…..risk management at times is viewed as a periodic activity for reporting potential threats, rather than as part of decision-making for taking informed action.

Carol Fox, Chair, U.S. ISO 31000 Risk Management Standards Technical Advisory Group

What’s your background?

I’m a former Australian Army special forces officer who has been consulting in the major events environment for over 15 + years. I have consulted on & led multi-national teams on a diverse range of international major events including six Olympic Games (2000 – 2012), the 2015 European Games (Baku, Azerbaijan), the ICC 2015 Cricket World Cup (Australia & NZ), the 2010 G8/G20 Summit (Toronto), and special events across North America including Calgary Stampede, Memphis in May International Festival, Philadelphia Flower Show, the Beale Street Entertainment District (City of Memphis) and Gratitude Migration – a grass roots festival

I have been a director on the International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA) World Board since 2015 and I lecture on risk management and event security at the IFEA/NRPA Event Management School and the IAVM Academy of Safety and Security. Over the last 12 months, I have delivered risk management workshops & seminars in Australia, Canada & the USA. Peter is based out of Boise, Idaho. You can follow my latest blogs and insights @ www.facebook.com/ermsglobal

How long have you run ERMS Global and what is your job?

After the completion of my two-year assignment as Director of Security, the Baku 2015 European Games, I returned to the US & established Event Risk Management Solutions (ERMS), a consulting practice committed to enhancing organizational resilience for festival and events through practical and effective risk management and security solutions.

The why – I saw a need in our industry to assist cities, local organizing committees and producers to become more “risk aware” to enhance the security and security of their events based on international best practices, adapted to provide practical solutions for risk management and event security. As part of this commitment, I have developed and rolled out industry specific workshops and seminars on risk management and security over the last two years.

I’m the principal consultant for the practice and responsible for building project teams centered around international subject matter experts, who share the same values and with whom I have trusted relationships built over many years in challenging and complex environments. 

What are the risks free, ungated, outdoor community festivals held in parks and neighborhoods face?

There are many definitions pertaining to risk management, but the one definition that personally resonates with me:

“Risk Managementis the systematic approach to protecting the things that we care about and maximizing our chances of success in all fields of endeavor.” (the Risk Management Institute of Australasia)

In today’s uncertain world of evolving risks from home grown violent extremism, severe weather events and challenges associated with saturated event challenges competing for resources and sponsors, it’s never been as important for cities and local organizing committees to adopt a risk based approach to event and festival planning.

The recent terrorist attacks conducted by radicalized individuals directed or inspired by ISIL during Bastille Day in Nice, France and the Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market in Berlin, Germany and New York City highlight the increasing risk of hostile vehicle attacks / intrusions directed at crowds and places of mass gatherings during our festivals and events.

This recent evolution in security threats has placed additional pressure on event organizers and their respective Law Enforcement and Public Safety partners to safeguard festival attendees from spontaneous attacks not previously anticipated.

Over the last five years, I have developed a risk library of 90 + risks for festivals and events identified through workshops, surveys, discussions and interviews with CEOs and Executive Directors, as well as monitoring current trends and incidents within our industry and across other sectors, both within the US and internationally. 

The following is the most recent list of trending risks which keep my industry peers “up at night”:

  • Escalating security and public safety costs
  • Changes in cost recovery for city services 
  • Ability to secure headline talent for music festivals in a competitive and saturated market
  • Deterioration of festivals market share due to competing programs both locally & regionally
  • Changes in local / state Government priorities for funding of festivals
  • Impact on city resources (including policing) by a “saturated” festivals and events calendar
  • Vehicle ramming (intrusion) attacks against crowded places
  • Active shooter / threats: stand-off [sniper], direct attacks (close quarters) & edged weapons
  • Drones – unauthorized airspace intrusion over event site
  • Open carry – entry of legally licensed firearms into event & festival sites
  • Over-crowding resulting in crowd surges

One of my favorite quotes pertaining to risk, is the quote by the former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld who summed up risk in a rather pragmatic way during a DOD briefing in 2002.

 Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know.  We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know what we don’t know.

How can organizers and the cities in which they hold events help mitigate these risks?

The challenge we now collectively face is how do we balance the requirement for enhanced security measures to mitigate current and future risks against the escalating cost of these measures versus the impact on attendee experience?

From my experience, the most effective approach to this challenge is to adopt an integrated approach to event risk management through early engagement with your safety and security stakeholders including City planners, Federal agencies, local law enforcement, Fire and EMS.

Developing a comprehensive risk management plan in cooperation with your stakeholders ensures that event risks are identified, appropriately mitigated (control measures appropriate to the risk) and most importantly, are owned and managed by the right stakeholders.

This approach also provides “early warning” to local organizing committees (LOC) regarding what risk based, security measures will need to be implemented to secure the event, potential disruptions to local residents and finally, to identify potential impacts to pre-determined levels of service associated with guest experience.

Additionally, this strategy allows LOC’s to make informed decisions earlier in the event planning cycle and to designate contingency funds for security measures which are costed for budget proposes but are not implemented unless there is a change in the security risk or threat profile for the event.

Is there any benefit to having a festival with no gate (I’m thinking crowd dispersement)?

An interesting question given the challenges associated with the risk and security threats associated with today’s uncertain world.

While festivals which are not “gated” have an increased exposure to many safety and security risks, they do have an advantage insofar that egress and crowd dispersal is rapid but it is also uncontrolled. Where possible and practicable, I advise that festivals and events are gated or at least have controlled (pre-determined) entries into the festival or event site.

What types of venues are more susceptible to risk?

It is important to not to generically consider risks to venue type but rather to determine the level of risk specific to the event and venue based on a pre-determined list of criteria to establish an overall security risk profile.  Key criteria that I have adopted from previous Olympic security models includes:

  • Is the event or venue, iconic or symbolic in nature?
  • The presence of VVIPs & VIPs – domestic or international, and numbers
  • Media interest – numbers and coverage (local, state, national and international)
  • Critical Games Operational Capability Asset (Broadcast & Technology) with lack of redundancy
  • Profile of headline talent (e.g. Music genre) and keynote speakers – are they controversial?
  • Political sensitivity and attractiveness to issue motivated groups and persons
  • The duration of the event – multi-day events typically present a higher risk than a single day event
  • Ease of access to conduct hostile reconnaissance or unauthorised to the event site – open festivals provide easier access than gated festivals

This security risk assessment approach is an analytical process which assesses “how attractive” each event and venue is as a potential target for terrorism. The outcomes from this assessment inform decisions regarding the identification and selection of security counter measures to mitigate identified risks.