Safety Considerations for In-Person Events – For Event Planners
Safety Considerations for In-Person Events – For Event Planners
Safety Considerations for In-Person Events – For Event Planners is part of a larger resource for members of the writing community on personal and event safety concerns, both in-person and online. To see all the resources available, visit our Safety homepage. This section includes best practice recommendations for event planners. This includes detailed security planning and how to consider safety for authors at events. There is a related section for attendees of in-person events here, as well as anti-harassment and accessibility policy templates for in-person event planners here.
Event Security Planning
This section is intended as a general guideline for event planners. Each area listed could be expanded and usually requires its own specialists.
This document isn’t intended to scare anyone away from creating an event! It’s meant to raise awareness about security and ways events can limit their liability while creating amazing experiences for attendees and staff.
Regarding smaller events: In general, volunteers at smaller events are doing more with less, so take any opportunity to delegate a security mindset to the lowest level possible and ensure open communication among the team. The event planner may be too busy to think about line control, ticketing or the best way to respond to a threat of disruption.
Volunteer Safety always comes first: When working with volunteers with little or no experience in incident response, reiterate that their safety comes first, and they should never put themselves in harm’s way, or respond to an angry or upset person without help. Communicating the situation is the best response before they do anything else.
The ideas in this guide may be more than your staff can provide. Not providing credentials or multiple secure zones doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hold your event. Maybe you only have a VIP area near a stage, or control access through personal recognition. What matters is that security is a consideration, and volunteers know who to contact if something goes wrong.
Engaging the Community
Feelings of safety and security begin with the community. Security has different meanings depending on the audience and community it serves. An event like Burning Man has a culture of “Safety Third,” where volunteer security follows an ethos of “first, do nothing,” because attendees expect less intervention, while a concert venue may require ticketing, credentials, searches and specific conduct in order to hold their event, in accordance with local and state laws. Even among concerts, the expectations and actions of artists and audiences will vary greatly.
In general, security is a feeling created by the community, through communication and actions, to ensure equal enjoyment within the expectations of the attendees.
Feelings of security start with communication, creating shared expectations, and then meeting those expectations through actions.
Security and safety mitigations might be a requirement of a venue or insurance. If organizers don’t have these constraints, security and incident planning can be overlooked unless someone on staff has experience and authority to bring them up. Because security and safety can be expensive, their execution often falls on volunteers. It’s not impossible to safely manage a large event with volunteers, but it takes a positive training culture to ensure volunteers don’t put themselves at risk by responding to an event or disruptive person.
Code of Conduct
The Code of Conduct represents rules and guidelines created by the event (and attendees) defining acceptable behavior. The code represents “Rules of the Road” for attendees and staff, and should also define response protocols if the rules are broken. Some considerations when creating a Code of Conduct:
- A Code of Conduct establishes a baseline of behavior that staff can use to identify when someone is acting out or affecting others enjoyment of the event.
- A code is only as good as staff’s ability to enforce it in the moment. Some events may rely on third parties, like hotel or convention staff, to respond to incidents, and those employees might not have been made aware of the convention’s expectations.
- Most modern conventions have a Code of Conduct outlining acceptable behavior by staff and attendees, which can provide a good starting point for planning.
- It’s a good idea for staff to stress test their Code of Conduct by role playing scenarios and responses to ensure the Code provides meaningful guidance.
- Failure to enforce a Code of Conduct can result in a crisis for the event and organization. The Code represents a promise to everyone involved.
Event Management as Security
Many aspects of managing an event are not seen as “security” but contribute to the overall sense of order that discourages attendees from acting out. Consider:
- Anyone in a frontline customer service role with attendees is communicating rules and norms created by the event.
- It’s important that everyone understands any rules set by the venue, as well as the Code of Conduct for the event, so they can navigate any conflicts that arise. If they don’t know how to answer questions, they should have either the empowerment to solve issues at their level, or the means and freedom to reach someone who can help.
- Often volunteers are placed in a position of authority, such as controlling an entry, with little information and no method to communicate, and understandably can’t perform their function when challenged.
- Security begins with basic event management techniques like ticketing, line management, customer communication, credentialing and communication among staff.
- Even for free events, tickets can provide a necessary method of control if someone needs to be denied entry or have their attendance revoked.
- Poor management can create a lack of confidence or indifference in staff that will create conflict or encourage attendees to act out.
- Clear communication through all channels will support professionalism and confidence in the event, i.e. a Code of Conduct clearly stated on websites and attendee materials, guidelines on the backs of tickets, professional signage at the event, and staff who understand their role.
- Role-playing incidents and response, from cash registers down to changing line management to responding to an intoxicated attendee, will help staff know how to respond and build confidence in their jobs.
- Volunteers placed in a security role should clearly understand their boundaries and liability within local laws. Injuring themselves or attendees can create both personal and event liability.
- Volunteer contracts should address incident response.
- Volunteers and staff members should be aware of accepted methods of communication, i.e. verbal, visual, text messaging or radio.
Crowds and Line Management
Crowd dynamics can be some of the most dangerous aspects of a large event and are sometimes not considered by staff, especially when they have not managed a large event previously or have a larger attendance than expected. Some considerations:
- Allow early or online check-in if possible to avoid creating long lines or crowds. Online RSVP, ticketing or other methods should be used to estimate attendance size.
- Lines should be managed with soft barriers that don’t create physical choke points.
- Be aware of egress routes and don’t block fire exits.
- Separate lines from main travel areas to minimize conflict created by cutting or general confusion.
- Plan for overflow by providing alternate viewing areas.
- Provide staff to actively monitor attendance. Ensure they are knowledgeable of local fire code, maximum room allowances and have the authority to limit entrance. One volunteer at a doorway will not stop attendees from entering. Staff in these roles should have a method of communication to call for assistance.
Security in Depth
Security begins before tickets are purchased, through event communication (website, email, etc), the Code of Conduct, active management, ticketing systems, and marketing. A well-run event inspires confidence in staff and attendees and promotes a safe environment. Considerations include:
- Active planning for traffic control and parking. This establishes security protocols early as attendees arrive. Parking lots are the initial touch point for communication as attendees arrive.
- Establish security zones for the event:
- Outside the event
- Parking and line management to gates
- Inside the ticketed area, concessions/retail and other main access areas
- Credentialed areas (staff zones, VIP areas, maintenance and law enforcement, etc)
- Know time periods for each zone
- Staff conduct establishes security. Everyone assisting in managing the event is contributing to the confidence and comfort of attendees.
- Staff should wear easily identifiable uniforms/attire noting their role.
- Staff should have ability to communicate by radio, phone, visual flags, etc.
- Credentials allow access to secure areas. They can be a list maintained by security, verified by your own ID card, printed correspondence from staff, or tickets or badges with enhanced security, i.e. RFID or magnetic strips.
- Ideally, a credential is a unique badge with your information and access level, not easily duplicated, that clearly indicates your access privileges despite staff training levels.
- Poorly designed credentials (photocopied, self-printed, difficult to understand) create friction points and lead to misunderstandings that can affect your safety. If you need access to secure areas, ensure your credential is easy to read, or you have a staff person to assist.
Gates / Entry Points
- Parking and gates are where attendees first encounter staff. Conflict at these points will affect their overall experience.
- Understaffing, lack of training and poor communication will put stress on staff and create negative experiences at the gates.
- The ability to track entry flow and open additional gates if necessary, especially as event start times near, is vital to avoiding unsafe crowd dynamics.
- Entry and bag check policies must be communicated early and often. Attendees with contraband will slow down lines and create conflict.
- Volunteers often conduct bag checks, but training is vital to ensuring they are fast and thorough. Poor bag checks create a feeling of security theater. Staff must be empowered and able to enforce the venue’s rules.
- Security or Law Enforcement presence may be required by the venue, but can also have a chilling effect on attendees. Event planners can set expectations with any security presence through contracts and open communication. Most law enforcement would rather know what to expect from a crowd and what planners want, as opposed to becoming overwhelmed. The typical planning attendance for events is only two officers per thousands of attendees, to assist with incident response and communication with first responders.
- Magnetometers (Metal Detectors): Body searchers with wands or walk-through portals will slow entry considerably and requires extensive training to be effective. If a venue requires staff to provide this type of check, they must also plan for additional staffing and training time. This must be budgeted.
- Patterns and Expectations (Establishing a Baseline): Using all five senses, what should you expect in the space you’re entering? Will it be easy to recognize when something breaks the pattern of activity? Examples:
- People typically don’t yell and scream at a convention, but might at a football game.
- The sound of running feet would be out of place in a mall.
- Normalcy Lock: People have a tendency to “explain” activity that breaks the baseline. Gunshots sound like a car backfiring. People running could be a flash mob. A burning smell is a barbecue.
- Permission to Act: If a situation gives you a bad feeling, honor your gut and create space between you and whatever worries you.
- Chain of Command
- Communication (radio, text, shared chat, visual, etc)
- Reporting Requirements (What gets reported)
- Storage requirements (how long to maintain for insurance/etc)
- After Action Review
- Identify venue security resources
- Identify local law enforcement resources
- Identify medical response resources
Examples of Safety and Security Incidents at Events
(These are general incidents. Legal definitions will vary by location.)
- Harassment (can extend outside event, physical, online, phone)
- Physical and Verbal altercations
- Protest Activity
- Disruption of scheduled events
- Audio and video recording
Hiring Security or Law Enforcement
Most police departments and sheriff’s offices have special event planners that can be reached by calling a non-emergency number.
- Departments usually offer hourly rates and will have a minimum number of officers based on the event and their policies.
- Contact departments as far in advance as possible, as it may require contract negotiations, payment coordination and other planning to ensure support.
- Many departments can provide planning assistance. Even if the event does not hire officers, they may monitor during the event.
- Police are often required for any traffic control, street closures or other events with an impact on the greater community.
- Contact security companies as far in advance as possible.
- Code of Conduct helps define the service wanted from law enforcement and private security. They should be an extension of your staff and provide the same level of customer service.
- Having a planned number of security needed, based on entry control points, secure areas and roving presence, will provide a basis for negotiating and comparing bids.
- Events may also be required to have an ambulance or EMT team on call.
- Depending on the community, police and security may be expected to conduct patrols and be seen in the venue, or they may remain in staff areas to respond as needed. This should be decided by staff during planning.
National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (https://ncs4.usm.edu/)
Event Safety for Authors
It’s a good idea to take some basic precautions for smaller gatherings like readings, which may present more potential for disturbance or access to an author. Small venues don’t have budgets for security and often rely on volunteers, so talking through a few what-if scenarios can be helpful. The goal is not to be overly worried, simply prepared if something changes during the event.
Take a Friend
- Having a friend along during an event, no matter how small, can help ensure situational awareness while you’re focused on your work. A friend can check the room while you’re focused on your reading or discussion, help you get out of conversations that have gone too long, or assist with signings, and signal when it’s time to transition to another part of the event.
- Situational awareness, establishing a positive baseline for behavior at an event, and giving yourself permission to acknowledge when someone is crossing boundaries are skills to practice, and if you’re focused on “being an author” it can be difficult to recognize or respond when someone’s behavior changes.
- If you don’t have someone who can attend with you, ask the venue to provide assistance, especially if you are the only author attending.
- Recording the event, and letting the audience know they are being recorded, can help de-escalate situations.
Someone Needs to Be in Charge
- Readings in small venues sometimes won’t have the staff to both run a store and manage an event. If the venue isn’t able to provide someone to manage the event, bringing someone who can greet attendees, direct them to seating, and then open and manage the event will help create a sense of organization. This can help deter someone who intends to disrupt an event.
- The person in charge should clearly be in charge, either by clothing or demeanor. Someone should acknowledge attendees as they enter, and address the audience before the event begins (sharing info about restrooms, exits, where to buy books, and any requests from the author). Be clear about guidelines and expectations so anyone breaking norms can be easily recognized.
- Ticketing – even for free events, requiring tickets helps with planning for seating and other amenities. If attendees are required to present a ticket for entrance, a ticket can also be revoked if they create a disturbance or express a desire to disrupt the event beforehand.
- Having a timeline can work as an “out” if you need to move to another area or it’s time to leave. Even a loose schedule gives you the option of following it or not.
- Who will call 911 if something happens, and how will they call? Do staff have cell phones? Where is the business phone?
- The person in charge needs to be aware of the capacity of the space and exits. If more people arrive than planned, how are they tracking attendance and how will they cut off entry? Is there an overflow plan for attendees to watch from another location?
- Seating placement should be planned based on the author’s comfort and accessibility. Some authors will want to be close to their audience (a podium or stage will make them uncomfortable) while others prefer some separation from the audience.
- When sitting on the same level as the audience, consider the path away from the event for the author/s. Is it easy for the author to navigate to a back door?
- Panels are often set on stages or seated behind a table. Can attendees easily leave the panel and exit through the stage, without needing to pass through the audience, or step off in an unsafe place?
- Will the speaker be trapped behind a podium if someone in the audience becomes disruptive?
- Stanchions, tables, low bookshelves or an empty row of seats can all serve as barriers. The goal is to create space so the people on stage have room to leave, or at least stand and move to another location if necessary.
- Line control can be accomplished using stanchions, chairs, bookshelves, etc, and helps establish a sense of order in the event. A person breaking the line is immediately demonstrating they don’t want to follow norms.
- Try to park in a well-lit location close to the venue. If you aren’t attending with a friend, ask an employee or organizer to meet you and call from your car to let them know you’ve arrived.
- If you are transporting books or other items, use a hand truck or backpack that allows you to keep your hands free.
- Keep keys in an easily accessible location.
- Carrying a small, high-lumens flashlight can be useful if overhead lighting isn’t available. A flashlight can serve as a deterrent if someone is approaching you that you don’t know.
- Let staff or friends/family know when you are leaving for your car.
- Ensure your phone is charged and carry a portable battery with a cord that works.
- If your car seems unsafe (someone is waiting there), walk back to the venue or another well-lit area with people around. Call while you walk. Leave your hand truck/etc if necessary.
- In small spaces, most communication will be by voice or hand signal.
- Ensure clear sight-lines to the person on stage. This may require reserving a seat for employees or the person assisting the author.
- Texting/chat apps like MS Teams are a good way to communicate quietly with staff during an event.
- For larger events, two-way radios are an option but they can be disruptive if staff aren’t wearing earpieces.
- As the author, ensure you know how to reach staff and have a point of contact for the event. Call the venue a few hours before the event and ensure they answer their phone and someone will be there to meet you.
Safe Area/Green Room
- Having a designated area away from the audience where you can prepare, or exit to if necessary is ideal. This could be a staff office or break room.
- Have a clear path to the safe area during the event.
Communication and positive community almost always help people feel safe. If you have concerns about an event, talk with staff as early as possible to develop a plan, and don’t be afraid to set your own boundaries about how the event will be run.