Tips on Protecting Key Venue Areas, and Building an Emergency Action Plan

Last issue, this column focused on the issues of threat assessment and basic security plan components at high-profile special events. In this column, we continue the discussion — focusing on protecting critical areas, specific security issues, and how to formulate emergency action plans.

Critical Area Protection

Having addressed the security of the perimeter, we must now look at certain critical areas within the event venue. These areas require special attention because of the effect that disruption or other problems in these areas could have on the event itself. Critical spots within the venue include, but are not limited to, parking areas, loading docks, key event rooms, VIP areas, media areas, ventilation systems, exhibit areas, and food areas.

These areas may require either further access restrictions, increased package inspection, increased lighting and security monitoring, a method for detecting tampering, or a combination of all the above.

Parking lots are vulnerable to large vehicle bombs and are also likely places for personal assaults. Loading docks are also vulnerable to the introduction of large bombs disguised as some other item, and they are a source of entry for those seeking to avoid scrutiny.

Key event rooms make ideal targets for individuals who intend to disrupt the event, and VIP rooms and media areas are also attractive to potential disrupters who have an agenda they want to have publicized. VIP rooms are doubly attractive because they house the “controversial” special guest who may be the focus of an assault. Security plans should address emergency evacuation from, or problem containment within, these areas. Safe rooms where VIPs can be taken should be planned in advance.

Recent developments have raised the level of concern surrounding the security of ventilation and HVAC systems, as well as food setup areas. The problem here can be summarized in two words: introduction and distribution. Airflow, food, and beverages all represent opportunities for a dangerous foreign substance to be introduced to the venue and distributed to its occupants. These scenarios, though unlikely, must not be disregarded.

Specific Security Concerns

The security planner must assess general security concerns through the use of “what if” scenarios to determine whether enough has been done to deter or prevent disruptive occurrences. However, security planners must also address reactive measures that will have to be anticipated and coordinated. Evaluating the event environment for specific incident scenarios should include the following possibilities: bomb threats or an actual explosion, some type of armed assault, a specific attack on a special guest, a demonstration or disturbance, chemical or biological attack, a power outage or fire-related problem, an uncoordinated media rush, or unexpected crowd hostility.

In addition to intelligence gathering, access control, entry inspection procedures, and critical area protection issues we have discussed, event planners may need to consider other specific security measures to address “what if” scenarios. The following general considerations, among others, may need to be evaluated:

  • Canine sweeps prior to and during an event.

  • Specific areas and equipment can be monitored with additional security cameras and protected with tamper-evident locks and seals.

  • Evacuation plans and regrouping areas should be designated for both general population evacuation and key area evacuation. Relocation facilities may also need to be considered.

  • Arranging for armed law enforcement at the event to augment your security vendor may be necessary. If this is the case, law enforcement officials should be involved in the security planning process.

  • Background and record checks may be required of the event staff and any vendor employees.

  • Designated safe areas for VIPs and controversial guests should be established to provide an emergency safe haven in the event of an incident.

  • Arranging for necessary accommodations to allow the media to effectively do its job will reduce the likelihood of them becoming disruptive. Requiring media credentials and identifying media members is a good first step. Also remember to grant them dedicated space.

  • Treat food setup areas as if it were cash you are laying out. Protect it in that way, and people will not need to worry about the possibility of tainted food or beverages.

  • Distribute to event staff and security personnel profiles of any known troublemakers who may have surfaced at past similar events.

  • Ensure your event planners remain within occupancy guidelines established by the local fire marshal.

  • Ensure the security team has been briefed as to the coordination that will be required between them and responding emergency service personnel who may be deployed to an incident at the event.

Emergency Action Plans

An effective response to an assault or disruption calls for the coordinated execution of a pre-determined emergency response plan. Ideally, this plan should be developed in concert with local emergency service personnel. Coordination with local law enforcement and local fire and rescue teams will be necessary.

Communication is probably the most critical element of any emergency response plan. The security personnel will have to first establish their own communication protocols to be used in the emergency, and then follow directives issued by local authorities, who will eventually take over. It is best to arrange for the division of duties and responsibilities, and linking of communication systems in advance to ensure the different entities can perform the tasks they are best suited for, without duplicating efforts.

Communication channels and protocols may also change with the transition from normal event operations to emergency status. During a crisis, the venue's public address system may be used differently. Security may be asked to change the radio channel they were using, although they will want to keep a communications link with law enforcement representatives. Event planners will need to stay in touch with both security and law enforcement. All of this coordination of communication and tactics will ideally take place in what is known as a command post. The emergency command post becomes the center of communications, decision-making, and coordination of actions during the emergency.

During planning stages, the security coordinator and law enforcement representative should meet to plan how to most effectively use all of the resources available to them in the event of an emergency. There are certain functions that law enforcement will take over and other functions that security may be better suited to handle.

Other considerations for the emergency plan, which should address a broad range of possible incidents, would include emergency fire evacuation routes and gathering points, slightly different evacuation procedures in the event of a legitimate bomb threat, decision criteria for handling a bomb threat or a suspicious item, evacuation and/or search duties for the security team in the above events, protocols for armed response if other than by law enforcement, chain of command and delegation of functions, coordination of onsite and responding medical services, determine who will communicate with attendees to minimize panic and maintain orderly movement, and determining who will deal with the media.

Remember: A well-coordinated effort using pre-planned guidelines will be the key to minimizing any incident.


Planning security for special events demands the skills acquired through experience — experience working with event planners and local emergency responders to realistically assess likely threats, and experience developing a focused security plan. The security plan must establish minimum security measures required to accomplish a balance between safety and convenience, while effectively addressing potential threats. When evaluating these security measures, you must carefully weigh the deterrent and preventive value they offer against the threat level, as well as the reactive preparedness of the security team.

The plan must be designed and implemented by a qualified team with the experience to win the confidence of event management and local emergency responders. For any plan to work, the decision makers have to trust the security advisors, and that trust can only come when the security planner is absolutely confident that the security measures are necessary, reasonable, and can be implemented with minimal inconvenience to attendees and staff.

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