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Festival Planning

Dealing with festival security: Part 1 (the planning stage)

Dr. Peter Tarlow l Tourism Tidbits  May 05, 2008

The summer and fall months are often filled with festivals and out-of-doors events. These can be wonderful opportunities to showcase a community and to produce added revenue.

Festivals, however, require a tremendous amount of work in order for them to be safe and secure. No festival committee should ever permit a festival to take place without the cooperation of the local law enforcement agency (ies).

All too often law enforcement is "told" about a festival rather than "consulted" about a festival, and the negative result can be anything from a disorderly conduct complaint to too much alcohol to a tragedy. The moment your festival or event committee sets the date make sure to involve law enforcement. Because festivals and events are such an important component of the tourism industry, the May edition of Tourism Tidbits will be one of a two part series.

To help you prepare for a successful and safe festival consider the following well before the event is to take place:
1) In your pre-event planning sessions make to remember that Successful events start with good event planning. While many event planners and organizers are excellent at thinking about the type of event that they wish to hold and where it is to be held there are often key considerations that are overlooked. Develop a timeline for your event at least one year prior to the event. Make sure to include in the initial meeting all of the major stakeholders. Stakeholders include not only the city organizations monitoring the event but also law enforcement, traffic control, local businesses, marketers, and of course the local convention and visitors bureau/tourism office.

2) Determine what type of festival and where will it be held. Both the style of the festival and the venue have a major impact. How will you deal with unstable weather conditions? How close is parking? Are there snakes in the area? Is this a festival in which alcohol is served or is it a "dry" festival? What problems are close by? For example is there a problem with gangs or other people who might interrupt or spill over onto the festival?

3) Do a full threat and risk assessment. One of the areas of festival and event planning that too often is overlooked is that of threat and risk assessment. In order to do a good risk assessment you have to determine what your risks are. For example, what are the demographics of your events? If you attract manly senior citizens then you have one set of risks, families produce other risks and young people or teenagers produce a completely different type of risk. In a like manner, the terrain on which you are to hold your event, the season in which it will be held and whether it will be an in-door or out-door event all impact the type of risks for which you must be prepared. Do you know who will be working at the festival? If money is to be exchanged, how will the money be secured?

4) Consider the issue of alcohol. The selling (giving away) of alcoholic drinks is always a problem. In fact the best policy (although often impossible to implement) is to not serve alcohol. When alcoholic drinks are served you will want to worry about such things as (1) how will you control someone who has had one drink too many? (2) how will you control underage drinking and passing drinks from one person to another? How will you control drivers who leave the festival with slight intoxication and then cause an accident? While these are not insurmountable questions, they must be addressed prior to the festival and with the help of law enforcement.

5) Know who will have what access to the event and its booths One of the most difficult parts of running a festival is to determine who has access to what and how those with proper access are to be identified. Not only do festivals managers have to worry about money and where it is to be stored, but also such items as alcohol, arts and crafts, merchandise and equipment. If the festival is to be out-of-doors and is to take place over several days, then a safe storage place must be found to protect goods not only from potential thieves but also from the weather. Remember that not only the festival's guests may be involved in pilferage, the same can occur from people working at the booths.

6) Determine which types of security best meet your event's needs. Security is essential for any successful festival. Security starts with police, fire fighters and emergency first aid squads along with public health officials. As police have limited budgets and manpower consider supplementing your professional first responders with private security. In such cases, make sure that both coordinate and work together. Do a joint evacuation or tabletop exercise so that everyone knows his/her role.

7) Consider all issues of crowd control. While each festival or event has different crowd control issues here are a few things to remember. If the event is out-of-doors and people are not seated, the best crowd control is on horseback. If not, try to create a situation where at least some of your security team is above the crowd. Crowds tend to take on lives of their own. To assure an orderly crowd try to keep the crowd moving at a slow and steady pace. Crowds tend to turn into riots when they move too quickly, are at a standstill and there is no simple and clear evacuation system in place. Remember that most people react better to the spoken word than to the written word.

To contact Dr. Peter Tarlow, check its web page or via e-mail at

Dealing with festival security: Part 1 (the planning stage)
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