Connect Marketplace is Where Events Business Gets Done.
Connect Marketplace isn't just any conference—it's your gateway to unlimited opportunity. Secure your spot!

6 Tips for Securing Large Outdoor Events

Festival security isn’t just about crowd control and safety—it’s about hospitality too.

Festivals like South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, take extra safety precautions.
Festivals like South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, take extra safety precautions.
Photo: Nadia Chaudhury/BizBash

Festival organizers face a specific set of challenges when it comes to security. Some events sprawl over a massive area in an urban environment, while others draw huge (sometimes intoxicated) crowds to wide, open fields. Professionals tasked with keeping such complex, large-scale events safe share tips for making attendees feel protected and welcome.

Establish a perimeter.
“The most important thing about doing any festival, whether indoors or outdoors, is establishing a perimeter determining who comes in and who stays out,” says Mike Zimet, owner of event security firm Mike Zimet Enterprises, which has secured fests like the Hamptons International Film Festival.

The nature of that perimeter may be stationary—like fencing, metal detectors, or other barriers—or personnel positioned around the event space or a mix of options.

For Eve Cohen, managing director of the Life Is Beautiful festival, securing a huge festival smack in the middle of the downtown Las Vegas urban center provides its own challenges. “We have two miles of fence lines that go through all different types of terrain. Some areas require us to have water barricades with fence line on top, and others require just eight-foot fencing. And then on top of that there are physical security guards at all crucial locations,” she says.

Work efficiently with local agencies.
Beyond event staff, volunteers, and third-party security agencies, large event organizers are likely to work hand in hand with local, state, or even federal agencies. Event professionals say that all entities can handle their jobs most efficiently if all stick to a fully transparent approach.

“Give them as much information as possible,” Zimet says, referring to police and other agencies. “Be straight with them as to the number of people you expect at the event. Tell them the nature of the event and how they can assist you in your protective mission.”

Beyond that, mapping out a chain of command in advance will avoid any counterproductive power plays or responsibility confusion among parties and leave nothing open to interpretation on event day. Cohen says the process can be seamless—and mutually beneficial—when everyone has the same goals. “The city works hand in glove with us. It’s a give and take,” she says. “We’ve got a huge operation to set up and break down so we work very closely to negotiate what streets we close and open and at what time, knowing it disrupts city services like bus lines and services for residents.”

Make guests feel welcome.
Festival security isn’t just a means of protecting attendees, artists, and profits. It’s also about making guests feel supported and encouraging their sense of comfort. The distinction may be a particularly relevant one in an age marked by cultural skepticism of police authority. 

“Overall, our goal is to provide a safe environment for our guests and the people that work on the festival. But we want to do that with great service so it doesn’t feel oppressive or constricting,” Cohen says. “We don’t want people to feel afraid of security. We want people to feel [security is a] part of making a safe experience for the guests.”

To that end, she says the goal is not necessarily to make security personnel less conspicuous, but rather “it’s about making them friendlier. We train our security staff on the critical information they need to know in terms of securing the perimeter, but [also] make sure they understand they’re part of a pleasant experience for the guests. They’re there to be helpful.”


Think big and small.
Of course, festival organizers always consider major threats to public safety such as terrorism and natural disasters. Fortunately, those occurrences are unusual. 

What’s much more likely to affect a festival are everyday security issues that can be resolved easily and safely with advance planning.

“First and foremost we consider dire public safety. What are your emergency procedures should something catastrophic like a national disaster or an earthquake happen? What are procedures for a called-in bomb threat?,” says the Los Angeles Times director of events and strategic partnerships Scott Dallavo, who works on multiple festivals for the publication. That includes the public Festival of Books, which in 2013 happened mere days after the Boston Marathon bombing. Extra security measures included an increased presence by horse-mounted Los Angeles Police Department officers.

More typical for the annual event are issues like separated children, which Dallavo cites as the event’s most common security occurrence. “There’s a very common procedure among the 1,200 volunteers and staff [that involves] taking the child to the info booth, notifying the emergency channel, and making sure that child stays put [until reunited with a guardian].”

Another safeguard at the all-ages festival is a kids’ area where the team gives out wristbands. Parents can write their cell phone numbers on the bands to facilitate an easy reunion.

Provide medical support.
A medical support team may be a necessary security component—in particular, at a concert where guests are more likely to be inebriated.

Cohen says that dangerous intoxication among guests hasn’t been a huge concern for the Life Is Beautiful festival in its early years, but she recognizes that such an environment nevertheless requires preparation. Her team works with Rock Med, a medical-care-providing firm that specializes in festivals and other music-centric events. During the festival’s second year, organizers set up a medical tent on site instead of transporting guests in need of medical attention off site as they had the first year.

Consider high-tech credentials.
Life Is Beautiful planners decided early on to invest in R.F.I.D.-enabled wristbands. “It might have been aggressive for us to do it in our first year,” Cohen says, referring to the cost of the bands, plus the substantial infrastructure, staffing, and training required. “But we knew this was the best way to accomplish [security] and we weren’t wrong.”

“Every entry and exit has a scanner, and every wristband has a chip that’s been tagged to [each guest individually],” she says of the procedure. “It’s an elaborate system that allows us to have a measure of safety around counterfeiting and general hijinks.” 

Beyond security, the R.F.I.D. bands enable festival organizers to compile all kinds of data on attendees and their behavior, which helps inform decisions for the festival’s future.

Page 1 of 135
Next Page