Security Planning for Large Scale Special Events – Protecting the Best Podcast Episode 2

Learn About the Security Needs for Your Large Scale Event

Episode 2 covers planning for special events with a security mindset! Event planning doesn’t have to be as daunting of a task when you have a security company that is a real partner for your event’s success.
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Robert McGowan: Hey everybody, welcome to the Protecting the Best Podcast. My name’s Robert McGowan. I’m the operations manager at OPS Security Group.
Ian Poush: I’m Ian Poush, I’m a partner at OPS Security Group.
Robert McGowan: Today, we want to talk a little bit more about the special event topic that we covered in the last podcast. If you didn’t have the opportunity to take a gander at that podcast, feel free to follow the link below, right down here. Watch that, then come back and watch this video.
Robert McGowan: On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk a lot more about large scale special events. We’re talking marathons, convention centers-
Ian Poush: Festivals.
Robert McGowan: Mud Runs.
Ian Poush: Mud Runs. Your Savage Races, Tough Mudders-
Robert McGowan: Beer fests-
Ian Poush: …obstacle runs, things like that. Beer fests, parades, large scale alumni events, or events at colleges and universities.
Robert McGowan: Yeah, so those are going to be some of the things we’re gonna talk about. Like we said in our last video, a lot of the topics in the pre-planning is going to be very similar to those smaller events. The only difference is going to be, is now you’re bumping up the scale. You’re bumping up the number of attendees, not only the individuals that are participating in the event, but the attraction that the event brings. Individuals are going to be coming to watch the event, in the example of the marathon or run. You have to worry about not only the individuals that are participating in the run, but all the people that are going to come out, and the families that are going to want to watch.
Not 10 people, it’s 10,000. It’s not 100 people, it’s 100,000.
Robert McGowan: And you may be asking what makes us qualified to kind of talk about this? Well, from our company’s perspective, and from our operational perspectives, we’ve been handling the Philadelphia Broad Street Run, and the Philadelphia Marathon for the last a … What is this at this point?
Ian Poush: Five years.
Robert McGowan: Five years at this point on top of several other university led events. And some of the big name universities in and around-
Ian Poush: Conventions and festivals, massive conventions and massive festivals. We’ve really built a pretty, what we feel is a pretty impressive resume, in a very short period of time. Doing large scale events is part of that resume.
Robert McGowan: That goes back to, like we said in our last podcast, is when you’re talking and vetting security companies and having those initial conversations, what’s their resume? What’s their experience like, and also what’s their upcoming season schedule? There’s a lot of security companies out there, there’s a lot of security companies that do very specific things. Not every security company is doing special event work, and certainly not every security company is doing special event work at this magnitude that we’re going to be talking about today.

Large Scale Event Security Requires a Long Time Frame for Effective Event Planning

Ian Poush: It really pushes your timeline back quite a bit. One of the things that we talk about in the prior podcast was getting your event planning together and calling and starting to vet security vendors. You need to do that right away for a large scale security related event.
Robert McGowan: Yeah, I think with most of our special event vendors at this scale, we start getting involved with them, at a minimum, six months prior to the event, nothing less.
Ian Poush: Security firms, this isn’t a factory. We can’t speed up the means of production and produce 600 more widgets. We don’t have 600 people just hanging up in a closet ready to take out and ship to a new client at any given time. Human capital is what the security industry is when you’re talking about actual, physical security, when you’re talking about large scale events. So the planning needs to be done to ensure that the event goes off successfully and safely. Safely is very important.
Robert McGowan: As we’re kind of talking, we might be jumping from different event types, but generally what we’re going to be talking about today is going to be applicable to all those large scale events that we talked about. Before we get started … some of those things in that pre-planning phase like I mentioned before, what’s your attendance looking like? How many people are you going to be allowing to participate in this race, or how many participants do you expect to be coming in to this convention, or attending this festival, or going to this beer-fest? Those are things that you’re gonna want to figure out.
Robert McGowan: Like we said in the last podcast, admissions. Are tickets being purchased ahead of time? In most cases, in our experience, most of the tickets are purchased prior to the event starting, with the exception of the beer fest, and maybe some of the concerts and festivals. Sometimes tickets are sold at the door so we also need to keep into consideration that cash transaction and what that looks like, and a process surrounding how we’re going to be able to handle that.
Ian Poush: How we’re going to work logistically with everything else that’s going to be going on. You have a lot of moving parts when you have large scale events, it’s not just a couple of security guards. Sometimes it’s fifty, or a hundred security guards, along with fire department or EMT’s, along with police departments.
Ian Poush: Sometimes in the case of really large events like a political convention, like the DNC or RNC, you’re working not only with law enforcement, not only with EMS and medical personnel, but you’re working with federal law enforcement, or depending on where your event may be, you might be working with law enforcement from the military. How is that going to affect them? What are their needs? That’s all got to be tied in, that communication has to happen. That’s why we can’t emphasize enough allowing that timeline to be representative of what you need to actually do.

Inaugural Events Require More Than Six Months for Security Planning

Robert McGowan: And those of you that are taking on a large scale event for the very first time, this is your first annual run in your city, or your local town, or your memorial run, or your first ever beer fest that you have, you’re going to want to take way more time than some of the timelines that we’re throwing out right now. We say six months at a minimum because the clients that we’ve worked with, we’ve worked with for several years now. When we first started working with them we were planning them, at least, at a minimum of nine months out.
Robert McGowan: So if you’re starting to plan out these events, start early, get in contact with security companies, start that vetting process like we talked about, especially when it becomes this large scale. Because like Ian said, it’s not just hitting numbers of people that you’re going to need at this event now, but the logistics just become so much larger, and there are so many little nuances and subtleties that, in our experience, sometimes clients don’t really take into consideration. The time that we figure out they didn’t take it into consideration is when we’re already at the event. So the planning is important.

Develop a Detailed Event Security Checklist That Covers the Finer Details

Ian Poush: Where you’re having the event, a lot of places have preferred vendor lists, or required vendor lists. You might think you’re doing, you’re checking all the boxes, you’re doing all your due diligence, you’re doing your planning well in advance, and maybe some information wasn’t laid out in a meeting correctly with you, with the location that you’re going to be having your event at.
Ian Poush: You go through and you vet a security company, you’re really happy with your vendor, and you start your process, and you get about, I don’t know thirty days away from your event, and all of the sudden you find out that they can’t work in that location because that location has a very specific vendor that they want you to work with, or they have a vendor list and your vendor that you’ve selected is not on that. You have to look into these things because they can really, really throw a wrench into your plans.
Robert McGowan: For the sake of this podcast, we talked about in our last podcast that vetting process of your security vendors. We don’t want to spend too much time on that because there is just so much information that we want to cover with working with your security vendor and once you have them selected. So for the sake of this podcast, we’re going to assume that you have already selected your security vendor, which is us, and we’re now going to take you through how we build and we grow, I guess our processes, from when we start working with a new vendor on a larger event, and what that looks like from our side, and can kind of give you guys a little bit of an insight into how security companies approaching these kinds of events that can help you better prepare for your next large scale event.
Ian Poush: I think the first thing that we start with in the process is location, location, location. Where does this thing happen? Because if it’s outside, there’s still going to be natural barriers that are going to affect the flow of everything, if it’s inside then we have a building to work with, we have fire exits, we have capacities, and things like that. Where is it happening?
Robert McGowan: If you have a run, there’s a start and a finish line. How big is your start line, how big is your finish line? Do you need security at your start line as opposed to your finish line and vice versa. All things that you need to take into consideration when you’re kinda building out your location.
Robert McGowan: Is it the type of event that you feel you need security at both ends of the run, or you’re really only concerned about the end of the run? These are all things that you need to think about. Do you need security along the event, along the run? Are there areas of concern that the run goes through that you feel like there needs to be more of a presence than other areas?
Ian Poush: Obviously we know from prior events, prior very unfortunate events that when we’re talking about runs and things like that, anywhere where there’s a high concentration of people, the risk level is certainly increased. We already know that we’re definitely going to need an increased security presence at the finish of that run, but how’s that security presence going to work, how’s the flow of people going to work, what’s the expectation of concentration of individuals, where can and can’t they go?
Ian Poush: We’ve got to figure out all of that when it comes to a large scale event. How is … especially when you’re talking about a run or a marathon, how is the municipality that’s being held in, how do they want things handled? Has your security firm worked with that municipality in the past, do they have a good working relationship, do they understand what everyone’s expectation is? Can they be an asset to you with communication with that municipality?

Local Law and Public Safety Services are Required for Keeping Your Event Secure

Robert McGowan: That’s going to be one of the biggest things I think with any of these large scale events. The security company can’t do it all on their own and you’re going to need to reach out to your local law enforcement, EMS, and fire departments to coordinate their services being a part of, or available to the event that you’re choosing. That’s just par for the course when you’re planning these large scale events.
Robert McGowan: If you don’t have EMS on location with a designated first-aid medical tent, you need to consider that. If it’s something like we talked about with a run, if you don’t have police cordoning off major intersections or major routes to make sure the runners are going in the right direction, on top of with the volunteers, assisting and helping, you’re going to need to consider that. And that goes the same with obviously including the fire department as well. You’re going to need to bring all those facets to help you.
Robert McGowan: The one thing that a good, valuable, security company can do for you is they can be that liaison to those departments. And that’s kind of like what Ian said, is have they worked with those departments before? Have they worked with any of those departments before? What is their history and relationships like with these departments, and can they be that advocate for you? That’s something that you’re going to want to consider and look at.
Ian Poush: Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be a marathon or a race, when we’re talking about coordination with medical or EMS, let’s talk about something as upbeat, enjoyable, and mundane half the time as a beer festival. That’s going to require a medical presence. That may require a law enforcement presence. You’re going to need to work out your medical vendors as well as your security vendor, the same way you would have to work out your food or pretzel vendor. Those things are important pieces, and having those conversations earlier are good, having those conversations with municipalities or locations that you’re working in are good because you want to make sure that your vendors can work there.

Alcohol-Based Events Require Specific Security Training for Age Verification

Robert McGowan: So that’s talking about beer fest, the one big underlier with any sort of alcohol is-
Ian Poush: What sort of IPA do they have?
Robert McGowan: Yes, but no. We’re talking about age verification. Age verification is a big fancy word for checking ID’s. Any time you have any sort of event large or small, and there’s alcohol being served, you need to have an established age verification process. You also need to be working with a company that has that basically woven into their training.
Robert McGowan: Much like OPS and how we do things, that is one of the many trainings that we offer, and one of the many trainings that our special event officers go through, is a complete age verification course that allows them to be trained on proper checking of identifications, of varying types, and how to also identify fraudulent identifications and what to do when you get one of those.
Ian Poush: What sort of age verification training is that? When you’re looking at age verification training or alcohol management training, different states have different programs, and sometimes they actually want you to use the program for the state. Is the program that your security vendor is using in compliance with what the state or municipality wants to see? There are a lot of states out there that use, multiple different programs, and you want to make sure that you understand that, and you are getting a staff that can handle those needs. Second only to the IPA list, right?
Robert McGowan: IPA’s are very much important. The other thing to consider too, with those twenty-one and those age verification like events, is it a twenty-one only event? Most beer fests, 90, 95 percent of them are. But what we’ve seen recently, and the trend is that some of these beer fests are being a little bit more open to the public, a little bit more family inviting-
Ian Poush: People are bringing their kids.

Families and Children are a Safety Factor To Be Aware of at Your Event

Robert McGowan: Bringing their kids and families in there, and so now you’re getting into this environment where you have a mix of under and over twenty-one. So that brings with it in and of itself a completely different dynamic that now, not only do you have to have an age verification process but you also have to have a way for the brewers and the vendors to delineate between obviously who is over twenty-one and you know, this small kid-
Ian Poush: Who is under twenty-one. And that kind of brings a unique dynamic to what you wouldn’t consider happening at a beer fest, and that’s situations like lost children. When you’re dealing with large scale security related events, a lot of them have children at that.

Does your security provider have a Code Adam or Lost Child protocol program in place? How does that get relayed? How does that get put into a security plan?

Does that get delineated to only the security staff, or does it go to your staff? Who does that information go to? And how are you going to communicate it when you’re talking about large scale events, you gotta talk about radios too, and what that radio protocol is going to be? What’s your security vendor’s protocol? Does it line up with yours? You don’t know unless you ask.
Robert McGowan: No, these are all very important things and radio protocol is a big one, especially when we start getting into these large events, especially large events that are not only inside, similar to the conventions and the different types of events like that, but also at that large outdoor scale like those runs that we talked about.

Each Location at Your Large Scale Event Requires its Own Security Team

Robert McGowan: If you have two events, and you have security at the start and the finish line, they need to operate basically, although in one big event we’re going to need to operate like two separate events. So you’re going to have to make that determination.
Robert McGowan: You can’t have basically one security company kind of … I guess you’d call it broadly managing all of it. You need to kind of have that conversation, be able to kind of separate them out and run them as two separate events security teams in some cases. Those communication lines need to be separate from one another at those large events. I think one of the bigger things that is always a big topic from clients when we’re meeting and working with them is the admission process. How are you getting people into this event-
Ian Poush: The timeline.
Robert McGowan: How are you getting them out safely?
Ian Poush: What’s your timeline getting them in? What does your reasonable expectation? Your security vendor should be able to tell you if you’re reasonable expectation lines up with their reasonable expectation. Cause some people’s reasonable is somebody else’s unreasonable.

Inform Attendees of Prohibited Items Far Ahead of Time

Robert McGowan: A big thing that goes a long way when you’re working with those vendors and you’re trying to identify if this company is able to get the admitted people in as fast as possible, and as safe as possible while also screening them. When we’re talking about these large scale events there is, I would say in my experience, a little bit of a higher screening level that is asked of our clients. So we’re talking things like bag searches, magnetometers, stand up walk through magnetometers, the hand wands. There’s, that’s coming in, in some cases at a minimum of an ask, just given the volume and the large-
Ian Poush: What’s considered acceptable to come in? What exceptions have to be made? How are we making those exceptions so that people who are coming in don’t feel like they’re being singled out or discriminated against? So that people who are coming in who maybe have small children need to bring a diaper bag in. How are we going to handle that?
Ian Poush: That’s so important to know months out because then you can put notifications out with your ticket sales, you can put notifications out with your runner’s packets if it’s a run, or you know, you can send out this information. You can also set up your print to have that, you can set up your signage to have that, your way finding to have that. All of those things will go out and they will send, then there will be a common message out to everyone. We will give them that expectation.

A lot of times people may not like to be told that they can’t bring something in, or can’t have this item or that item, but if you’ve told them well in advance they’ll accept it.

If you tell them last minute they’re going to be upset. No one wants to come to a marathon and start making their way towards the finish line so they can see their significant other across the finish line take a photo, and be told they have to go eighteen blocks back to their car to put a bag that may contain items x,y, and z that are prohibited, because they didn’t get any paperwork that said that. So planning this well out gives you time to make that paperwork happen.

Proper Communication to the Public Avoids Potential PR Issues

Robert McGowan: I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges we see with any type of large event, vendor, or client that we’re working with is the information of prohibited and non-prohibited items that are not making their way out to the guests that are coming, prior to the event. And if it is being sent out, it’s not being sent out with enough time, and like Ian said, that information needs to get out as soon as possible. In best case scenario, two, three months before the event so everybody knows. The more that it’s pushed out the more I guess you have… I guess you have a less chance of having those types of issues coming through-

You’re not going to have those issues, you’re not going to have that PR black eye so to speak. You’re going to have a smoother flow, a smoother ingress of people into your event.

You’re not going to have to stop and have a fifteen minute conversation with somebody who wants to debate whether or not they can bring their backpack with a handle of Jack Daniels in or not. Because they’re going to know in advance that they can’t do that.
Ian Poush: It took probably two years, but now everyone knows they can’t bring in a large backpack into an NFL game. It’s got to be a very small one or it’s got to be clear. They understand the rules now when it comes to that and those issues at the stadiums have almost completely subsided, you get a few here or there, but they’ve almost completely subsided. That print message getting out early is really important.
Robert McGowan: The other thing too is, with getting that literature out there ahead of time and getting those prohibited items list out to your guests ahead of time, the one thing that you’re going to really mitigate is the backup and the individuals who when they get to that screening point and they’re told that they can’t bring their backpack in will in most cases, they’re not going to walk it all the way back to their car. They’re going to just plop it down on the ground and leave it there which creates its own level of event security risks and problems.
Robert McGowan: I don’t think we have enough time to really go into today, but hopefully in a future podcast we can cover all those challenges with that type of stuff. Now you’re creating another issue, now you’re having this build up of bags, diaper bags, bicycles, backpacks, whatever it is that is not being prohibited but they didn’t know about it they’re not taking it back, they’re going to leave it there. So now you have this-
Ian Poush: It might sound ridiculous for some of the examples Bob gave, but those are very real world examples. He is talking about diaper bags, he is talking about backpacks, he is talking about bicycles, he is talking about very large items that people just say, “Eh, whatever,” and I’ll leave it there. I’m just going to leave this backpack near the start line of a marathon and think that that’s okay. I think you can put two and two together and realize the kind of event safety issue that that could cause. That could shut down an entire race. That could shut down your entire event.

Prepare for Potential Hazards That Could Affect The Safety and Security of Your Event

Ian Poush: Another thing you want to think about when you’re having your event is some contingencies, some things that you as an event planner might not think about or might not be aware of because a lot of times you’re throwing an event for a specific client. It may not get communicated or you may not know.
Ian Poush: One of them is protester preparedness, how to handle that. Well if you have selected the proper security vendor or a good security vendor they’re going to ask that question in advance. If you anticipate any type of civil unrest at your event, whether you agree with the protestors or not, it’s a question that needs to be asked, and it needs to be asked how you want to handle that. People who are attending whatever your event may be have an expectation to be able to attend the event in an environment that is safe and free from being chastised on their way in, being assaulted on their way in, having things thrown at them on their way in and there’s a … I’m not going to go full on into how we go about doing that, but we have a rather successful program that we’ve put in place when dealing with protesters.
Ian Poush: It needs to be talked about well in advance because there’s intelligence gathering that needs to be done, there’s conversations that need to be had with police departments. There’s a way to minimize the impact. A lot of times people are just screaming to be heard and you don’t want that to detract from your event. You don’t want your clients event to make the news because of protests, you want it to make the news because of its own merits.
Ian Poush: There are certainly ways to do that, but you have to have that conversation with your security vendor. And your security vendors gotta have that conversation with you, they should be asking you these questions.

If you’re not getting asked the questions that we’re talking about today, or the questions that we’ve talked about in the other event based videos, then I’ll tell you flat out, you’re not dealing with the right security vendor.

That should be a very, very clear red flag to you that you need to look elsewhere for your services.
Ian Poush: If you are getting asked that, great, that’s awesome, even if that’s not through OPS. Obviously always go through OPS. Even if it wasn’t through OPS and you were being asked those, that to me is a good sign for our industry that there’s been some improvement in standards.
Ian Poush: You’ve also got to think about the weather contingency-
Robert McGowan: Weather contingencies-
Ian Poush: Here’s Bob with weather.
Robert McGowan: With the weather. Weather contingencies are a big thing. Is your event … obviously if it’s being held outdoors that’s something you need to consider, if it’s being held indoors, I guess you can-
Ian Poush: Not listen to-
Robert McGowan: Not listen to me for the next couple of minutes while I’m talking. Weather contingencies for outdoor events, what does that look like? Is your event a rain or shine event? If so, hey, you’re good to go. The only thing you need to keep in consideration with a rain or shine event is what does lightning strikes or anything like that look like? If you have pop up tents or festival tents that are up, those are basically just a-
Ian Poush: Lightning rod.
Robert McGowan: Big fancy lightning rod.
Ian Poush:  Those of you who remember seventh grade science class, it’s not going to be a good look.
Robert McGowan: Those of you have been on the event planning side for awhile know that those tents can get pretty large so, just basically just a big giant lightning rod. But what does that contingency plan look like? If it is a rain or shine event, hey, you’re good there, you might want to put something in place for lightning or thunder, maybe moving people to a different area or canceling the event together.
Ian Poush: If it’s super sunny and hot, rain or shine, what if it is shine? what if it’s really shiny out and it’s super sunny and hot, do you have enough water? Do you have areas of shade, do you have enough medical tents? Do you have the things you need to think about heat stroke and heat exhaustion?
Robert McGowan: And especially for those large marathon, run, mud races,[crosstalk 00:24:12] nobody sweats when they run … those types of events you’re also going to want to make sure that your medical team and your medical tent is able to handle the volume that could possibly come in.
Robert McGowan: It’s not just being able to handle the one runner that might be suffering from some sort of a heat injury, but also handling multiple runners at the same time. Things that need to be taken into consideration as well, not just well we have a medical tent but if you have a medical tent and like Ian said it’s a 110 degrees out and all of a sudden you have twenty people go down due to heat exhaustion because they just got done running ten miles, what does that look like? Do you guys have the facility and the tools available to you and the resources available to you to help basically handle a situation like that?

Choosing an Experienced and Well-Trained Security Team is Critical for Large Scale Event Success

Ian Poush: Being prepared in that aspect goes a long way in being able to have a successful event year in and year out, because the one thing that we can definitely not control at all is the weather. We’re not going to be able to control that. You’ve gotta have your contingencies in place so that you can react to it, but you can’t control it.
Robert McGowan: Those of you who are working on your first large scale event, whether it’s a convention, a festival, a beer fest, a run, reach out to individuals in your network that have experience with this. That’s one of the biggest pieces of advice we can give you. There are plenty of individuals who have experience doing very large scale events.
Ian Poush: Reach out to us. We’ve got a link below that you can reach out to us. You can check us out at We would love to partner up and love to help you ensure that your event is going to be safe and successful so that you have it year in, and year out. We can do your event with you year in and year out.
Robert McGowan: Even at the largest scale and all the pre-planning that’s done on these events, there are still always things that are going to be missed. Having another set of eyes, whether it’s from the security operational side, or even from the planning side of the race, is going to be invaluable to you in making sure this event goes off flawlessly. There’s always little subtleties that are going to be missed and having another set of eyes looking at that is going to go a long way.
Ian Poush: All of this talk about beer fest has me thirsty. It’s been great talking to you guys, thanks for checking out our podcast.

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