How to Secure the Olympics

Oct. 27, 2008
A step-by-step guide to managing risk for high-profile events.
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The Torino Olympic Winter Games are now behind us, and the companies that were involved in the Games are winding down from nearly a month of significant security precautions. Planning security for special events like these—and other high-visibility consumer conferences—requires a tailored approach that balances effective, non-excessive security measures against a realistic assessment of likely threats.


Choose the Right Measures

From year to year or event to event, organizations may experience more or less risk depending on venue size and the location of the event, the financial stability and executive profile of the company, and the profile of the event participants. A one-size-fits-all approach to security fails to consider the very aspects of the event that make it unique. Instead, companies need a customized event security plan.

Appropriate security measures offer three critical benefits:

1) They deter would-be disruptors.

2) They provide preventive measures that will intercept disruptions.

3) They prepare everyone to respond appropriately in an emergency.


Here we offer some insight into the types of threats businesses should consider and how they can plan for, manage, and respond to risks at special events.


Who Wants a Piece of You?

The first step is to identify potential threats to the event, separating likely threats from perceived and imagined ones. With an event such as the Olympics, the threats are often well-publicized. It is a high-profile event, outdoors and subject to weather conditions, with many VIPs in attendance. Groups with a political agenda—both terrorists and social protest organizations—may use the Olympic Games to make their voices heard.

At other types of business events, threats may not be as publicized or obvious. Threats may come from different sources, such as hecklers, activist groups, or disgruntled shareholders, employees or customers.

Security planners should ask the following questions to define possible threats from disruptors:

1) Who would benefit from the failure of the event if an incident were to occur?

2) Who would benefit from a mere disruption of this event?

3) What interest would any groups with a history of violence or disruption have in the event as an arena to publicize their cause?


Once they've answered these questions, security planners can qualify the threats in terms of likelihood and reasonableness and create a security plan to protect against them without causing too much inconvenience for attendees.


Four Components of Security Planning

Assessing the likely risks is just the first step in successful planning for event security. There are also other important security plan components to consider. You should evaluate and implement these components with four objectives in mind:

1) Deterrence: the degree to which a particular security measure will deter a would-be disruption.

2) Prevention: the effectiveness of a security measure in intercepting an attempted security breach or preventing certain assaults or disruptions.

3) Environmental Assessment: the cumulative effect of the various security measures, which will determine the general level of safety. Only through an honest assessment of the level of security at the event can you properly respond to threats communicated during the event.

4) Emergency Preparedness: the actions to take in various emergencies and the protocols of communication and tactics for such actions.


Keep the Bad Guys Out

One way to minimize the risk of a disruption is to closely manage access to the event. With the Olympics, this was difficult, because the Games were open to the paying public. However, security planners can restrict access to corporate-sponsored events or take other measures to restrict employee interaction with people who have not been pre-screened. The nature of the event will dictate the access options, which will in turn affect the security measures. The security team should understand the potential financial, reputational, and safety concerns important to the organization as they plan their security measures.

Limiting access begins to address certain threats. However, choosing access criteria becomes a balance between the intended openness of the event and the resulting need for additional security.

If an event is intended for open public access, the security planner will not have the chance to screen out a potential attacker unless there is specific intelligence that would warrant entrance refusal. Other security plan components, such as internal security monitoring, will have to take this into account. You can step up access control at special events by requiring paid admission, requiring picture identification to provide an attendance record, and requiring an invitation with ID.

The most restrictive means of access control is clearance only, which means all potential guests are pre-screened. With this method, the security planner can be reasonably sure that threats will not come from within the event. All of the event and vendor staff will also be pre-cleared and identified with a badge or garment pin. This level of security is usually reserved for high-level gatherings that are smaller and have an obvious need for such control.

Securing Special Areas

Having addressed perimeter security, security planners also need to consider certain critical areas within the event venue, such as parking areas and loading docks, key event rooms, VIP and media areas, ventilation systems, refreshment set-ups and exhibit areas. A disruption or other problem in these areas could have an effect on the event itself.

These areas may require further access restrictions, increased package inspection, increased lighting and security monitoring, a method for detecting tampering, or a combination of these, in addition to other site-specific measures.

Minimize Your What Ifs

Event planners may need to consider other specific security measures to address “what if” scenarios. Would any of the following measures provide greater security for your event?

Conduct background and records checks of the event staff and any vendor employees. At a minimum, event planners should obtain thorough employee lists.

Distribute profiles of any known troublemakers or disgruntled employees who may have surfaced at past similar events. Establish a liaison with local law enforcement to gather intelligence and arrange for emergency response.

Perform canine sweeps prior to and during the event to allow the security team to confidently assess the situation and make prudent reactive determinations in the event of a bomb threat.

Monitor specific areas with additional security cameras and protect special equipment with tamper-evident locks and seals.

Protect food set-up areas so people will not need to worry about the possibility of tainted food or beverages.

Designate evacuation plans and regrouping areas for both the general population and key areas.

Designate safe areas for VIPs and controversial guests. These provide an emergency safe haven in the event of an incident.

Provide accommodations to allow the media to effectively do its job. This will reduce the likelihood of the media becoming disruptive.

Ensure that companies remain within the occupancy guidelines established by the local fire marshal.

Augment your security force with armed law enforcement at the event. If you do this, make sure law enforcement officials are involved in the security planning process.

Brief the security team regarding the required coordination between them and responding emergency service personnel who may be deployed to an incident.


Contingency Response Plans

An effective response to a disruption calls for the coordinated execution of a pre-determined emergency plan. This plan should be developed in concert with the local emergency service personnel to ensure cooperation in handling an emergency. Security planners need to not only prepare for scenarios such as terrorist acts and demonstrations, but also for scenarios such as severe weather. In the case of the Olympics, avalanches were a unique risk, given the mountainous nature of Torino and the fact that the Games were dispersed over a wide area.

In an emergency, companies need to establish communication protocols, then follow the directives issued by local authorities. Other considerations would include establishing emergency fire evacuation routes and gathering points, using slightly different evacuation procedures in the event of a legitimate bomb threat, devising decision criteria for handling a bomb threat or a suspicious item, creating a chain of command and delegation of functions, and determining who will communicate with attendees to minimize panic and maintain orderly movement.

The emergency response plan requires extensive preparation and resources. If security and event planners are unable to deter or prevent an incident, they will be judged by how well they were prepared to handle it once it happened. A well-coordinated effort using pre-planned guidelines will be the key to minimizing the effects of any incident.

Security in the Balance

Planning security for a special event demands skills acquired through experience working with event planners, security teams, and local emergency responders and developing a focused security plan. An event security plan must establish measures required and balance safety and convenience, while effectively addressing potential threats.

When evaluating these security measures, corporations must carefully weigh the deterrent and preventive value they offer against the threat level, as well as the reactive preparedness of the security team. For any plan to work, the decision makers have to trust the security advisors. That trust can only come when the security planner is absolutely confident that the measures are necessary, reasonable, and can be implemented with minimal inconvenience to attendees and staff.


Bob Sikellis is managing director and associate general counsel for Vance, a global investigations and security firm that helps businesses plan for, manage and respond to risk ( .