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Mark Deane of ETS Risk Management

Special Event Security Post-COVID-19: Considerations for Planners

Events can open up after COVID-19 only if they consider safety and security; this expert shares strategies.

In the near future, corporate hospitality, events and seminars will start again (with post-COVID-19 restrictions), and there will be many questions in reference to security, access control, and safety. Event managers will look to security experts for assistance and guidance, working toward providing a safe event in the aftermath of the coronavirus.

This article purposefully avoids any contemplation of when events will start again. Instead, it identifies what can be done by event planners and organizers to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection during a group gathering among all personnel, be they guests, staff or third-parties.

  1. Study and listen.

One of the fundamentals of risk management is to know what you are talking about. Have a solid understanding of the risk, the variables, the details and all of the vulnerabilities, as well as mitigation measures. With information on risk comes the ability to manage and mitigate it.

Intelligence-led security is paramount. To enable organizations to move forward and progress during and after the pandemic, they will require knowledgeable security project managers to guide the corporate function through numerous potential scenarios and align risk management protocols and measures to any event.
Project managers will need to be the practitioners transforming continuously evolving policy into practice, with their own understanding of risk.

  1. One size does not fit all.

A common mistake among special event organizers is the assumption that security measures “cross-deck” between events, venues, locations, regions, cultures and risk. This common mistake will seriously hamper the process of event planning. For example, the security and safety design for a large multi-component event with an exhibition floor will be different than that of a corporate hospitality event with a keynote speaker.

  1. Align from the start.

Every event should have a risk management professional embedded from the initial planning phase until the last guest or visitor has left the event. This person should be closely aligned with all event stakeholders. Security plans developed in isolation or added as an afterthought often lack cohesiveness, and likely will inhibit rather than enhance the success of the event. As with any event, the security team should demonstrate a collaborative approach, assisting and advising all stakeholders, ensuring that security awareness becomes an enduring thread throughout every phase of the event, up to and including delivery.

  1. Simplification is key.

Take the core event security principles (which should be applied at all times) and now integrate COVID-19 risk reduction measures. Here are just a few:

  • Advance preparation and planning
  • Communication (internal and external)
  • Security layers
  • Security screening
  • Incident management
  • Crisis management

For example: How will screening and health protection infrastructure affect the security setting? Example: Think about long queues outside while foreheads are scanned mixed with protestors intimidating delegates as they try to enter.

  1. It’s not just physical security.

Special event security is about enabling operations to succeed and yet remaining flexible, with the ability to adapt or pivot with little advance notice. Any security company working in the special event industry that doesn’t stay flexible and refuses to blend into hospitality and safety roles will find it difficult to operate successfully.

  1. Leverage technology.

Security screening has evolved immensely over the last few years and is no longer just magnetometer wands and bag checks. Post-COVID-19, event and security managers must leverage technology to reduce the contact points between security and guests, and work towards eliminating unnecessary choke points. The key factors for success will be:

  • Reduced waiting times
  • Less lineage and queuing
  • Distanced queuing
  • Passive scanning
  • Minimal physical interaction with people or belongings

There are currently two industry leaders in this field: Evolv and Metrasens. Both are passive screening that minimize interaction. Any secondary screening can be carried out away from the main traffic flow.

  1. Don’t just play the game.

Anyone can write Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and more often than not, people will just cut and paste some “industry best” SOPs with little thought into whether they are relevant, or how to implement or enforce them.

Implementing, communicating, rehearsing and enforcing SOPs will be the differentiator between a successful, safe event versus one that just “goes through the motions.”

  1. Ensure security’s strength.

The ability to implement SOPs and support operations is a key strength for any reputable security organization. The team’s experience often stems from military, police and government, where details matter, and where roles and responsibilities, check and balances, and management of people in order to get results is ingrained.

Designing and implementing effective SOPs requires experienced project managers' assessments, communication, a system of checks and balances, incident reporting, and on-the-ground managers ensuring that all these components are carried out correctly and in a timely manner. Any experienced event organizer knows the importance of having people on the ground, managing small teams with clearly defined parameters and objectives.

In the current environment, having an enhanced and robust cleaning and disinfection plan is extremely important, but is it being implemented? How many times at an event have you asked for something at a certain time, with clear instructions, only to see the job done half-hearted, incorrectly or not at all?

A security manager blends into this role perfectly, able to get the most out of a team and meet clearly defined objectives, communicate to all stakeholders, and ensure results.

  1. Think escalation and de-escalation.

Management and application of rules and regulations in regard to personal protective equipment (PPE) will be required--whether it is a reminder for someone to affix a face mask or to wash their hands, or intervene when there is non-conformity. However, when there is enforcement, there is the risk of incident escalation. The media has shown recently incidents of poorly managed security and police involvement of enforcement relating to PPE.

As with every personal encounter in the security industry, an interaction has the ability to escalate negatively if handled incorrectly. The sensitivities, fears and other associated emotions with COVID-19 make it very likely that interactions can deteriorate rapidly if poorly triaged.


Don’t get “target focus.”

Yes, COVID-19 is scary and without a doubt a risk that must be managed. But it is important to avoid getting distracted or focusing on COVID-19 to the detriment of other threats that may be relevant--and even higher risk.

Remember that threats are not just physical.

The risks of reputation damage and litigation loom overhead constantly during events. Security is an asset that can assist with these threats. This may involve incident reporting to evidential standard, the safety and security of data (including cyber), as well as access control security.

Think about emergencies: evacuation and egress.

At the end of any event, a sound departure strategy should be considered. Threat to life and imminent danger take priority over the threat of infection, but has the event team considered issues such as a power outage, an unscheduled fire alarm, or even a weather-related issue? A robust evacuation and egress plan should always be considered.

Any evacuation plan needs to be carefully considered by all the event stakeholders, with the security function taking primacy during the planning phase. All parties should be aware of the plan and have a clear understanding of their role during this process.

In recent years, a large number of event planners, corporations and sports marketing companies have realized the benefit of embedding an experienced risk management expert into their ranks during the planning phase of an event and maintaining them through implementation until the event is concluded. These experts act as advisor, manager and force multiplier, as well as being a supportive function throughout the whole process.

Long gone are the days of static security officers being the be-all and end-all of event security, working in a reactive low-level function and hoping for the best. The multifaceted role of special event security working closely with all stakeholders and functions is the bedrock of a safe and secure event.

Post-COVID-19 this specialized role, forged through experience in all realms of security--whether crisis management, access control, counter-terrorism, or static security--will become a more prevelant and valuable tool of the event planner.

Mark Deane is CEO of Bethesda, Md.-based ETS Risk Management. He and his team focus on enabling successful operations through careful navigation and mitigation of risk. ETS provides special event security services globally to a range of clients including multiple Fortune 10, 100 and 500 clients as well as renowned foundations.

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