Improving event security and the guest experience: Perspectives on screening from the executive protection industry
By Mike Ellenbogen and Christian West
In this blog, guest blogger Christian West of AS Solution and Mike Ellenbogen zoom in on the executive protection industry’s perspective on security screening for events. The goal is effective security for the principal and others – without compromising the guest experience.
Executive protection practitioners have a wholly unique perspective that differs from many others who use screening devices, including security providers at airports, sports arenas, and other facilities open to the general public.
Since they protect individuals, most often corporate leaders or high net worth individuals, the focus of private sector executive protection companies is naturally narrower than those who provide security for an entire stadium or office building. And when providing risk mitigation services for events large and small, as AS Solution also does, corporate clients expect security services to positively reflect brand values and contribute to a positive guest experience – not become a hassle for participants or a potential embarrassment for the corporate hosts.
Knowing when to blend in and when to stand out: It’s different in the private sector
It’s no secret that no one (and no thing) gets near the president of the United States without effective security screening. Entire sections of major cities are shut down to safeguard the presidential motorcade when he’s in town. We’re accustomed to seeing a variety of men in black near POTUS when he is out and about. When World Cup host Russia’s Vladimir Putin gifted President Donald Trump with a soccer ball during a 2018 press conference, it, too, was screened as routine.
But even though many outside the executive protection industry associate close protection with the president’s Secret Service coverage or celebrities surrounded by burly bodyguards, the protective reality in the corporate and high net worth segments is different.
Here, clients place a premium on customized protective services that are in harmony with the principal’s personal preferences and corporate culture – not only best protective practices. Clients want protection, of course, but they often want it to be as unobtrusive as possible. Unlike the high-profile people they protect, executive protection practitioners are normally quite happy that no one notices them at all: they need to know when to blend in (usually) and when to stand out (only as necessary).
They feel the same way about screening devices at events. Few corporate or high net worth clients are interested in forcing guests to line-up single file, empty their pockets, take off their belts, dump their cell phones, and walk through metal detectors – just to join a party, a product launch, or a press conference. While magnetometers and handheld wands can have their place in some circumstances, more discreet alternatives are welcome and even desirable.
Private sector executive protection contexts that call for discreet screening
At open-to-the-public events where a corporate or high net worth principal is present, his or her security is paramount from the executive protection perspective. But minimizing disruption and treating guests with utmost respect are also key. Similarly, at corporate events in which the principal participates, there could be dozens or hundreds of other company employees present, including venue staff, caterers, press, and more.
Corporate colleagues and vendors don’t want to feel as if they are under suspicion – and they are not. But in the U.S., for example, the intentional or accidental presence of firearms at such events nonetheless represents a potential risk situation. While the probability of an incident in these contexts might be low, their impact on the principal and others, if something went wrong, could be very high.
Another situation that calls for discreet screening is celebrity protection. AS Solution has also done protection for musicians on tour, which can be considered a multi-city string of events. Access to the backstage and celebrities is limited and tightly controlled, of course, but not completely restricted. Many people are involved, some better known than others. A star’s private “entourage” and guests can number dozens of people and vary from city to city. These guests of the stars don’t want to feel as if they are under suspicion, and nor do the principals or event hosts want to send such signals. But firearms are not a welcome part of any party scene.
AS Solution welcomes Evolv Edge as suitable technology for high-end executive protection
When AS Solution does Risk, Threat and Vulnerability Analyses (RTVAs) for events, the threat of a mass shooter has emerged as one of the more worrisome. Completely eliminating such threats is unfortunately not achievable, but it is possible to mitigate them. Security screening plays an important role here.
The challenge of using traditional security screening such as handheld wands and magnetometers in the kind of executive protection that AS Solution conducts is that it creates a negative guest experience. As a result, clients will often choose to opt out – even if the RTVA indicates that screening is necessary – rather than subject guests to the inconveniences and implied suspicion with which such tools are often associated. While this is an acceptable tradeoff in some circumstances, in others it is not.
Evolv Edge enables AS Solution to mitigate the risk of firearms and explosives at events with far less impact on the guest experience; AS Solution expects corporate and high net worth clients to be more amenable to such mitigation than previously available alternatives. The Evolv Edge provides a superior walk-through experience with multi-sensor technology that detects both metallic and non-metallic threats while eliminating the hassle of divesting every-day items and a need to “stop and pose.”
With enhanced security and a vastly improved guest experience, AS Solution is excited to partner with Evolv Technology to deliver high-end executive protection and event security.
This blog was cowritten by Mike Ellenbogen of Evolv Technology and Christian West of AS Solution, and also appears on https://assolution.com/blog/improving-event-security-and-the-guest-experience-perspectives-on-screening-from-the-executive-protection-industry/
Three Trends Impacting Entertainment Security
By Neil Sandhoff, Vice President of North America at Evolv Technology –
In past blog posts, we’ve discussed the need for weapons screening and how to improve security at performing arts venues. In taking a look at the broader entertainment industry as a whole, the conversation around security looks different.
At large concert venues and sports arenas, we often find that security is already a defined and established practice. These venues typically have a dedicated security team, led by a veteran security chief and supported by a series of technologies and procedures. In contrast, we find that many performing arts venues – primarily those that are not located in big cities – are usually at the beginning of their security journey.
While security and the practice of people screening is not new to the entertainment industry, there have been significant developments in the past five years that have impacted how security directors approach securing these venues. As patron experience, speed and increased detection continue to remain paramount in screening, security directors at these venues are starting to ask themselves what they can be doing better.
With that, let’s explore three ways entertainment security has changed and how these venues are looking beyond traditional security processes and procedures to improve security screening and create a more welcoming visitor experience.
Access to Artists Draws Attention to Stalkers
Weeks after wrapping her worldwide Reputation tour, it was revealed that Taylor Swift’s team was using facial recognition technology to scan for potential stalkers at her shows. Unbeknownst to her concert goers who stopped at kiosks to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of her rehearsals, the system was secretly recording their faces and immediately sending the data to a “command post” in Nashville that attempted to match hundreds of images to a database of her known stalkers. While Swift has started to receive some backlash over the use of the technology, it represents a growing trend in entertainment security: the need to control stalkers.
To-date, the majority of entertainment venues have taken the same standard approach to security – screening the entire general fan population via a manual bag search and metal detectors. However, as celebrities, athletes and artists provide more access to their fans – think paying $200 extra for a meet-and-greet ahead of the show – security directors are beginning to look beyond traditional screening methods to prevent known assailants from getting close to talent. While Swift’s team is one of the first to come out and acknowledge the use of facial recognition technology to spot and identify stalkers, they are not the first and will certainly not be the last. In the coming years, I expect we will see facial recognition technology leveraged more frequently to identify stalkers. In addition, the use of advanced sensors such as millimeter wave technology will be used to identify any concealed weapons, particularly non-metallic ones, that fans might be attempting to bring in.
Monetizing the Security Experience
Two headlines from earlier this year that really caught my eye when thinking about entertainment security, at sports venues in particular: “Nobody’s Going to Sports in Person Anymore. And No One Seems to Care,” and “College football attendance sees second-largest decline in history.” As ticket prices rise, and as temperatures continue to drop in some regions, a noticeable trend in sports and entertainment is that people simply aren’t going to as many games as they used to. Instead, they are choosing to watch the games from the comfort of their own homes from one of their many devices, often via streaming services.
Because of this shift, heads of these facilities are beginning to explore how they can create more value for the fan experience. Think about what Disney was able to achieve with the introduction of the FASTPASS – pay extra on top of a standard ticket price to spend less time waiting in lines for popular attractions. What if this same concept could be applied to security at concerts and sports games? An improved security experience, whether it be less invasive or a faster process, is one way venues are working to get fans back into seats – and they’re looking at how technology can help them do this.
Protecting Against Insider Threats
Unlike employees who work at airports or office buildings, many of the employees who work at entertainment venues are subcontractors who only work during games or when events are happening. There is a level of employee screening that is happening; however, it varies from venue to venue. For example, if a venue is home to a national sports league team – such as the Boston Bruins – the venue itself needs to meet the NHL standards for security. Employee screening is a component of meeting this standard. Because these venues already have standards in place for games, they tend to follow these standards for all events. However, venues that are not the “home” for a national team do not have a standard set of security practices in place for screening employees that they follow all the time.
The recent shifts in the entertainment landscape means that everyone from C-level executives to security directors at entertainment venues are tackling new security challenges every day. Whether they are hosting the AFC East Championship Game or night two of an artist’s summer tour – fan experience, detection capabilities and the overall speed of security will continue to dictate security processes throughout the entertainment industry. As the industry itself has shifted, we will start to see more of these facilities leveraging new, innovative technologies such biometrics and facial recognition technologies to combat today’s threats.
To learn more about what is ahead for physical security in 2019, check out our recent blog post.
Photo Credit: Jeff Egnaczyk
Evaluating the Need for Weapons Screening at Performing Arts Venues
By Neil Sandhoff, Vice President of North America –
Determining the need for a weapons policy and a threat detection solution at performing arts centers involves more than the security director to make purchasing and implementation decisions. From budget, policy and patron experience, the leadership team must work together to organize, evaluate, plan and implement and communicate such an important initiative.
This is entirely understandable. It’s one thing to work with a director of security and their technical staff, who are measured on their ability to keep employees, customers and other visitors safe. But involving the front-of-the-house team and human resources, who are responsible for creating the best customer and employee experience possible, is an even higher bar. A bad experience–say, delays or pat-down searches–can have a direct downward impact on sales. So if the front-of-the-house thinks a weapons screening technology is a bad idea, it probably won’t be seriously considered.
At least that’s how it has been. I’ve been focused on providing security solutions for over 15 years, but am now seeing the first meaningful shift in the relationship between security and the patron experience teams. Given the rise of senseless lone-shooter attacks in the U.S., many venues are coming to believe – or are at least are willing to entertain the possibility – that patrons will tolerate reasonable inconveniences for added security as long as it doesn’t degrade the overall experience too much. In fact, some of our customers believe their patrons want to make that trade-off. They want to know the people in charge of the facility they’re visiting understand the nagging “could it happen here” feeling they have on a night out.
This is especially true with performing arts venues, given the horrific attacks like those that took place in Manchester, England and Las Vegas, Nevada. In fact, executives at some of these venues are increasingly stretching their purview beyond the front door and into the street where people wait in line for popular events. Due to the increase in terror attacks using rented trucks and other vehicles, such as in Nice, France and Barcelona, Spain, venues are looking for ways to get people off the street as quickly as possible and into the safety of their facility.
The fact that patrons must already stop to hand over or scan a ticket creates a natural opportunity to do screening in a way that won’t cause delays. We did a time study at a Broadway theater earlier this year and found that the ticket-taking process typically takes around five to 10 seconds per person in a live environment. If we can help the venue screen the patron in that time or less, everybody wins.
Unlike many pro sports stadiums, which have had checkpoints and metal detectors for decades, many of these smaller, arts-related venues are adding physical security for the first time. Many don’t even have security chiefs. And yet performing arts is one of our fastest-growing segments. If you work for a performing arts venue or any other type of company that is looking to create a security strategy as quickly and efficiently as possible, here are a few best practices:
Get out of the security silo, fast: In the old days, the trick to implementing physical security was to work with the head of security and let him or her try to overcome the natural resistance from other factors in their environment. But we’ve found it works best when representatives from the front-of-the-house, finance, facilities and human resources, were involved in the sales process, ideally from the initial conversation. The security director provided a clear understanding to all the leadership team the consequences of an active shooter and suicide bomber in the facility and the solutions available to deter or prevent such a terrible event.
The more buy-in, the better: As security becomes a higher priority for a company, it makes sense to expand the number of seats at the table when considering new security solutions. The most celebrated accomplishments in implementing security screening at Performing Arts Centers I have witnessed involved the inclusion of the entire leadership team from the beginning. The CEO needs to bring their teams together and keep engaged throughout the process, clearly identifying their end-state goals and understanding of the tradeoffs. In one very successful scenario we witnessed, the chief executive officer directly led the process which involved security, human resources, front-of-house, facilities and finance to drive towards the optimal solution.
The Show Must Go On: Three Ways Performing Arts Venues Can Improve Security Processes
By Anil Chitkara, Co-Founder and President, Evolv Technology –
Why did this happen? Why now?
Twenty years ago, we asked ourselves these questions after hearing news of senseless terrorist attacks at iconic locations in major world cities.
Today, we’re still asking questions, but now we’re concerned about where the next attack might happen. Shootings and bombings are no longer limited to iconic venues in iconic cities. They can happen anywhere – at an indoor concert in Manchester, England, an outdoor show in Las Vegas, Nevada, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Terrorism has proliferated into many different towns and cities, perpetuated by individuals inspired in their basements and armed with weapons from stores in their neighborhood.
The security professionals responsible for protecting different types of venues including entertainment and performing arts centers also ask these questions. While most use methods such as deployed guards and closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras as the cornerstones of their security strategy, there are limitations to these methods. In the U.S., for example, security guards earn an average annual wage of just over $30,000 and the annual turnover at guard companies is between 100% to 300%. On average, a security guard will remain in the same job for only three to 12 months! Technology can help mitigate these inconsistencies and is critical to enabling the more effective protection of these venues.
People going to see a movie, show, or concert are out to have an enjoyable experience. They have countless ways to spend their time and money, and organizations work hard to provide the best “entertainment” for their paying guests. They do not want to encumber their guests with long lines, slow security or burdensome processes. With improved technology, today it is possible for entertainment venues to offer a simple, unobtrusive experience to visitors entering while providing an enhanced level of security.
Performing arts venues pose a unique set of security challenges. Theaters, for example, tend to be high profile venues that play a prominent role in their cities. Live theater performances start promptly at a designated time, often with guests arriving from dinner or work just before showtime. Performers and patrons don’t want to be distracted by people filing in after the show commences, so doors are closed when the curtain goes up. As a result, security teams are under tremendous pressure to get people screened and seated quickly. Just before showtime is when the security process gets most chaotic.
Many performing arts venues are open and inviting by design. They were designed to encourage the public to come in and enjoy the art and architecture. This open environment runs directly counter to a secure building perimeter with checkpoints.
The “who” and the “what” are also unique elements for these organizations. The genre or artist can often dictate the type of crowd one might expect to see in attendance. The audience attending a chamber music recital is likely very different from the audience attending a rock concert. As entertainment venues broaden the types of performances they offer, security should be able to ”ramp up” or “ramp down” accordingly.
Lastly, guards are people and human behavior is inconsistent. Capability from guard to guard is different, and a specific guard’s security vigilance often wanes over the course of an evening. Very likely, the one hundredth person he or she screens is subject to a different level of scrutiny than the first. Experience, training, fatigue, and human error play a role in how thorough and effective a search is conducted.
Venue operators have an opportunity to upgrade their security capabilities to be ready for the changing nature of threats. Below are three ways they can keep their patrons happy and safe:
- A visible and effective security process can protect today’s event and deter tomorrow’s potential threat. Use security technology to improve upon the existing processes with more consistent and automated detection capability. Take the security approach to the next level by providing your guards with technology to augment their practices.
- Allow for an approach that can flex up security when the intelligence warrants it and move back to a baseline level when it doesn’t. Offer the ability to consistently screen and to change the level of screening depending on when or where the event is or who the performer is.
- Balance the security and patron experience to ensure it doesn’t make it too obtrusive for the paying guests. Rather than using clunky metal detectors, use a blend of state-of-the-art technologies – high throughput technologies with sensors and artificial intelligence.
The threat landscape has shifted significantly in recent years. We could all use a night out to forget about the daily headlines. Performing arts organizations can help us enjoy our visits by adopting modern security methods that protect while keeping the user experience intact.
To learn more about how to balance security and visitor experience, click here.