Event Security for High Profile Individuals
In the last months, we have seen many videos from what one may label a ‘failed’ security operation where public figures were attacked or embarrassed during their public appearance at an event. Protecting high-profile individuals during an event or public speech requires very careful and detailed planning. Despite the big challenges for the security team, public events are essential for high-profile individuals, especially for politicians, celebrities, or business leaders who need to engage with their fans, audience, or electorate.
Event Security is a uniquely separate topic, and one needs to spend quite some time studying it and implementing all the necessary steps. Unfortunately, most EP schools do not teach it, and some invest very little time in it considering the fact that the key to Event Security is to manage and mitigate the risks with thorough planning, intelligence, and coordination of multiple parties involved.
The protective measures for any event will depend on the event size (private, public, big, small), event purpose (political, cultural, educational, etc.), threat levels, speakers’ public visibility, and value to their organization. (what is the value of each speaker if they get harmed or embarrassed?)
Understanding the complexities involved in securing high-profile individuals during public events and why such events can pose several inherent risks for high-profile individuals.
Visibility: Public events mean the high-profile person is largely exposed, making it easier for potential attackers to locate, approach, or target them. When your clients are on the platform (Behind the podium) or anywhere on the stage, they are vulnerable targets.
Predictability: Public events are almost always scheduled and provide potential attackers with the time to plan their actions. Even with meticulous security planning, knowing the timing and location of an event in advance gives adversaries a significant advantage.
Crowd Control and Media Challenges: Large gatherings are inherently harder to control. Even with barriers and security personnel, managing a crowd can be unpredictable. Someone with malicious intent could potentially blend in or infiltrate as the event support help or basic crowd control, making detection harder and giving them very proximal access. The media coverage that accompanies many public events involving high-profile individuals can be a double-edged sword. While it spreads the message of the event from a marketing aspect, it also broadcasts the vulnerabilities and security arrangements in real time.
Multiple Access Points: Venues for public events often have multiple entry and exit points, which can be difficult to secure completely.
Multiple Parties Involved: Event organization involves the coordination of multiple parties, vendors, venue management, event organizers, and even different security entities. Your client is not the only one with a security detail, most of the time you will find the presence of law enforcement, uniformed guards, and Executive Protection teams for multiple public figures who are present. More involved parties make the coordination harder as communication or logistical breakdowns among these parties can create security vulnerabilities and confusion.
Sniper and Active Shooter Threats: Open-air events or events with vast, unobscured perimeters can pose sniper threats, especially if there are high vantage points nearby. An active shooter can be another threat for events since one can find many people who share the same ideas, and goals (political, social, etc.) gathered in the same place.
Terrorist Attack and Bomb Threats: Crowded areas are high-impact targets for those wanting to cause mass harm. This makes guests and staff screening, detection of explosives (K9 is best), and managing evacuation protocols critically important.
Public Sentiment: High-profile individuals, especially politicians or controversial figures, can evoke strong emotions. Public events can attract not just fans and supporters, but also protestors or individuals with negative or hostile intentions.
Reliance on Local Infrastructure: High-profile individuals and their security teams often have to rely on local infrastructure, which they might not be familiar with. This includes clearly understanding local threats, coordination and relying on local law enforcement, and navigating unknown, or lesser-known, venues. How many times have you found yourself in an event where if it was for you, you would have never chosen that place from a security standpoint? The thing to always remember is that security teams, for the most part, have very little or no say in the venues and must work with and do their best to function with and plan around, the circumstances, locations, and other plans made by individuals who do not have security protocols in mind.
Basic Considerations for Securing Your Client during Public Events:
Advance Planning & Risk Assessment: Conduct a thorough risk assessment of the venue, identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities. Scout the location beforehand. Look for multiple entry and exit points, chokepoints, and rooms that can be used as safe rooms. Assess local threat intelligence and political climate.
Physical Security: If you are responsible for the event security, establish a secure perimeter around the venue with barricades or barriers. Control access points with security personnel, metal detectors, and possibly explosive-detection canine units. Inspect the stage/platform and immediate surroundings for potential threats and listening devices. Ensure that there's an emergency evacuation route and a safe room or fallback position. If you have no control over the event security planning and your client is invited as a speaker/guest then consider gathering as much information you can for the established security measures, evacuation plans, and other speakers/guests (your client may be at risk because he is present in an event where another speaker who is targeted is present). Now is your chance to put your soft skills into action and make friends with event organizers, event security, and law enforcement.
The Podium: In public speeches, when your client is on the podium, he is the perfect target, all lights and attention are on him. The podiums are usually lightweight and small. If the threat level is high, you should consider placing armored plates for better ballistic protection. Consult your client to avoid unnecessary movements from the podium. Consider placing your own protective agents as close as possible to the podium and in crucial spots where they can react if needed be. Establish a plan for reaction and evacuation, rehearse it with your team, and make sure your client is briefed on it as well.
Seating Arrangements: If possible, consider having the client seating in a location that is lower than the security team so that he is less visible. Bear in mind that depending on how many high-profile speakers/guests will be present, the number of seats for the security team will be very limited. On many occasions, you won’t be able to sit next to or close to your client. As all the spots are reserved for guests only. The ideal seating plan would be half-moon (semicircular) shaped with the front row being lower than the back. When the threat level is high, serious consideration should be given to armoring the chair and the speaking podium with armored plates. If possible, arrange to have known personnel, to you and your client, seated next to or close to him.
The Stage: If you are the one responsible for the event security, consider keeping a good distance from the stage to the first row of seats of at least 7-8 meters. In this area, only security personnel or individuals accompanied by security team members should move. The first row of seats should be empty to act as a barrier to anyone from the crowd wanting to approach the stage. The second row should be for individuals who are speakers. When these individuals would need to go on stage, only half of the seats should be reserved so that they approach from one side and return to their row from the other. This way, the front of the stage will never be filled with people which someone could use as cover for an attack. The security team members should be positioned around the guests to have a full visual check of the audience. They should be able to intervene anywhere throughout, and no one should be able to get near the stage unaccompanied.
Personnel: If you are responsible for the event’s security, deploy both uniformed and plainclothes security personnel who can blend in with your guests. Screen all the vendors, catering, and anyone who has access and a presence at the event. Consider having an emergency medical team on standby.
Communication: Establish a clear communication plan among all security teams. Designate codewords for specific emergencies, code names, use encrypted radios, and have a backup communication method.
Surveillance & Counter-surveillance: Use CCTV to monitor the crowd and surroundings. Deploy undercover agents in the crowd for counter-surveillance and to identify suspicious behavior. Each report should be immediately evaluated for relevance and threat level.
Vehicle Security: The driver always stays in the vehicle. Plan multiple egress routes from the location to account for different scenarios.
Screening & Access Control: Ensure that everyone entering the venue undergoes thorough screening. Control VIP areas and ensure only authorized personnel have access. Use a guest list or invitation-only system if possible.
Public Interaction: If your client plans to interact with the audience or media, pre-plan your team’s positions and manage the crowd accordingly. Watch out for anything/anyone that stands out as unusual and always watch the hands of those close to your client. Are they holding something that can harm or embarrass him? Be prepared to extract your client swiftly in the event of a disturbance. Hands, hands, hands…And scan your zone of responsibility and scan again.
Intelligence & Coordination: Do your intelligence gathering and evaluation. Monitor social media for any potential threats or discussions that might indicate planned disruptions. Digital forensics can also play a role in pre-event threat assessment. Liaise with local law enforcement and potentially federal agencies (depending on who your client is, on the country and threat level). Gather intelligence on any known threats or groups that may target your client, or other speakers at the event.
Case Studies: Highlight previous incidents involving security breaches or attacks on high-profile individuals during public events. Discuss what went wrong and the lessons learned from each incident.
Utilize Technology: This includes surveillance drones, facial recognition systems, biometric access controls, and AI-driven threat detection systems.
Liaison with Other Entities: Collaboration with other guests’ security teams, agencies, and private security firms can provide additional resources and intelligence. Highlight the importance of sharing information and working in tandem.
Psychological Profiling: Make sure your team has a good understanding of crowd psychology and potential attacker profiles. This can help in preempting potential threats. Using COVPRO agents in the crowd will always give a significant advantage when providing a proactive response.
After-Action Reviews: After every event, conduct a debriefing session. Discuss what went well, what could be improved, and any potential threats that were identified. This helps in refining strategies for future events.
Legal and Ethical Considerations: Discuss the balance between ensuring security and respecting individual rights. In many jurisdictions, there are legal limitations on what security personnel can do, especially concerning personal searches, data collection, and surveillance.
Remember, during events, the goal is to have multiple layers of security so that if any one layer fails, another can immediately respond. The most effective protection details work quietly in the background, providing a safe environment while being as unobtrusive as possible.
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