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Special Events


WITH TODAY'S heightened security awareness, it's become commonplace to find some level of security at virtually all special events. Whether they are weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, corporate holiday parties or fun festivals, all special events deserve a security analysis.

And while it's not necessary for event planners to be security experts, it's in their best interest to have a basic understanding of security operations for special events. Failure to do so can bring damage to your professional identity, as well as your pocketbook!


Special event planners should know that there is potential liability associated with security at special events. The broad claims are “negligent security,” which are also called “inadequate security.” And while some states differ, most in the United States follow the Restatement (Second) of Torts §344 (1965), which declares:

“A possessor of land who holds it open to the public for entry for his business purposes is subject to liability to members of the public while they are upon the land for such a purpose, for physical harm caused by the accidental, negligent, or intentionally harmful acts of third persons or animals, and by the failure of the possessor to exercise reasonable care to (a) discover that such acts are being done or are likely to be done, or (b) give a warning adequate to enable the visitors to avoid the harm, or otherwise to protect them against it.”

Event professionals should pay particular attention to subsection (a), as it refers to foreseeability, and the element of foreseeability is usually established by conducting a risk assessment.


The planning of your event should begin with a risk assessment — that is, an examination of your venue and the potential harms that can occur if you do not address them. Your risk assessment will serve as your blueprint for the number of security officers you may need. It will also lay the groundwork for other resources that security may require to have a successful and protected event. In conducting your risk assessment, you want to make sure a crime analysis has been conducted for your venue.

A crime analysis is simply a survey of crimes that have occurred in the area of the venue. You want to gather at least three years' worth, starting with the present date and working your way backward. To gather this information, you will want to work with your local police department. For example, crime statistics may show that several rape cases have been reported in your event area in the past year. If this is the case, you may want to consider hiring security guards and implementing protective lighting measures to act as deterrents to this possibility. If the crime statistics indicate a large number of burglaries, it only makes sense to add more resources for the protection of vendor assets that are on-site.


Security guards may or not be needed for your event. Again, your risk assessment will dictate whether you should hire guards. It will also tell you whether those guards should be armed or unarmed.

In hiring security guard services, you have a large choice of companies to pick from. However, there are many questions you should have answered before making your final choice. If the venue is large, undoubtedly you will need the services of a large company, or the combination of several companies. If this is the case, you may solicit these services through the use of a written request for proposal (RFP). Even if your event is small-scale, there are some basic questions you want answered:

  • What level of protection is actually going to be provided?


    Will the guards protect the assets, facility or people?

  • Will the guards only “observe and report,” or will they intervene in observed altercations?


    How often will they make and log protective sweeps?

  • Who is responsible for managing the guard force?

Foremost, controlling access at your event boils down to two possibilities: vehicle traffic and pedestrian traffic. You can control access via tools such as:

  • Identification badges or pins


    Identification of vehicles

  • Pre-screened guest lists

  • Designated parking areas (e.g., for the general public, VIPs, vendors)

  • Designated pedestrian walkways or gates


    Greeters, security personnel, staff coordinators

A largely overlooked area in security planning for events is the use of utilities to disrupt a function. The primary systems to consider are electricity and climate control (heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC).


Foremost, consider the chaos that can ensue in a crowded room that goes dark, or if the room's temperature suddenly plummets or spikes. And HVAC systems are a very viable way to deliver biological weapons. Just a few short months ago, a major disruption occurred when someone unleashed pepper spray at a professional basketball game. In this incident, only a small quantity was used; one can only imagine the chaos if something more dangerous made its way through the entire HVAC system.

If electrical closets cannot be locked, then they should be monitored constantly. Also, your emergency action plan should list a power alternative. To facilitate this, planners should work very closely with facility or maintenance personnel.

The same holds true for your HVAC system. If access to the system is not in a restricted area, you may have to employ someone to stand watch.


If vendors are present at your event, security planning is vital, because they likely mean additional products and personnel watch out for.

Ascertain what staff members are representing the vendor. They should be placed on a list and provided access through an area restricted for their use alone. Keep in mind that vendors will need access to the event site earlier than the general public will.

Remember too that the products they are selling are valuable assets, and your security program should provide for their protection. As a general rule, try to position their wares away from entrances and exits. You don't want to make it easy for someone to “snatch and run.” Also, you're not only concerned about protecting the stands, tables, etc., but you also concerned about temporary storage. If your event is several days long and security personnel are not available, you will want to at least consider some video surveillance of the area. This option is very affordable these days.

And lastly, the exchanges of money always call for special precautions. Factor this in when you make your manpower allocations.

Special care should be taken when handling the security of VIPs. First, you want their ingress and egress to be as smooth as possible. To achieve this, you should provide one entryway exclusively for them. Vehicle control into this area should be very limited, and pedestrian control limited to other VIPs and working staff.

Sometimes the area itself may be physically separated from the public, but the VIPs are still vulnerable to abuse and embarrassing gestures. This is remedied by using draping or other fabrics for concealment.

Every event should have an emergency action plan (EAP) prepared. This tells who will do what, when, where and how. Your plan will be based on your risk assessment. At minimum, event staff and security should know the following:

  • Evacuation routes

  • How to communicate with medical services

  • How to communicate with law enforcement

  • Where the triage area is

Emergencies are unpredictable, but the one thing you can be assured of is that if one occurs, it creates a story, and following shortly behind will be the media trying to get that story out.

Your EAP should have designated an area for the media to work while on your site. At minimum, this area should include access to telephone lines, electricity and bathroom facilities.

Also, provide one area for camera and reporting personnel to conduct stand-ups. The last thing you want is to allow the press to run freely through your venue. Remember, they are there to create a story, and you may not like the story that's being created about your unfortunate happenstance.

If there are multiple locations within your site to receive camera attention, handle this by providing escorts. Designate one person per four of the press. Again, these details should be provided for in your EAP.

Lastly, have a “one page” drafted. A one page is a document that gives basic information concerning the event — perhaps from a historical perspective of the event, or a company bio for the event management company. Conveying the information on your “one page” will assist in getting positive information before the public. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, your professional identity is at stake.

Remember, with all the planning you provide for your event already, the essentials of security make for just another day at the office. Provide a primary security plan, prepare for emergencies, and then have fun at your event!

Michael A. Hodge, J.D., is president of the security-consulting firm Michael A. Hodge & Associates, based in Montclair, Va. He is a retired veteran of the U.S. Secret Service and serves on the Event Security Committee for the Crime and Loss Prevention Council of the American Society for Industrial Security. He can be reached at

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