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Special Events


Helping guests feel secure at special events is vital today, and the larger the crowd, the better security needs to be.


Years spent handling crowds have taught Mark Harrison, head of Bedford, England-based The Full Effect and TFE Concerts, that communication is critical. Harrison's firm worked on the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994, which drew an estimated 500,000 spectators. “An organogram [organizational diagram] is generated so each agency knows what its responsibilities are and to whom they should report,” Harrison says. “Often with large events you could have up to 30 different agencies, each with its own hierarchy, so communication is No. 1.”

Harrison and his team analyze the risks posed by crowds by ranking various factors on a scale of 1 to 5; the higher the number, the more security capabilities are needed. Among the factors: How big is the expected audience? What type of audience is it (e.g., young, screaming fans or middle-aged executives)? Has alcohol been available, or will it be available at the venue? Has the venue been used for this type of event before?

“The unexpected always happens, but if you've got a plan in place, you've got a good chance that you and your team members will implement a safe plan, be it abort, continue or alter,” Harrison says.


Dave Ellison, producer of the BASS Masters Classic, relies on a staff of courteous ushers to manage crowds. The three-day sports festival draws as many as 140,000 spectators every year.

“I'm convinced that smiling, courteous and helpful ushers are critical to establishing a positive first impression with event attendees,” Ellison says. “It's tough to be a jerk when the folks running the event do everything possible to make sure spectators are treated with respect and in a friendly way.

“I would caution anyone involved with producing large special events not to scrimp on costs associated with security personnel,” he adds, “all of whom should be thoroughly briefed on off-limits locations, floor access identification, and the firm but courteous treatment of individuals without proper credentials.”


Stephan Schafer of event company Vok Dams Gruppe of Wuppertal, Germany, thinks that naivete about the dangers crowds pose is the event planner's greatest enemy. Schafer has overseen corporate events for 5,000 and public events for 8,000.

Too many planners, he says, fail to brief their teams completely or to provide a clear chain of command. “There can never be enough trained and professional staff,” he says. “They have to know the venue: where the fire extinguishers are, the emergency exits. There must be a fail-proof line of communication.” He also advises involving security specialists early in the planning stages.

Many planners, Schafer says, “don't see their legal and moral responsibility. Plan the event as if your own family is attending it.”

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, event professionals are weighing how to balance security with enjoyment at large special events. “I imagine that all floor ID's for staff and support personnel will be harder to obtain and more difficult to duplicate,” Ellison says. “We probably also will perform fairly substantial security sweeps before the doors open. I may even consult with a security specialist for suggestions about possible improvements.”

“There is much more awareness now,” Schafer says. “Maybe that is a positive side effect, because special events have always been vulnerable to a degree.”

RESOURCES: B.A.S.S, 334/272-9530; Elite Show Services, 619/574-1589; The Full Effect, +44 1234 269099; Vok Dams Gruppe, +49 202 38907 109


An effective security guard firm can be one of your most important event partners. What should you look for when hiring a security service? Gus Kontopuls, chairman of San Diego, Calif.-based Elite Show Services, has been involved in security for events including the Super Bowl, the 1984 and 1996 Summer Olympics, and stadium concerts by the Rolling Stones, U2 and Paul McCartney. He offers these tips:

Beware hiring on price alone

Competitive rates are one thing, but “the majority of the time, the least expensive company does not have adequate training programs for their employees, does not properly license their employees and does not have adequate insurance coverage,” Kontopuls says. Bargain rates may also mean that the company uses “unreliable equipment, such as two-way radios and bullhorns,” he adds.

Check references

“Ensure that the company has extensive experience in events, and also check with the local law enforcement officials to ensure that they have a comfort level with the company,” Kontopuls advises.

Find out how solid the company is

Check if the company or its principals have ever gone through bankruptcy. “If a company does not have the sufficient resources to pay its federal payroll taxes, the client may be liable as the primary contractor of the service,” Kontopuls warns. This means that legally, the event planner could be regarded as the employer, “and may be getting a huge tax bill three to 12 months down the road.”

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