Tips for Building a Physical Security Plan for Corporate Events
By Rob Cook
Ensuring the safety and success of a corporate event starts with a physical security plan. Regardless of whether the event is an internal function or public gathering, the right plan can make all the difference when it comes to protecting staff, attendees, assets, and infrastructure from unruly guests, criminals, violent protesters, terrorists, and natural disasters, among myriad other threats. Here are some tips for developing an effective physical security plan for your next corporate event:
Establish an Event Security Committee
Just as selecting a venue, compiling a guest list, and nearly every other aspect of corporate event planning requires ample collaboration among multiple teams and stakeholders, so does creating a physical security plan. And as such, it’s imperative to establish an event security committee consisting of representatives from each of the following functions:
- Marketing teams provide information on the event theme, venue, targeted audience, attendees, media coverage, and social media feedback.
- Corporate and executive security teams provide guidance on established event security protocols, access control procedures, coordinate incident response, and are primary liaisons with law enforcement and public safety officials.
- Cyber threat and social media monitoring teams may provide insight into threats, such as protests, cybercrime, and nation-state operations, throughout the planning and execution phases of events. These teams also act as liaisons between external intelligence providers, peers, and the hosting corporation and assist in assessing travel and regional risks.
- Law enforcement partners serve as the authority on emergency response plans, road closures, barricades, and crowd control. Public relations and corporate security teams must convey the corporation’s expectations on escalation of force protocols.
Know the Five Ws
Once the event security committee is finalized, committee members should begin the risk assessment and intelligence gathering process. This starts with identifying and evaluating the event’s five Ws, which include:
- Who: The number and type of attendees largely dictate the breadth and scope of the physical security plan, as well as the amount of external coordination that will be required. Here are some key considerations:
- High-profile guests such as executives, government officials, and other public figures are likely to attract greater attention—benign and malevolent—during the event.
- Minors and guests with special needs must also be assessed; this includes addressing event mobility access and emergency evacuation plans.
- Marketing, sales, and customer relations teams should be responsible for tracking attendees and their needs.
- Cyber intelligence teams should provide threat assessments on any cyber campaigns that have previously targeted or are currently targeting event attendees.
- What: Determining what typically entails answering and assessing the following questions about the event’s defining characteristics:
- What is the duration of the event?
- Is the event public or private?
- Is the event singularly or co-hosted?
- Will the event serve alcohol? If so, will there be an open, vouchered, or cash bar?
- Will any high-risk physical activities be involved in the event?
- Will members of the media be present at the event?
All of these factors help determine the level of coordination required between participating entities such as event hosts, sponsors, and vendors, among others. Cyber threat and social media teams, in collaboration with external intelligence providers, should provide an assessment of threats to any event in which corporate entities participate.
- Where: Event location plays a large role in physical security planning. Events hosted at sporting arenas, convention centers, corporate campuses, or hotel complexes pose different risks than do events held at public parks or wilderness retreats. Established venues, such as arenas and convention centers, likely have physical security and emergency response plans in place, so event security committees should be aware and coordinate their plans accordingly.
Additionally, corporate and executive security teams, in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies, should provide security assessments of the venue and surrounding areas. These assessments should include crime and gang activity reports, travel routes, and location of emergency services facilities. Multi-venue events require more complex security plans and thorough coordination between many external security teams.
- When: Stakeholders should consider the days of the week in which the event takes place. This variable can affect participation levels for potentially threatening groups. Protests, for instance, tend to be more likely to occur on the weekend than during the week. The season, climate, and weather may also dictate what additional resources are needed, such as water and cooling stations, medical personnel, and identification of severe weather shelters.
- Why: Whether an organization is hosting a shareholder meeting, employee family day, or political rally, the why helps determine if and what type of threat(s) may be present. If the event is co-hosted, the event security committee should thoroughly analyze the public’s perception of co-hosts to identify potential risks.
Don’t overlook key risk factors
After identifying and evaluating each of the five Ws, the event security committee should have sufficient information to determine the types of threats to which the event is most susceptible. In many cases, however, there are certain risk factors that may fall beyond the scope of the five Ws but, nonetheless, are crucial for the committee to consider. Some of these additional factors include:
Publicity: The event type will heavily influence how the marketing team will promote the event, as well as the amount of media publicity the event will attract. Prior to any such marketing promotions or public releases of information, the event security committee should assess the balance between publicity and the risks associated with media broadcasts.
Guest and email distribution lists: The event security committee should pay close attention to guest confidentiality. It’s important to ensure all emails and publicity materials contain only the email address of the intended recipient. Do not send bulk emails with all guests in the cc line. Attendee lists should be digitally protected as should other personally identifiable information (PII). Paper check-in rosters are not recommended.
Name badges: Name badges should contain the minimum information needed for guests to identify each other and enhance interaction. Badges with only first name, first letter of last name, and affiliated company are suggested for physical security considerations.
Alcohol: Open bars are popular at conferences and other corporate events, but there are a number of inherent risks. Various social movements, particularly in the information security sector, are increasingly encouraging corporations to limit alcohol consumption at events via measures such as limited voucher systems, cash bars, and finite start and end times for happy hours. Several recent incidents suggest alcohol consumption at business-related conferences can increase the risk of disruptive and/or dangerous behaviors among attendees. Bartenders should be encouraged not to request guests’ room numbers for room charges; guests can write this information on receipts instead.
Hotel check-ins and room keys: When a corporate event provides hotel accommodations for attendees, event hosts are discouraged from pre-checking in hotel guests such as by tracking and handing out room keys at check-in tables. Additionally, hosts should not place the names or room numbers of guests on welcome kits and giveaways. Including wallet-sized emergency response and contact cards in welcome bags is strongly encouraged; these may include instructions on what to do during an evacuation or other emergency, as well as host, hospital, and law enforcement contact information.
Compile an after-action report
An after-action report provides organizers with a final examination of the event, what activities occurred, and any security incidents that took place. It should include a lessons-learned section that details security measures that were successful and ones that need improvement. The report should also address each specific area of the security plan and operation—including communications, access control, transportation, intelligence, credentialing, and first responders.
Above all else, it’s crucial to remember that corporate event hosts are ultimately responsible for their guests. Hosts should strive to provide the safest and most comfortable environment for guests while supporting the event’s objectives. All potential threats, even the most inconceivable, should be accounted for within the physical security plan. It’s always better to be overprepared, especially because the importance of physical safety and security cannot be overstated.
Rob is a dynamic and well-rounded All-Source Intelligence and Physical Security Analyst with 20 years of multi-discipline intelligence experience. His background includes managing and developing personnel security, physical security (certified DoD Physical Security Inspector), and operations security programs for the Department of Defense. Rob’s positions have entailed tactical-level intelligence collection and reporting, providing pattern-of-life analysis and biometric tracking of high-level personalities, as well as strategic-level positions requiring POTUS level assessments on foreign military operations and counterinsurgencies. His work in the private sector focuses on cyber threat actors, such as hacktivist and patriotic hacking collectives. Rob has held Vice President positions within two large financial institutions, where he served as a Senior Analyst on their respective cyber threat intelligence teams.