; the location of the venue; VIP speakers and guests; and issues such as the current political climate – but the list goes on.”

Wallace agrees, adding: “It’s important to research your events history, including the artists, audience, speakers, companies involved and other factors influencing the safety of past events. Profiling is a great pre-event way of gauging the level of security. Who will attend? How will they get here? How old will they be? Will they consume alcohol? Are there any specific traits connected with the audience from previous or similar events?

Background research

“As for the artist and speakers, it is equally important to analyse their expected performance. What is their background? Are they associated with political or religious movements? What is the current media climate relevant to them? More locally, it is important to contact the local police and to ask advice on the current threat level to their city/venue?”

The RHH’s Lyons believes the venues themselves are often best placed to assess the threats. “We can look at an event (how many people are attending, who is attending and the scale), assess the risk involved, and appoint the right level and highest quality of security,” she says. “Often, event organisers will underestimate the level of security needed, largely due to inexperience, and this is where the problems start.”

So how do you make sure you get the best people to oversee the security of your event?

“Most venues will have experience of dealing with a range of security issues, so a good place to start is with the in-house team and their security manager,” says Wallace. “Because of their experience, they are likely to have good contacts with the local police and security agencies – it’s their area of expertise so use them!

Finding the right people

“Many companies organising annual general meetings will have their own individual security firms working for them, particularly if their business interests attract attention from various lobby groups,” Wallace continues. “These people are experts in their field, often with police or military backgrounds. But if you need to start from scratch, the Security Industry Authority (SIA) is a recognised body that oversees the registering of people working in the Industry, so it can provide help with finding the right people.”

The message is simple, when it comes to event security, get the professionals in to do the job and certainly don’t gloss over the issues. While your event may pass off without any problem, the consequences of any potential security problem could be catastrophic. Organisers have a duty of care to staff and delegates, and companies will increasingly be judged on this. Ensuring your staff work within a secure environment at all times is of paramount importance for a happy, healthy and productive working relationship, while delegates who lack confidence in the security of an event will simply vote with their feet and not return, or recommend using another organiser or venue.

As with many things, scimping on security is a false economy. The cost of not investing in effective security is likely to be considerably more than the outlay necessary to protect all parties involved. So are you prepared to risk it?


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