Securing St. John for Human Rights Benefit

November 13, 2001, 12:00 AM EST

For the Human Rights Watch annual dinner, 80 tables for 10 were arranged in the nave of at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Human Rights Watch annual dinner Cathedral of St. John the Divine Wednesday, 11.07.01, 6 PM to 11 PM
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Any event at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is bound to be pretty spectacular--after all, it's the world's largest cathedral. But holding the Human Rights Watch annual dinner in a high-profile, public space such as St. John's with high-profile guests (like Sting, his wife Trudie Styler and musician Moby) requires some special security precautions. Alan Schissel of Integrated Security Services (ISS) gave us the lowdown on the security detail that was in place that night.

Schissel's role began three weeks prior to the event (the event itself has been in the works for the past six months). The ISS team did two walk-throughs of the cathedral grounds to put together a security package appropriate for the event. The day of the event, a bomb-sniffing dog did a four-hour sweep of the grounds, and frozen zones (areas that have been checked and cleared) were locked down.

By the time the cathedral closed to the public at six in the evening, the cocktail hour had begun in Synod Hall, a smaller adjacent building. Guests' tickets and names were checked upon entrance to the cocktail reception, their bags were hand-searched and metal detector wands were waved over all guests upon entering the cathedral following cocktails. All of the caterwaiters and staff from Sterling Affair catering (one of the pre-approved caterers for cathedral events) were also pre-screened before entering the facilities.

And it didn't end there. Schissel also told us that a countersurveillance van was parked outside, where video and photographic stills were taken of the event. ISS brought 12 guards for the event, and uniformed police from the local precinct were also stationed outside.

The event featured a video presentation (with technical production by Anthony Weintraub Enterprises) that was set up midway through the cathedral's nave. Dinner followed in the area in front of the altar, where simple lavender rose centerpieces in fish bowls surrounded by votives from Distinctive Floral Designs graced the tables. The dinner paid special tribute to human rights monitors--people who collect information on human rights violations in their homelands--from Guatemala, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

--Suzanne Ito

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