With the UK threat level classed as severe, venues are working with event planners to make safety their top priority
Words: Charlotte Goddard
In light of recent incidents in London and around Europe, security is at the front of event organisers’ minds. Venues have responded by beefing up security measures. In February, Central Hall Westminster appointed SB Security Solutions.
‘We’ve seen an increasing demand for more complex security requirements over the past year,’ says Paul Southern, MD at the venue. ‘More event organisers are wanting searches, and more visible security staff.’ As a result, the security team is now brought into client meetings as early as possible.
Iconic venues enhance guest experiences, but can also be potential targets. ‘Areas such as Westminster already have robust security measures in place, but venues and organisers must work collaboratively to determine specific requirements. Security arrangements are driven by the characteristics of the attendees, the subject matter, the number of people attending, and how the event has been promoted,’ explains Southern. ‘The event starts a long way before arriving at the building – how clients travel, where they are staying, for example.’
But the reassuring presence of visible security isn’t always compatible with the need for a welcoming face. ‘We’ve moved away from airport-style security at the entrance, so it isn’t such an intimidating welcome, but security is always on hand,’ says Dan Blyghton, head of security at the QEII Centre.
Staff at the QEII are trained and regularly updated by the Metropolitan Police, as are managers at east London venue Troxy. ‘This information is then communicated to our frontline team during their induction process and ongoing training,’ says events and compliance manager Will Poole.
Rob Walley is the founder of Controlled Events, which provides security, communications and emergency-plan guidance. He tells event organisers to engage their local police force and counter terrorism security advisor. ‘They are very helpful in providing advice, assessing your event if required, and they can organise training for your staff.’
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Staff need a range of communication methods, such as radio, WhatsApp and SMS. ‘In an emergency, the mobile phone network can go down,’ says Walley. It’s also important to monitor social media and the booking line during an event, as communications – in extreme cases, even a bomb threat – could come through this channel.
In particular, frontline staff need to know what to do in an emergency – from a fire to a terrorist attack – when movement around a building is restricted. It’s a good idea to divide the venue into named zones to enable clear communication about which areas are dangerous and which are safe.
Organisers can create a security template – the venue will also have its own protocols in place – but it will need to be adapted to suit individual events. ‘It’s vital to look at the specific requirements of the event you’re going to overlay on top of that venue, as it might change things – perhaps there are different entrances and exits, for example,’ explains Walley.
With careful planning and proper communication, venues and organisers can strike a balance between safety and visitor experience. Poole is mindful of this at Troxy: ‘The venue has to effectively manage the risk of any potential threats while ensuring the audience is still able to have a good time.’
+ Build a security plan you can adapt and customise to each venue.
+ Take into account the government’s ‘run, hide, tell’ advice and work with the venue to create a specific dynamic lockdown plan.
+ If your event is long or complex, draw up an overlay plan – showing, for example, the entrance and exits you are using – onto the venue's CAD drawings. Ensure it is readily available to emergency services if necessary.
+ Engage your local police force and counter terrorism security advisor (CTSA).
+ Brief staff to be vigilant. The junior staff are also part of the first response to an incident and need to know their roles.
+ Use ‘HOT’ for unattended items: is it Hidden, Obviously suspicious, or Typical of its surroundings?
+ Consider all potential scenarios. Is the plan flexible enough?
+ Use a variety of communications methods, including radio, WhatsApp and SMS.
Thanks to Rob Walley, Controlled Events
This article was first published in SquareMeal Venues + Events, Spring/Summer 2017