Everyone has seen the TV commercials for credit cards – an announcer lists the costs of various things: a person’s plane tickets, cab rides, hotel stays – and then ends with something like: “the ability to see your grandchild play in his championship game: priceless.”
We like to think of security services the same way. You can’t actually put a price on your peace of mind or on the safety of your athletes and spectators. But in this day and age, we know that everyone is focused on the bottom line. Therefore, it’s only logical to be able to justify each expense, and that includes security.
Unfortunately, what often happens is that people mistakenly cut security from their event entirely. The going theory for planners who do so is, ‘Well, we’ve never had any problems before.’ Often, they learn the hard way that the reason nothing happened before was because they did have security.
One big reason security is often cut is that it isn’t revenue-generating. You don’t see a direct ROI because you’ve hired security but if you think about it, it’s actually an investment that pays long-term dividends. You’re investing in lowering your liability. You’re investing in creating a calmer atmosphere. You’re investing in people’s safety.
Regret isn’t the way we want our clients to learn they need security services. The best approach is to speak to your security partner first and let them know you have the bottom line to consider. Be honest about your budget. Given enough notice and an open mind, there are usually several options that can be employed.
That being said, here are a few things not to do. We think of these as the knee-jerk reactions; in other words, people decide not to have security but try to substitute by…
Using Volunteers: Don’t get this wrong. Volunteers can be a great way to use a local resource and save money. They’re enthusiastic and they’re committed to the event and to the city they are working in. And we always tell people who are on a budget to make sure they accept all kinds of volunteer help – just not in a security position.
Volunteers are great in non-enforcement positions, like showing people where to park, taking tickets as people walk into an area, answering questions, giving directions, even selling concessions or souvenirs. Just don’t count on them to have to handle unruly patrons or provide first aid. It puts volunteers at risk, and that puts you at risk as well.
Using Other Authority Figures: Sometimes, games with school-age children will use teachers from participating schools (or occasionally parents of the athletes) to keep order. That can work great – for younger kids who know the adults very well. Unfortunately, parents, adults and other spectators – as well as kids from other teams or other areas – might not respect the authority of those teachers or parents, and you wind up with confrontations or unpleasant situations.
Going Cut-Rate: You know the old saying - you get what you pay for. Before signing on with a bargain-basement firm, check references. Find out about the types of events they’ve worked with in the past. Do they have sports-specific experience? Will they be able to handle a person, or group of people who are harassing officials or players? What types of situations have they encountered and how have they handled it? Are you dealing with trained personnel, or simply someone who has been hired to stand around wearing a uniform?
You’re probably thinking we’re trying to tell you that every event should have a full security force. In fact, we recommend the opposite. Having appropriate security is the key to safety. It might be that all you need is a very minimal presence – but you will want to make sure those individuals know what they’re doing.
When you’re checking out a company, particularly one in a city you’re visiting for the first time, talk to some venue managers and see what they recommend. The CVB and/or sports commission may be able to help you as well. Compile a list of firms and ask each for three references. You owe it to yourself, your athletes and spectators to do your due diligence. Find out what professional associations they belong to, and whether they’re licensed and insured. Will you need EMT services? Some companies can supply referrals, while others have these services in-house so that they are a one-stop-shop.
Getting the Right Level of Help: There are differing levels of security. What your event needs may depend upon the following history:
- Demographics: The type of crowd your event attracts is a huge factor. Sports for young children’s teams may attract mainly families. As the ages go up (high school or college sports, or even pro sports, for example), an older crowd is guaranteed.
- Behavior: Will patrons be tailgating or partying beforehand or afterward so that alcohol is a factor?
- Hype: Some sports events are weeks or even months in the making, which can lead to a build-up of excitement and emotion, with the possibility of trash-talking, fights and more.
- History: Have you seen arguments or physical altercations in the past? Has anyone threatened players, coaches or referees?
- Potential for Conflict: Is this the kind of event that has intense regional, personal or cultural rivalries? Is it a high school event where there might be local groups or gangs of kids who are looking for trouble?
Based on the background of your event, you may elect to go with different levels of security. We segment those three ways:
Guest Services: This is the first level of security. In addition to providing crowd management, these individuals can help with keeping aisles clear and getting people seated on time. They can also be the go-to in case of lost children, evacuations and so forth. The presence of a uniformed professional can work well to keep events running smoothly, even if there are unexpected hiccups.
Licensed Security Guards: These are the professionals who do actual security functions. They are trained to look for problems like suspicious packages, to handle patrons who are intoxicated, argumentative or combative, and so forth.
Off-Duty Police Officers: This is generally the top level of security you’ll find at sports events, and it’s usually reserved for college and pro sports – although there can be exceptions.
People sometimes ask us how many security personnel should be used. It really depends upon the event, including its size, spectator capacity, background and other factors. No two events are exactly alike. The National Fire Protection Association says that one trained security professional is needed for every 250 people who will be present – but that is an estimate, and the actual figure will depend upon the event itself.
When it comes to making arrangements for security services, we usually recommend that planners start at least six months out. Small events may be able to get away with three to six months of planning. Big events like marathons may require up to a year’s lead time, particularly in light of the extra precautions people are now taking. With really big events (the Super Bowl, for example), organizers have plans in place several years down the road. No matter what type of event they are putting on, we advise people to start investigating their security options as soon as they know where they are going, since advance planning makes for easier budgeting.
Meet with your security partner in advance and find out if they have any questions about the chain of command in your group, should an emergency arise. After the event, you should have a debriefing session with them to catch up on anything that happened and any actions that were taken during the event.
When an event is well-planned, monitored and managed, it should run smoothly and not present any problems. And that, as they say in the credit card ads, is priceless.