Festival Security

As an industry that has experienced exponential growth in the last decade, festivals are big business for both organisers and stakeholders across the UK. There are now over 4,500 festivals in the UK alone (as referenced in our 2019 White Paper commissioned by AAA) with the burgeoning industry providing a whopping £30.4BN Gross Value Added (GVA) to the economy and 589,000 full time equivalent jobs. Whilst this is great for our industry as a whole, it does mean more attention, both from the press and also challenges in security through preventing infiltration and unwanted illegal activity

Low barriers to entry and the demand for ever more people has led to an influx of staff – some with limited skills and experience – who learn ‘on the job’. Competition is rife and firms are often forced to ‘sub in’ added staff, some of which may need specific training, to supply the required numbers. This of course includes members of the security industry, a facet of the day and night time economy that goes hand in hand with large scale events.

It is our aim to have only the best available staff on site. Of course, this links back to the procurement of festival security and their own connected responsibility both in displaying best practice and preventing illegal activity. Recently, the National Events Intelligence Unit have been in correspondence with the SIA with suggestions of a revision to their auditing and infiltration processes in an attempt to improve the delivery of welfare provision.

The Fair attended the recent Event Safety & Security Summit (E3S) in October and much of the panel debate centred on illegal site entry, the possible ramifications, and the methods of mitigation. There has been further focus on this issue from a new BBC documentary, ‘Festival Drugs, Meet the Dealers’. This 3-part series highlights some inconsistencies in the verification and accessing of event sites. They show examples of individuals entering festivals where searches are minimal, and on-duty security staff letting anyone with a security badge enter the event without questioning or further accreditation.

Part of the issue stems from the SIA. Their position within security management, accreditation and training is fundamental for the events sector, however their training system set up may be open to exploitation. The cost of the journey from layman to trained SIA operative is in the region of £400. However, there are rumours of tests being taken on other’s behalf.

Financial constraints also play a part in proceedings where company margins are tighter than ever. Staff may be asked to work for less money and longer hours. This results in a poorly trained minority of security staff gaining positions at events without the proper entitlement. However hard SME security contractors try to avoid the provision of inexperienced staff, it is often difficult for them to supply the ‘best of the best’, particularly at events that require more than 100 operatives. This forms a perfect storm with any unwanted illegal activity around events and, as the BBC documentary shows, site infiltrators are becoming savvier than ever before.

So what can be done to improve on this from the perspective of an Event or Production Manager?

  • Multiple Security Contractors: Perhaps a slightly more costly method, but by using multiple security contractors, each company can book their best possible staff.
  • Service Level Agreements: Agreements in place with the security contractors to ensure a level of competency is retained across all staff. This can be audited with spot checks and managed by the contractor.
  • Thorough Checks: A thorough search process should be implemented and managed for all security personnel upon entry.
  • Penetration Testing: Utilising third party undercover staff to attempt to enter the festival by various methods.
  • Vetting Processes: More intense security company recruitment vetting procedures implemented by the SIA, such as BS 7858.

Fortunately, the SIA are looking at implementing some non-obligatory additional training bolt-ons accessible by event organisers and security companies. This may help mitigate against hostile infiltration in the future. It is also important to remember the welfare of security staff, ensuring they are happy to work in their respective roles. They are on the front line and should be supported in their correct actions, be well fed, allowed regular breaks and protected against the elements.

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