Ask the Expert: Event Security 101

Event Security 101 Las Vegas|Harold Hansen Event Security expert
Harold Hansen Event Security expertHarold Hansen, CFE, is a member of the Event Safety Alliance Board of Directors and a principal and managing partner with the Chicago-based Venue Management Consultants Group, providing safety and security training to the public assembly facility industry. With more than 40 years experience in facility management and safety, Hansen knows his way around risk assessment and planning, a subject he candidly weighs in on below.

When you first heard news of last year’s Las Vegas shootings, what went through your mind?

Those of us involved in the security/emergency preparedness side of entertainment have recognized for quite some time that is was only matter of when such an incident would occur. As more details were reported and the timeline reconstructed, it highlighted the need to consider the surrounding geographic situation better in the risk and threat analysis before the event. For me, the sniper checking into a hotel room, quite some distance away and so very well prepared, had not been a risk or threat identified during an analysis. My thinking was what will we learn from this.

Have you ever been at an event where you felt the security might be compromised?

Yes, back in the mid-2000s, with about 6,000 persons attending. A bomb threat was reported a couple of days in advance by the police department. The event, by its very nature, was very open and had a lot of in-and-out activity associated with it. The police, and hence my boss (a former cop), decided it was hoax and did not allocate any resources, beyond a dog on a quick walk through before doors opened. The event’s organizer and I took it a lot more seriously and developed plans to better control the movements, strengthen the situational awareness of event staff, search the venue as best we could for things out of place, lock the venue down on the day of the event and use credentials for restricted access areas—all as enhancements to security with a limited budget. Thankfully, the event ended without incident.

In terms of education, how are associations doing in terms of educating their members about smarter security?   

Many recognize the risks and threats that exist today, much more so than before and shortly after 9/11. Progress is being made on emergency response and preparedness, but we need to keep getting better.

How are hoteliers and venue operators like convention centers doing in terms of educating both their clients and own staffers about better security practices?  

In many cases, I see their leadership explaining the need for best practices. They are recognizing everyone has a role and responsibility for emergency preparedness, and have developed an emergency command staff for better incident management and protocols that are more effective for incident response than they were say 10 or 20 years ago.

What’s the hardest part about implementing an emergency preparedness plan?

Getting started. Keep your plan simple and straight forward, easy to read and comprehend. Don’t borrow another venue’s plan, change the title and name and call it yours. You will have not thought about it enough to know from memory what to do when the time for response actions comes. When you think you’re done, get ownership and stakeholder approval and share and communicate it as appropriate, where there’s a need to know.

Common Misconceptions

“People don’t do such things here; nothing has happened here yet so it probably won’t; we have an emergency plan and good security staff, so we’re ready.” Data indicates it does and will happen anywhere, big, small, well prepared or not. “It costs too much for security.” Yes, security can be expensive, and yes, costs need to fit within a budget, but this is when the creative thinking needs to begin. How do we create a secure event without hiring every cop in the city, or patting down every guest, etc. “Security is not my job, I’m in food service.” Venue staff, vendors, food service, event management and the audience can be taught to be aware and observant for suspicious activity and how to report it. “We don’t need emergency preparedness. First responders will come quickly and take charge.” In reality, a significant number of active-shooter incidents are over in five minutes. And how long does it take law enforcement to arrive? Five to seven minutes is a pretty good response time. “We don’t need training. We can just figure it out when/if something happens.” Experience demonstrates that people perform better at a task when trained. If everyone knew and could think “Run Hide Fight” as immediately as they do “Stop Drop and Roll” for a fire, they might get out of harm’s way.