We got you covered.

Incorporating Your Executive Protection – Planning into a Major Event 

Must Read

DISCLAIMER: This article provides a general overview of protective operations advance principles in the completion of a Major Site Advance (Major Event). It was written as a companion piece for another article on Protest Activity and mitigation.  There is currently no training company or service provider that can effectively supply you with all the information you need to complete an advance of a Major Event through online training or in a “few easy classes” at any cost.  Additionally, significant industry experience is required to successfully navigate a Major Event beyond basic Executive Protection training.   

Planning into a Major Event

Regardless of your position and operational specialty, if you’re actively working in Executive Protection (EP), chances are you’ll find yourself working at, or in some cases managing a major event during your career.

With national elections occurring every four years, our protectees are often asked to participate in large public events as guests and sometimes hosts. As you prepare to navigate these events, understanding the fundamentals of Major Event security planning becomes paramount when integrating your own EP security plan.    

Major event security planning models are frequently replicated, and while emulation of any successful security model is acceptable, you must understand the underlying principles of major event security, not just copy it. 

We all use terms like “Hard Rooms,” “Hold Rooms,” and the “Voice of God” which are “borrowed” from the historical planning methodologies of federal protection agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Diplomatic Security Service of the U.S. State Department. 

Understanding what a “Hard Room” is, and why they are needed, moves you beyond mimicking security protocols to fully understanding protective operations planning.  

National Special Security Events

In the United States, large events are nationally categorized by the federal government and designated as National Special Security Events (NSSEs) or Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) events.

Due to the large coordination efforts required by government agencies to secure national events, President Bill Clinton established the NSSE system in 1998 to delineate the overall management and coordination measures required for national-level major events. For example, a Level 1 NSSE, the highest-level national event rating, is managed by the U.S. Secret Service by Presidential Directive. 

To put this into perspective, the Superbowl is typically rated below an NSSE 1 and in the SEAR rating system.  If your protectee is attending a Level 1 NSSE event, you most likely will be dropping them off at the door and waiting in the car unless you come as a guest.  

Outside of the larger national events managed by the federal government, at some point, you will be providing protective coverage for your protectee at a large event that is not federally designated or protected. 

Depending on the circumstance, you may be responsible for the entire planning and management of all security at an event.  Understanding the Executive Protection Advance Model and applying industry best practices will assist you greatly in managing major event security planning and the inclusion of the personal executive protection you provide for your protectee.  

Event Type

To begin, you must know the type of event you are attending or planning.  While every security plan relies on a similar security framework, the specific type of major event often dictates unique protective coverage needs. 

Common major events you will participate in include Dinners, Banquets/Conferences, Speaking Events, Business Meetings, Political Events, Religious Events, and Large Social Events including Entertainment.  For example, a speaking event requires unique EP coverage near the stage, dais and buffer, while the coverage at an entertainment venue may require a halo or circle formation around your protectee as they enjoy the event.  Knowing the event type dictates your planning of resources and your selection of effective protective coverage.  

Event Participation

In most cases, your protectee will be attending an event as a guest, but there will be instances when you’re tasked with managing an entire venue.  Regardless of your role, coordination and pre-event communication are the keys when completing your security planning. 

If your protectee is an attendee, you are responsible for getting them safely to the event, through access control, covering their movements within the event space and getting them out of the event within a prepared secure environment that you often don’t control. 

To manage your advance at this type of event, you should begin by asking for a copy of the protectee’s schedule (Line by Line) and the “Run of Show” (Event Schedule).  In most cases, your protectee’s schedule mirrors the Run of Show but includes additional personal movements internal at the event itself. 

If the major event is managed by another protective group, you must coordinate your own security plan within the larger established security design.  You “own” what you’re permitted to own when you aren’t managing the overall event, so begin communications with the managing event security team as early as possible. 

I’ve unfortunately seen protection teams and protectee staff attempt to “roll” into events and be embarrassed when they didn’t coordinate their participation.  This is a large part of your job and one of the reasons you were hired to begin with.  Don’t assume your protectee is so important that the established security and rules don’t apply, they do and there is nothing more awkward for everyone than to be told NO at the door.

Once you have completed meetings with the event security managers for coordination, you must develop your own security plan.  As mentioned, most event security plans can be divided into smaller sections, Arrivals, Internal Movements, Departures and Emergency Action Plans.  

Arrivals

The arrival area for an event is statistically one of the most dangerous places for your protectee to be.  Arrival and departure areas are often telegraphed (easily identified) or publicly known, exposed, and in proximity to unknown and unscreened people. 

The specific arrival area for your protectee depends on the entrance you have been designated by the controlling event security staff.  Typically, large events have three entrances, Public, Private and Press.  

Public, Private and Press

At many large events, and prior to anyone entering the venue, the entire event space is often “swept” by explosive canine teams with EOD support technicians.  This process requires the posting of security personnel several hours before an event occurs to allow the sweep completion and ensure the integrity of the sweep, during and after completion. 

All entrances to the venue must be secured before a sweep is initiated, and all staff and non-event security personnel (especially media) must leave the event space while the sweep is being conducted. If the venue has scheduled deliveries during your event, ensure they are completed prior to the sweep. Any deliveries made after the sweep’s completion will require additional screening before being allowed into the secured venue. 

In an ideal world, media will pre-place their equipment at the event prior to the sweep, however, the media rarely follows security scheduling or direction and screening of items entering the venue often takes place after the sweep’s completion, adding considerable time to press screening at the designated press entrance. 

Once a sweep is completed, the public can enter the secure venue. An increased security posture requiring a sweep is normally followed by additional access control and public screening measures to eliminate weapons and other unauthorized items from entering the safety of the secure area.  If the venue and the public are not swept, extra security measures should be considered by your EP team, including closer proximity to your protectee.   

Major Event 

Ticketing and Access Control

The public entrance to a venue is often managed by staff and includes a “check-in” area for attendees or ticket holders at or near the entrance of the venue.  In most cases, magnetometers and security checkpoints are placed immediately after the ticketing verification area if the venue is swept. 

Magnetometers and event prescreening areas can also be used to eliminate other unwanted items like water bottles, umbrellas, glitter, and banners/signs on sticks.  In some jurisdictions, local laws require the posting of signage to notify attendees of prohibited items. 

When managing security for a major event, it is important to understand that the flow of public through magnetometer checkpoints requires considerable time management and coordination. 

If your major event is scheduled for 7 PM and you have 400 people showing up at 6:45 PM, nearly three-quarters of those guests will be outside the magnetometer (1 in this scenario) waiting to be screened when the event starts.  This will cause tension with the event managers trying to get guests through security screening and into the event unsuccessfully. 

Access Control and Screening

Access control and screening should never be compromised, sped up or eliminated because of the poor planning of late guests or event planners.  Communicate early and often to ensure all participants are aware of the time needed for the security screening you have established, especially magnetometers. 

If the event you are attending does not have the ability to utilize magnetometers or weapon identification systems, you should ask the overall security management team for information on who in attendance is armed and how including their staff. 

Most reputable EP teams will self-identify for safety and situational awareness.  Knowing who is armed and their proximity to your protectee is vital during critical incident response and management.  You should also assume that if security screening is not completed, water bottles, mace, weapons, and other safety-related items will be brought into the event.  

Ticketing and Event Identification

While ticketing and event identification are usually the responsibility of the host event staff, exemplars of each should be provided to all security personnel for familiarity.  Security staff at the venue will also be issued some physically observable identification (badge, pin etc..) and if you are attending an event with your protectee, you may be asked to wear unique identification designating you as an EP agent or in some cases an armed EP agent.    

If you are managing the arrival of your protectee through the “Public” entrance of a major event, you should have a clear understanding of the arrival vehicle “drop” point and the entrance procedures and requirements for your protectee and EP agents.

The quicker you move through access control, the better.  Be aware that arrivals outside of the first physical security feature may have paparazzi, and in some cases, unmanaged public and protesters. 

Know what the arrival looks like and have a plan before you get there.  Some EP teams have the luxury of increased staffing.  Positioning a “Site Agent” (who has advanced the venue) curbside allows your protectee to move seamlessly through the entrance process.  

Entrances

The “Private” entrance at a major event is usually designated for specially coordinated VIP entry only.  While there may be several VIPs in attendance, the private entrance is used sparingly and requires significant coordination and management with the overall event security planner

These entrances are usually covered (tented) or underground and allow for a large security contingent to manage a motorcade arrival/departure outside of the view of the public and press.  

Finally, the Press entrance to an event provides a dual purpose:  

  1. It allows for the private screening of press equipment and media staff which is often time-consuming and overwhelms and delays the public entrance if not separated. 
  2. and, it provides a private area to verify press credentials and identification against existing access lists. 

Verification

Verification of press credentials and the media outlets invitation is often managed by the event coordinator or staff and is not a security responsibility, however, security oversight of this process is always recommended. 

It is not uncommon for protesters to register as, or attempt entry as, authorized members of the media.  The overall management of the press at an event requires clear communications and coordination with the media outlets requesting admittance.  In some cases, security staffing may be needed to limit the press from entering internally secure areas at a venue or mingling in the public areas of a venue.

There is nothing worse than having a microphone shoved into the face of your protectee unexpectedly because the press was not restricted.  If the event is a private event and the press is invited, there must be clear guidance from the event coordinator or host on the expectations of the media at the event. 

However, if the media strays outside of that guidance (which they often do), they’re usually asked to leave.  If the event is public, the press can go anywhere the public may go. 

Fair warning, the press will challenge posted security and all protectors should have clear guidance regarding media access and control in the overall event management and security plan. 

Regardless of the event status as public or private, security postings limit public movements to designated secure areas and this also includes the press.  Often, the staff at a large event will provide staff “handlers or escorts” to assist the media with coordinated movements within the larger event space.  Understanding what the press is permitted to do, is a key piece in the planning EP teams must coordinate.  

Internal Movements

Following your protectee’s entry into the event through one of the three controlled entrances (you might be covering a celebrity correspondent), you should have a “general” idea of their personal movements inside. 

Planning and personally reviewing those internal movements is an important part of the advance process.  Before the event and during your protective advance you should coordinate with the managing event security team to conduct a site “Walkthrough.”

A site walkthrough gives you an opportunity to view the exact path of your protectee inside the venue while conducting personal security planning based on the physical features of the event space and the known security postings identified by the event security manager. 

At larger events, walkthroughs are often jointly conducted with other Protective Details attending the same event to save time.  Joint walkthroughs are extremely helpful in understanding what EP teams are attending the event and their intended movements in the event of an emergency. 

During the site walkthrough, EP teams should consider the locations of Bathrooms, Hard Rooms, Hold Rooms (often called Green Rooms), Decontamination areas, Elevators and Controls, and Emergency Egress routes.  

Hard Rooms

I have recently seen Hard Rooms explained incorrectly in YouTube videos, so I’ll take a moment to cover them.  A Hard Room is a room inside a larger event venue that provides a temporary physically secure area for your protectee.  It should be on the Emergency Egress route, immediately accessible during an evacuation, secure, defendable, structurally sound and allow for the use of communications. 

The Hard Room should not have windows, should be able to repel small arms fire, should have a singular defendable entrance that can be secured and should not contain items that are flammable, generate heavy electrical loads or limit the flow of oxygen. 

Ideally, Hard Rooms have a water source for chem/bio-decontamination and are physically defendable for more than a few minutes (reinforced concrete supporting outer walls).  The purpose of a Hard Room is to provide a temporary secure space during the evacuation of your protectee, immediately away from the threat, allowing you to secure and protect them while developing a plan to move to the next security feature or to your motorcade.  

In some cases, evacuating immediately to your motorcade without knowing if your egress route is secure or compromised can put your protectee in greater danger than slowing down and using a Hard Room.  A Hard Room allows you to secure your protectee quickly and defend against attackers until supporting security elements arrive or you decide to move.  

In many instances, your protectee isn’t the most important person in the room.  Sometimes they don’t even make the top 20.  While this is often to your advantage, their interactions with other publicly recognizable VIPs place them in more danger by virtue of their proximity. 

“The Bubble”

Imagine a bubble.  When two bubbles merge, they create a larger bubble.  Your security posture for your protectee should mimic this natural phenomenon.  As your protectee interacts with other protectees, your protective coverage or “bubble” should blend with other EP teams to provide space for your protectee to interact with others.  

This is a delicate dance that requires extensive training and experience, but understand that you probably won’t be as close to your protectee as you want when they are surrounded by other protectees receiving protection.  This is particularly true in banquet and dinner settings.  

If the event is a speaking event and your protectee is on stage, you must consider stage design (is it elevated, has stairs, what’s on the stage), stage setup (seating, furniture, dais type, teleprompter), ingress, egress, what’s above (lighting, scaffolding) and below the stage, and who will be on the stage with your protectee.  

The Questions to Answer

Is there an Off Stage Announce (Voice of God)?  Is there an industry standard 10’ – 12’ buffer between the leading edge of the stage and the crowd, and is that buffer secure?  Will staff photographers and/or media representatives be permitted or escorted by event staff into the buffer?  Are there other security detail personnel covering the stage and buffers for their protectees?  Is there a chance your protectee will exit the stage to the buffer, and interact with the public on a rope line and what is your plan if that occurs?

As you can see, the dynamics and type of the event generate several unique considerations by EP teams in coverage and planning.  

During your event, you may encounter protesters who attempt to disrupt it.  If there is a disruption or protest while your protectee is onstage, understanding what “should” happen, prevents a “dynamic” EP movement and possible embarrassment for you and your protectee. 

Before the event, know the planned response for Hecklers and if the event management team has a Heckler/Protester Policy and response plan.  The responsibility of the protective detail is always to “Cover and Evacuate” the protectee first in the event of an emergency. 

The responsibility to address any other security-related issue at an event, not in the immediate proximity of your protectee, should be the responsibility of the event security staffing. 

In rare cases, the protective detail will respond to an attacker but only based on the threat and immediate proximity to the protectee (time/distance), allowing an evacuation.   Remember, you will be filmed so any use of force to address a threat should be legally defendable and appropriate.  

Major Event 

Your Working Environment at a Major Event

EP agents are often exposed to “less than ideal” working environments and stages are one of them.  If you’ve ever worked at a stage event, you know that house lighting will significantly impair your vision at the stage and rope line. 

The first three rows at any stage event are critical in security planning because they are very close to your protectee if he/she is on stage or in the buffer between the leading edge of the stage and the attending public. 

Many EP teams manage the attendee seating in these first few rows by zip-tying chairs together, preventing them from being thrown or used as weapons.  Another common technique is to establish a hardened barrier between the public and the stage, sometimes referred to as a “rope line.”  

Outside of the substantial physical security planning for your protectee during a stage event, it is also your responsibility to protect them from embarrassment.  “Remind” them that microphones should always be considered “hot” and identify the presence of boom microphones or enhanced audio devices inside the event space. 

Technology has jammed up more than one protectee, significantly impacting their personal and professional brand.  As EP agents, we are responsible for protecting the image of our protectees in addition to their physical security.   

Internal Emergency Response

Security teams should also understand internal emergency response procedures for the public in attendance.  If there is a medical emergency for a public attendee while your protectee is onstage, it will interrupt their speech and the event. 

Many people who attend major events have underlying health issues and are not used to standing for long periods of time.  Knowing that there is a medical response plan in place to respond to these incidents eases visiting protectee and EP team concerns when they do occur.  

If the security for the event is managed completely by your team, you have significantly more responsibilities than this short article can address.  Generally, besides the well-being of your protectee, you must also consider the well-being of the public and have planning in place for their Ingress/Egress, Safety, Refreshments, Facility Accessibility (ADA), Maximum Occupancy and Emergency Medical Considerations.  In these instances, you are also responsible for each ring of the security plan and must manage the safety and security of all people at the venue.  

Departures

After your event has concluded, the entire event occupancy will be leaving at the same time.  This crowd of people causes other security and safety concerns that will impact your security planning.  Your protectee may have additional backstage or private internal events including photo opportunities and personal meetings which will further delay your departure. 

While most of the attending public will exit the same way they came into the building (we are all psychologically programmed that way), when security posting is dropped following the conclusion of an event, the public can, and will, depart through any available exit to avoid delays and long lines.

EP teams often plan to exit major events through different exits and routes to avoid telegraphing secure movements and to avoid public egress.  While the attendees exit slowly through a main entrance, having an alternate route for your planned departure and transportation allows you to exit securely without delay. 

VIP Vehicle Staging

At some events, VIP vehicle staging is an organized function controlled by the event staff. Cars are called from nearby vehicle staging areas to the VIP departure area as the protectee nears the exit of the venue. 

If you’ve ever worked at a United Nations General Assembly event, this same model is used routinely in the private sector.  If you are providing close protection while exiting an event of this type, remember the bubble analogy and give your protectee space by managing EP team movements and agent placement.

Don’t be the person that hockey checks another protectee or security detail member because they are too close to your protectee.  I’ve accidentally done this myself and it’s embarrassing.  If the VIP departure area is publicly accessible, remember that the paparazzi and the public may also be in proximity and plan accordingly.  My personal preference is to always avoid publicly accessible departure areas when possible.     

Final Thoughts on Planning into a Major Event

EP operations within major events demand meticulous preparation, coordination, and vigilance, combined with extensive hands-on training and experience. While this article provides basic guidance with foundational insights for Major Event security management, continuous learning and collaboration with reputable trainers and industry leaders is essential for successful major event security execution. 

By following industry best practices and seeking continuous professional training throughout our careers, we collectively contribute to the advancement of the Executive Protection profession and the safety of those in our care. 

If you’d like more information on Event Planning and the EP Advance Planning Model, go to https://www.ep-board.org/product-page/the-executive-protection-advance-and-logistics-guidebook 

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Get the latest news and articles from EP Wired.

Latest News

Ambani Pre-Wedding Security, Costs, and Considerations

In the first few days of March 2024, the world looked on at the Ambani pre-wedding celebrations that drew...

More Articles Like This

Download Advance Work: Route Survey

    Download Advance Work: Restaurant

      Download Helicopter Extration: Landing Zone

        EP Career

        Your registry of the best opportunities in executive protection.

        EP Directory
        The right place to explore EP companies.