It was Tuesday, September 18, 2001, one week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I was acting as chairperson for a large outdoor arts and crafts show held in early October that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. That evening at our regular planning meeting, our typical committee reports regarding the entertainment schedule and parking logistics were quickly replaced with conversations about more critical issues. As a nationally recognized event held in an outdoor venue, many felt that our festival could be a potential target, and the safety of our vendors, visitors, and volunteers were at risk. There were those who thought the festival shouldn’t be held at all, but in the end we made the decision to press on.
Our primary concerns became protecting the airspace above the event, arranging for cement barricades to prevent cars from entering into the crowd from adjacent roadways, and working with emergency personnel to establish evacuation procedures in the case of a suspicious package or other potential threat. Food vendors dealing with powdered sugar were instructed to be sure none of the white powder got on the money changing hands in their booth to avoid any alarm over a potential anthrax contamination!
Our action plan changed dramatically that day. It was only then that we completely understood the responsibility that we had as event coordinators to do everything in our power to ensure the safety of our invited guests. I had a team of volunteers in place that I trusted implicitly, and each and every one of them stepped up to the challenge. With some quick thinking and a lot of hard work, they did everything within their power to make sure the festival was fun, profitable, and most of all safe for everyone.
Your action plan should include a complete risk assessment. The depth of your security plan will be dependent upon factors such as the size and demographics of the crowd, the accessibility of the event site, and whether or not you’re serving alcohol. Some areas to consider in your risk assessment:
- Gatekeeping and bag searches
- Crowd control
- Guarding of parking lots and non-public areas
- Enforcement of opening and closing times
- Dealing with lost people and property
- Conflict management and protestors
- VIP security
- Security for money-handlers
Plan to contract with a security company or local law enforcement if your event is being held in an area that cannot be completely secured. If someone is renting booth space from you or providing rental equipment, they will assume (and rightly so) that you will do everything in your power to secure their property.
Finally, be sure to share your risk assessment and security plan with local authorities including police, fire, and EMT personnel. Let them know as much as possible about your event so they can be prepared in the event of an emergency.
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