On August 30 through Sept. 2, the Republican National Convention descended upon New York City, bringing with it a host of government VIPS, celebrities, protesters, anarchists and scores of curious New York denizens. With this volatile a mixture of interest and this high-profile of an event, security was a top concern, especially since the entire convention and festivities were being closely watched by national news media.
The security efforts brought upon a convergence between a variety of groups, including the NYPD, the Secret Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, private security firms and even the U.S. Postal Service - their police force was used at the Madison Square Garden post office and the media center.
Inside the alphabet soup of different security operations was Joe Sordi, president and CEO of Strategic Security Corporation, a N.Y.-based firm that provides comprehensive security solutions.
SecurityInfoWatch.com spoke with Sordi recently to get a sense of what it takes to be a private security firm working a major event associated with the Republican National Convention.
Getting the Contract
Sordi, an active sergeant with the NYPD Intelligence Division, started working in security over a decade ago, and two years ago founded Strategic Security Corporation to fill what he saw as a void in the industry - a company that brought together high-level physical security with emergency operations, executive protection, port security, installations, event security and more. "People were asking for risk assessment and they were just getting a physical security assessment," notes Sordi, explaining the raison d'etre of the company's founding.
He put his staff together and brought on top security experts as consultants, and managed to gain some high-profile clients in the process.
And then, earlier this fall, the RNC came to town. When it came time to bid on some event security projects, one of which was the "Warehouse Party" that occurred nightly and served as a lobbying forum as well as a place for officials and VIPs to rub elbow, cut deals and generally enjoy themselves. Sordi's company landed the contract for the Warehouse Party, largely, he says because in their proposal, the looked at the "what if" factor.
"They (decision makers) want to see a comprehensive emergency plan," explains Sordi. "We constantly try to promote analytical thinking; we ask the 'what if' questions that insurance companies don't know to ask."
Sordi says that their ability to educate a potential client about all facets of the security operations is what has typically landed them their contracts. They can go the potential client with a thorough system design that encompasses emergency preparedness, how the security plan meshes with their insurance carriers requirements and coverage, the ability to show a return on investment, vulnerability assessments, and even how planning the event and using the facility would affect the event permitting process. While they had landed other contracts for the Republican and Democratic conventions, the Warehouse Party was one of their largest -- with a $300,000 paycheck coming for keeping it safe.
Making It Happen
The Warehouse Party occurred each night for four nights at the former Tunnel night club, and required a revamp of the building that had been known for its narcotics-driven rave scene until it was shut down about a year ago. Sordi's team, having won the contract, finalized their security plans and went to task gutting the building. Approximately 50 CCTV cameras were installed in and around the premises so that staff could monitor what was going on at all times. Sixty of the company's officers were on duty each night at the party, with redundant communications systems to keep the information flow up-to-date.
Central to the design of the security plan was the emergency operations center -- a large room staffed with a half-dozen of his employees. A video monitoring console lined one wall, with a large plasma television so that the operations director could pull up any incident, and six other monitors with the screens divided to show the other cameras.
Four staff members were watching the monitors at all times during the event, and behind them sat a table with maps and diagrams -- charts to plot VIPs at the party, a huge plat of the city, aerial photos of the location, and regularly updated satellite imaging of the area so that they could watch traffic and crowds.
Then they had the wall that served as ground zero for communications. The emergency operations director updated this digital status wall, showing situation reports -- from catering deliveries to VIP issues to intoxicated attendees.
To top it off, Sordi's firm added an on-site EMT to the room to deal with health issues of attendees -- something that actually cropped up twice, once with an epileptic seizure and another time with a patron who had overindulged in the events spirits.
The plan detailed everything -- from fire suppression to parking to communications with police forces to how to work with other security firms who would be on-site providing executive protection for their clients. Sordi's firm even planned for a conflict resolution area outside of the facility where access issues could be dealt with. Extra egress was planned, with the ability to shuttle VIPs away from the media via access through an attached hotel. Along the way, the plan had to face security issues like where to direct protesters without invading first amendment rights. Plain clothes officers were added to protester groups to stay alerted on group activities and movements, with information from these individuals coming back to the company's analysts to determine how it would affect their clients.
The support equipment was voluminous. Car mats and mirrors were brought in to look under the vehicles of arriving guests, not to mention magnetometers, bomb-sniffing dogs and a score of communications systems, from two-way radios to Blackberry devices to satellite phones and more.
When all was said and done, security for the event really didn't make the nightly news -- because the security plan had worked; no security breach put anyone in jeopardy and Sordi's company remained fortunately nameless to the major media.
But that doesn't mean that Sordi didn't take away some lessons during the process, and he offered those to SIW users. Here's what he suggests:
Analyze your chain of command - Sordi kept his chain of command for the event simple, with just one emergency operations manager sending out the directives. The last thing you want, he says, is confusion in your plan.
Know your assets - Knowing how to use access through a neighboring hotel allowed him to keep one high-profile client under wraps at an event for Cartier Jewelers that his company also served during the convention, but he also point to knowing the other assets - like who will be working on the catering or delivery service. "The worst person in your security plan is the delivery guy," says Sordi. "Put someone in a uniform and they can often walk right in with a package." Don't overlook anything that will affect the security of your event.
Know your finances - It's not enough anymore just to provide security; with today's economy you have to show them that investing in security provides a positive return. Remember the project needs to be a financial success for both parties. Sordi says that, while the event was a profit center, if they had taken a closer, up-to-the-hour look at expenditures, more profit could have been built in without cutting corners
Recognize when you're overextended - Taking on everything that had to do with security was well within Strategic Security Corporation's ability, but when it came to helping the client with the permit process, they found themselves out of their league - in the future, Sordi says they will consider bringing on someone to do event planning to take care of those details
Make it personal - The sign of the successful completion of a security detail, says Sordi, is when you develop a personal relationship with your client. It brings repeat business and allows the security to integrate with the event even more easily.
Prepare your new hires - Sordi had some new hires who were "thrown into the fire" with this event, and had to keep up. While they were law enforcement veterans, the complexity of a new system can add up to frustration, especially when dealing with new concerns like working with caterers, new managers and more. To overcome this, K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple, Stupid, says Sordi - and know your employees' comfort level.
Security should be seen but unseen - It's not a mind trick; Sordi says that the attendees need to know they're secure and see the elements that protect them, but they shouldn't see the removal of an intoxicated individual or the relocation of protester groups.
And while those tips are useful for any event security operation, whether it's for a local mayoral speech or a major campaign party, part of landing this sort of business is being the right kind of company. It means growing past the limits of being a physical security or simple guard services company, and the best way to do that, says Sordi, is to take the money you make and reinvest in the company. While it may be tempting to take that vacation or buy that new house when business is good, by taking that money and putting it back into equipment and especially training, you're readying your business for growth, and just might find yourself running a warehouse party in 2008.