Building a customized security plan is crucial for keeping shows safe and secure.

Video surveillance is one useful component of most basic security plans at major events.

Planning security for a special event requires a tailored approach that balances effective, non-excessive security measures against a realistic assessment of the likely threats to the event. A one-size-fits-all approach to security fails to consider the many aspects of the event that make it unique. Meeting planners are well served by obtaining a customized security plan. This article offers insight into the threats special events may face and what meeting planners can do to include appropriate security measures.

For the purpose of this discussion, special events fall into three basic categories: unique events that warrant a focus on security simply because they are so rare; events that would otherwise be considered normal, except for the unique nature of the guests or agenda; and events that are controversial or worthy of media attention. The security strategy for these types of events should address threat assessment, the components of a basic security plan (including emergency action plans), and the criteria to use when selecting a security vendor.

This issue, I will focus on threat assessment and basic security plan components. In the next issue of SRO, I will continue the discussion — focusing on protecting critical areas and formulating emergency action plans.

Threat Assessment

A threat assessment should first identify and then quantify potential risk. The goal is to separate likely threats from perceived or imagined ones. For the inexperienced planner, emotions can run high when considering possible threats, clouding rational thinking during planning stages. The experienced event security planner can distinguish the conceivable from the irrational and develop a plan that adequately addresses legitimate concerns without wasting resources on the unnecessary. Appropriate security measures offer three critical benefits: a deterrent effect that dissuades would-be attackers; preventive measures that will intercept the attackers; and emergency plans that prepare everyone to respond appropriately should an incident occur.

Effective security reassures the public without detracting from the event's image or inconveniencing attendees. To achieve this balance, event planners should select an experienced security practitioner who has diverse experience and the proper personnel to implement the security plan professionally.

Potential attackers will assess the value of an event from several different perspectives, depending on their motivation and objectives. Consider asking the following types of questions to establish the total set of possible threats and then you can begin to qualify them in terms of their likelihood and reasonableness:

Who would benefit from the failure of the event if an incident were to occur?

Who would benefit from a disruption of this event?

What interest would any groups with a history of violence or disruption have in the event as an arena to publicize their cause?

When developing a list of possible threats, pay particular attention to the extent of media coverage the event will likely generate. Threats increase dramatically when the event is high profile, so gauge the level of controversy surrounding the event along with the expected media coverage. Attendance by VIPs presents another potential source of threat that may even be independent of the nature of the event itself. For example, a college commencement speech is not necessarily a significant event unless the speaker is Bill Clinton.

Intelligence gathering plays a crucial role in assessing potential threats, and therefore, requires an honest assessment of the efforts made, if any, to discover specific threats. While it is true that most attackers seldom offer a warning and most individuals or groups who make threats do not act on them, it is not prudent to ignore specifically stated threats. Finding out if anyone is gathering intelligence on your behalf is a crucial step in security planning.

History also plays a significant role in threat assessment, and event planners should determine if the history surrounding the event, the venue, or any of the higher profile attendees warrants concern.

Threat assessment for the event planner is not limited to threats with an obvious, or even indirect, connection to the event or its attendees. The representative or symbolic value of the event or venue may also constitute a potential risk. Terrorists and other politically or religiously driven groups seek to further their goals by first creating recognition of their cause in a theatrical manner and then instilling fear by eroding the public's confidence in its protective forces. Ask yourself if your event provides an opportunity for the spectacularly horrific.

In summarizing the threat assessment process, the event must be evaluated not just as a singular event linked to a specific theme, but as an opportunity for exposure. First, think creatively in defining the total set of possible threats and then narrow them down to the most likely threats and define your security plan to deter, intercept, and adequately react to those threats.

Basic Security Plan Components

Assessing likely risks is only the first step in successful event security planning. The remainder of this discussion focuses on the other basic security plan components: entry criteria and access control, critical area protection, specific security concerns, and specific deterrents and responses. These components are evaluated and implemented with four objectives in mind: deterrence, prevention, environmental assessment (the cumulative effect of the various security measures will determine the general level of safety), and emergency preparedness.

How will you control access to your event? Choices range from free and open public admission to access restricted to those who have been cleared. Obviously, the very nature of the event will largely dictate the reasonable access options, and these options, in turn, will directly affect the security measures that are necessary. Limiting access begins to address certain threats, however, choosing access criteria becomes a balance between the intended openness of the event and the resulting need for additional security.

If an event is intended to allow free and open public access, the security planner will not have the chance to screen out a potential attacker unless there is specific intelligence that would warrant entrance refusal on an individual basis. Other security plan components will have to take this into account.

Requiring picture identification to obtain an event access badge is one possible step in access control. This would screen out many potential meddlers, as well as provide a record of who is in attendance. Requiring an invitation along with a photo ID to gain entry offers even greater access control and provides an immediate indication of uninvited individuals who may have sought to disrupt the event seeking entrance.

The most restrictive means of access control is probably inappropriate for most events — clearance only. Here, the potential guests are prescreened to some agreed-upon level. This method allows the security team to ensure that the individual does not represent a threat before being invited. In this type of event, the security planner can be reasonably sure that any potential disruptions or threats will not come from within the event and can adjust security precautions accordingly. In such applications, the event staff and any vendor staff will also be precleared and identified with a badge or garment pin of some type. This level of security is usually reserved for high-level gatherings that are smaller by nature and have an obvious need for such control.

Consistent with the access criteria is the level of scrutiny the attendees and staff undergo upon entry into the event. Limiting access to the event is one security measure and limiting what those people can bring into the event is another. Again, a number of alternatives are available, but the decision will be guided by the nature of the event and its attendees, as compared to anticipated threats. It should be noted that ample notification should be given to all attendees and staff as to what items will not be allowed into the event venue. Notification should take the form of pre-event communication and obvious postings of the policies and forbidden items in parking areas and at the gates.

Regardless of which detection methods are used (visual inspections, physical inspections of packages, X-ray equipment, and so on), if items will be collected at entrance points, accountability for the item and ensuring it is returned to its owner after the event must be addressed. It may be wiser to forgo the offer to collect forbidden items and instead instruct individuals to either discard the item or return it to a place of their choosing (e.g., car, hotel room, bus) before they are permitted entry.

Next issue: implementing an emergency action plan.

Robert D. Shuster is vice president of corporate development for Vance International Security Services in Oakton, Va. He can be reached at