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The front line

Two event security professionals talk drugs, terror attacks and the need for good manners.

Bob Dylan once said, “I accept chaos; I’m not sure whether it accepts me”.

Luckily for the events industry, our security professionals do not accept chaos. In fact, they actively dislike it.

Keeping control of the crowds at UK festivals and live events is far from an easy job, but for many security professionals, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The positives are limitless,” Josh Mills, MD of Main Event Security, tells Access. “It’s great seeing people come onto a site safely and happily, have a good time and go home safely and happily.”

The job can be extremely varied; at any one event it can entail everything from basic entry security to providing specially trained risk response teams that deal with more serious security issues.

“Because we’re in high-vis and dealing with the public, when the lights go out or there’s a toilet issue, invariably we’re the ones who have to deal with it before putting it out to other agencies,” continues Mills. 

The fundamental role of security staff is an extremely serious one. Aside from ensuring the safety of hundreds, often thousands of people, security professionals in recent years have also had to take steps to prepare themselves for the possibility of terrorist attacks.

Project Griffin is a police counter-terrorism initiative designed to give advice and training to businesses throughout the UK. The initiative, which is run by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO), provides guidance on issues from bomb threats and suspicious packages to online radicalisation.

“We work closely with local police to train our staff using Project Griffin,” says Mark Lucas, director of Multisec Security. “The terror threats to large festivals and events have changed over the years and this is something that we need to be aware of, and plan for in advance.”

“We’re well aware of the threat in the UK,” adds Mills. “At the end of the day there are bad people out there looking for soft targets, which is why it is imperative that security operatives are as proactive as possible.”

When it comes to event security, festivals present their own unique risks and challenges. According to Mills, even those who are just arriving at a festival can be challenging to deal with.

“If someone has driven 300 miles to a festival, and they’re tired and they’ve had a bad day, then we get the brunt of it,” he explains. “We need to be able to see through any frustrations, and sometimes even getting on the site itself can be a painful experience if the gates aren’t open in time.”

Visitors to Glastonbury in 2016 were affected by lengthy queues during the drive to the festival, with some stuck in traffic for as long as 21 hours.

“There’s a multitude of reasons why people might be frustrated and we often get the brunt of that even though it’s not our fault,” admits Mills.

One factor, unsurprisingly, is the high levels of alcohol consumption that come as part and parcel of the average festival. A 2015 study by TimeOut London found that a whopping 97 per cent of festivalgoers drink alcohol, and at the Isle of Wight Festival, bar staff were pouring up to 35,000 pints an hour.

“The drug issues at festivals have also changed, with the use of new drugs,” says Lucas. “There are so many issues on a daily basis that require the medics’ attention. Obviously drugs have always played a part in the festival scene, but never to the extent of casualties that happen now.”

While some events, such as Secret Garden Party, have worked with non-profits who provide on site drug testing and advice for festivalgoers, security staff still remain an important tool in the effort to reduce illegal drug taking at festivals.

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The personal touch

In the past, event security staff were often seen as serious types, often if not always wearing sunglasses, but nowadays a lighter touch is sometimes required.

“It is important that all personnel can speak clear English and that a customer service focus is on the event,” says Lucas. “These guys are the first impression of the event and it is vital they are welcoming from the start.”

“It’s all about good mannerisms,” Mills adds. “We need to be able to communicate and deal with the public. We’re not there to force people to do things. We’re there for their safety. If you haven’t got good customer service skills then you shouldn’t be in the job. The days of the big, unapproachable, aggressive-looking people are hopefully over.”

If there is one issue that comes up more than any other in the security sector, it is the issue of qualifications.

While there is no compulsory qualification for event security officials, many companies in the industry provide extensive training for their staff.

“All our personnel other than the safety stewards complete an NVQ Level 2 in door supervision, and all the staff complete NVQ Level 2 in customer services,” Lucas tells Access. “On top of this, some employees have completed Level 2 health & safety and first aid at work, and all staff are inducted to the company policies and procedures at induction.”

“Some operations out there are not as suited to the job as they should be,” says Mills. “But a lot of that has come down to the financial constraints in the industry. No one wants to spend money on security. Security is the creature that just sits there being fed money until something bad happens.”

With terror threats still a hot button issue, event security will continue to be closely scrutinised by both the public and the media. However, while the nature of the job and the expectations of organisers may be changing, the basic tenet of the sector, to keep people safe, will always stay the same.