No one can plan for every contingency at a religious meeting, but a careful analysis of your event will help you determine how much security you need and where.
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“If it's a low-profile event, held in a hotel, with little advertising and admittance by invitation only, then the security level can be low,” says Gary Moses, director of special events operations for Pinkerton Security, based in Burbank, Calif. “But if it's a high-profile event, you need to consider where you are holding it — in a hotel with a limited amount of entrances, or in a park where the public can come in and out of the area.”
There is no rule of thumb on how many security guards an event needs. “A rock concert for 1,000 people is very different from a prayer breakfast for 1,000,” says Tom Daly, vice president of loss prevention for Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Hilton Hotels.
“I did a corporate and incentive familiarization trip outdoors for only about 100 people, but I had six police officers,” says Colleen Rickenbacher, CMP, vice president of event planning for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It was right downtown with heavy food, so a lot of people wanted to attend. I did not want any fencing or gates, and that made it more difficult. But the police were wonderful and kept all the street people and onlookers out of our party. I regret only that I didn't have a lot more ‘private party’ signs all around.”
Moses suggests a mix of uniformed and plainclothes guards. “Uniforms are a deterrent at entrances and other points of access, but they can give guests the impression that something is wrong,” he says. “You need a balance.”
He also recommends a security survey of the venue and creation of a security plan, including a timeline and operations plan. “The operations plan tells when the entrance will open; what qualifies a guest to be admitted, such as a pass or invitation; and post-event security — getting everyone out of the area with no problem.”
Sally Webb, managing director of The Special Event Co. in London, agrees that thorough planning and communication are vital. Her firm has handled events for British royalty, international financiers, and movie stars. “Make sure your security heads have a full production schedule and are in running order well in advance,” she advises. “Fully brief the whole team on security before the event.”
Events including celebrities demand that all the security teams involved — the celebrity's, the event producer's, and law enforcement — work together.
High-profile events bring another security challenge: the threat of protesters. “You never know who is going to be offended by or object to your function,” cautions Chuck Vance, a former Secret Service agent who heads security firm Vance International in Oakton, Va.
When protesters showed up at one of her events, Mona Meretsky, president of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Comcor Event and Meeting Productions, took action.
“I went over to them with a security guard in tow to see if I could help,” she says. “I listened to their concerns and reasons for being there and negotiated an agreement that they would leave if I convinced the person whose attention they were trying to get to come out and talk to them. Sometimes, just listening to reason helps.”
Danielle Voorhies,and public relations manager for Overland Park, Kan.-based event company ASE Group, also stresses a common-sense approach. “More isn't always better. Do you really need an armed guard watching a room full of computers? Always consider what you are trying to protect and at what possible cost.” She adds, “Know your insurance coverage and liability. And every company — whether you're a planner or security provider — should have an emergency plan.”
Former Secret Service agent turned security consultant Chuck Vance offers these tips:
For social events, it's best to have a member of the host group control guest access. “You don't want a big burly security guy standing there saying, ‘Let me see your ticket,’” Vance says. “You want a nice hostess, backed up by a big burly guy if someone starts to cause a problem.”
To deter gate-crashers from pestering high-profile guests, you want high-profile security forces. “You will dissuade 99 percent of the problems,” Vance says.
Because the Secret Service checks out catering and hotel staff used for official visits, “ask which staff members were cleared by the Secret Service, then say you want to use those individuals,” Vance says.
To ferret out fake members of the media, set up the credentialing session the day before the event.
Keep your perspective: “You're far more likely to have a medical emergency than a security problem,” Vance says.
WEB SITES Worth Visiting
Check out these Web sites for more security-related topics.
A U.S. Department of State Web site that includes travel warnings and consular information sheets with the locations of U.S. embassies and information on crime, security, and political disturbances overseas.
This is the Web site of the American Society for Industrial Security. It includes articles from Security Management magazine as well as information on its seminars on topics such as fire protection and hiring the best security people.
The Internet site for the Federal Aviation Administration includes information on safety and security.
This site includes informative airline safety tips.
The Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on health and medical information for travelers.