Project Management Institute

Stage Fright

As Threat's to Today's Events Increase, Project Teams Must Rethink Risk to Protect the Masses




Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, Illinois, USA

The show must go on.

Now more than ever, this mantra applies to large events, where organizers invest heavily to entertain the masses for days or weeks. Yet as attendance at massive music and cultural festivals, global sporting spectacles and professional events keeps ballooning, the threat of shootings, terrorism attacks and other dangers creates major security risks. Project teams, in turn, are faced with the ultimate challenge: keeping crowds safe while delivering the sense of community stakeholders crave.

Last year's Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, Illinois, USA introduced new security measures amid reports that the gunman from a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA had previously eyed Lollapalooza. Teams debuted bag restrictions, enhanced screening and crowd-monitoring drones as part of a more comprehensive plan by festival organizers and city law enforcement leaders to identify possible risks. At this year's Women's World Cup in France, FIFA is introducing airport-level security screening to reduce threats in a country that's dealt with violent political protests and deadly terror attacks over the past year. And at last year's World Cup in Russia, security teams stepped up screening by implementing face-recognition technology that allowed security officials to automatically check individuals caught on camera against a police database. The use of biometric screening will be expanded for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“Every audience at every event has an expectation of safety while attending events,” says Jim Digby, founder and chairman, Event Safety Alliance, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Also a senior producer of major events for live entertainment company Live Nation Middle East, Mr. Digby has witnessed the culture of event safety and security mature. He now sees more clearly defined practices and processes to establish mitigation strategies for known and unknown threats. It also means treating events like a business rather than a party, he says.



Police officers at Lollapalooza in Santiago, Chile. At right, security officers at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Moscow, Russia

“The culture of large events and the music business is evolving toward a more serious respect for safety and security accountability.”


—Jim Digby, Event Safety Alliance, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA


Making risk management a core part of event security planning helps stakeholders adjust their expectations so all threats are accurately assessed, says Marina Tranchitella, PMP, general manager of stadium operations, Sport Club Internacional, São Paulo, Brazil. “Risk management is important because through it you can develop a framework, and prioritize which risks must be addressed and which will be accepted,” Ms. Tranchitella says.



As security manager for last year's Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she had her teams use a responsibility matrix tool to clarify which stakeholder owned each security mitigation action. The tool also assigned who was responsible for the budget. Breaking down risks into actions allows her team to transform the overall security requirements into smaller, manageable tasks, she says. Once the matrix actions are assigned, team members work together to organize the flow of communication, identify and remove obstacles, and establish strategies to manage unexpected outcomes, she says. “This results in transparency in management and allows a baseline for budget and timeline planning.”

But project teams often need to collaborate with outside vendors and experts to identify and deliver security solutions. Working hand in hand with local authorities and global governing agencies helps ensure that security plans align with other civic or privacy requirements.

For FIFA events, security planning and site-inspection visits of all stadiums begin as soon as the host location is chosen, which can be up to 10 years before the event, says Helmut Spahn, security director, competition and events, FIFA, Zurich, Switzerland.



Crowds at the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At right, the Burning Man event in Black Rock City, Nevada, USA

“These inspection visits help all stakeholders understand how a stadium will work during the event,” Mr. Spahn says. “They ensure safety and security risks are highlighted in enough time for remedial action, as well as ensuring overall standards are raised in line with FIFA requirements.”

Teams share comprehensive requirements with local organizers and collaborate with them to ensure all plans meet all guidelines, including FIFA stadium security regulations and wider public safety measures, he says. FIFA teams emphasize the importance of getting public safety and security stakeholders, such as law enforcement, intelligence agencies and medical care providers, on the same page with private sector stakeholders such as stadium management and security service providers.

“As part of our planning, we prepare a comprehensive risk assessment. This helps identify, assess and prioritize all risks to the tournament, as well as mitigating measures, such as a more robust search regime or specialist police support, to reduce the likelihood of these occurring or the impact should they do so,” Mr. Spahn says. “Along with our partners, we keep the risk assessment under dynamic review, which is supported by contingency plans that enable us to act quickly and decisively if something happens.”


—Helmut Spahn, FIFA, Zurich, Switzerland

Local security and law enforcement experts also can help teams prioritize risks. For example, when Ms. Tranchitella served as security assistant manager for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympics Games in Brazil, her team worked closely with the Brazilian Intelligence Agency and Brazil's mega-events secretary to generate 46 venue vulnerability reports based on 150 security-performance metrics. Those reports helped the team develop eight contingency plans for terrorism attacks.

“Project management steps were directly linked with this process to ensure that all of the plans were delivered on time and had adequate resource availability and allocation,” she says. The plan included steps to track risks, monitor performance and identify when an issue should be escalated to a senior decision maker. “It's extremely important to analyze the veracity of the information, the means of verification and who needs to be aware of the fact,” she says.

Making risk management a critical part of event planning does more than just increase security. It also satisfies regulators and insurers, and builds confidence among critical event sponsors—a major component toward achieving long-term benefits, Ms. Tranchitella says. “When stakeholders see that risks are being dealt with in a formal framework, it can positively impact sponsorship funding and the contracting of specific insurers and liability.”


—Marina Tranchitella, PMP, Sport Club Internacional, São Paulo, Brazil




For annual events, teams must adapt their risk processes constantly—before, during and after the event. This means organizing prompt and proper testing of new equipment, such as badges, wristbands and sensors that are needed to gain entry. In other cases, it means assessing event attractions for possible surprises.

The Burning Man event is known for its massive art installations, which people who attend can climb or interact with before the some of installations are ultimately set on fire. Held at Black Rock City, a temporary desert location in Nevada, USA, the festival begins planning its safety and security months in advance. Teams review the design of each structure through the lens of risk management, says Gabe Kearney, event safety officer, Burning Man Project, Petaluma, Nevada.



Taylor Swift performs at Wembley Stadium, London, England.

Last year's event included a blacksmith shop with a burning forge and a 40-foot (12-meter) tall climbable glowing jellyfish. Structures have to be resilient to the desert heat, able to sustain the weight of climbers and have safety features built in. “We try to work with the artists rather than take a heavy-handed approach,” he says. “It makes the process a lot more collaborative.”


—Gabe Kearney, Burning Man Project, Petaluma, Nevada, USA

When artists submit plans for their exhibits, Mr. Kearney's team of engineers and carpenters works with them to identify safety risks during the planning stages, when problems are easier to fix. Then, they review the safety of the structure once the piece is on-site. “Two-dimensional plans provide clarification, but once they are erected it can look very different,” he says. For example, the team discovered at the 2017 event that one structure's foundation material didn't hold up to the heat and soil acidity. The festival's department of public works collaborated with the artist to identify a stronger composite material to make the structure durable. And when safety problems can't be fixed, Mr. Kearney's team has the structures removed from the site.

“In the end, we always need to ensure nobody is going to get hurt,” he says.


Long-term event success means having a comprehensive retrospective after each event that helps teams review and revise security protocols and update risk mitigation tactics. After each Burning Man event ends, Mr. Kearney's team conducts a retrospective to identify any safety or security issues that can be addressed for the next year's event. The team solicits feedback via email from the 75,000 attendees to inform future planning. For example, the team found that some attendees were visiting the main hospital near the festival to receive minor first-aid treatment. So the planning team reminded attendees to bring first-aid kits and steered them toward existing small first-aid stations so attendees wouldn't overburden the hospital with emergency care requests, says Jim Graham, senior adviser, strategic projects, Burning Man Project, Las Vegas, Nevada. “It cut the number of small-injury visits substantially,” he says.

Such post-event, safety- and security-focused feedback helps fine-tune a risk-management-centered culture that's critical to the success of major events. “When there are time and budget pressures, it is not uncommon for risk management to be neglected,” Ms. Tranchitella says. When this happens, she encourages event planners to think strategically about the risks they face and where they can achieve a balance. As with many aspects of project management, security risks have to be in line with the rest of the project plan, she says.

“What project managers need to understand is that it can be okay to accept risks, but it has to be done consciously and not in an irresponsible way.”

Smart and Secure

The rise in security threats is causing many major event planners to deploy leadingedge tech as part of their risk management strategy to protect audiences.


At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, equipped with high-definition and thermal imaging cameras were used to monitor activity on the ground. The drones also helped watch the skies for any unapproved UAVs in the area's no-fly zone. If unauthorized vehicles were spotted, interceptor drones could be deployed to capture them with nets.



The Boston Marathon in the U.S. state of Massachusetts has taken several steps to speed up safety and security response after bombs killed three people and injured hundreds during the 2013 event. Event planners now partner with Esri, a geographic information system software company, to monitor all race activities. The software tracks real-time movement of runners, staff and pedestrians. It also tracks activity at medical tents, emergency vehicles and helicopter landing pads. The platform broadcasts its data in real time to event staff, local law enforcement and federal authorities.



Star Power

The biggest risk of any major event is to the main attraction. Whether it's a famous musician, powerful politician or high-profile keynote speaker, teams must make sure nothing bad happens to the star of the show. In some cases, stars will even take security matters into their own hands.

In May 2018, the security team for singer Taylor Swift used face-recognition software kiosks to look for stalkers among crowds at her concerts in Los Angeles, California, USA. The software captured images of fans who stopped to watch clips of her rehearsal before the show, and the images were cross-referenced with a database of hundreds of Swift's known stalkers.

Tim Roberts, director of the Event Safety Shop Ltd., a global tour safety management company, Bristol, England, has managed safety planning for dozens of global tours for music stars. “Since there's no global standard for event safety, we have to come up with it ourselves,” Mr. Roberts says.

As safety manager, his team starts working with acts when they are still in the design phase of the tour to ensure all stunts and stage elements are safe and will be allowed at every venue. In many cases, the rules of different countries will dictate what acts can and can't do. But if his team can document that a performance stunt is safe, it can help win over local venues and safety officers, he says.

“Global tours and promoters can more easily bring good practice and safety management to an emerging market than, say, waiting for domestic legislation to align with international standards.”

For every tour, his team creates a risk register and risk narrative for the act that includes how the stunt works, the safety features included and the protocols for what will happen if something goes wrong. In other cases, Mr. Roberts will determine whether stunts are too risky or whether additional safety controls are necessary, such as adding handrails to moving stage elements or requiring infrared sensors that prevent stage pieces from knocking someone over or crushing their feet.

“Safety technology has to be part of this process,” he says. “As stage automation becomes more common, we have to approach safety in the same manner as manufacturing or other industrial processes using programmable machine systems.”


Guarding Glastonbury

As the largest greenfield music and performing arts event in the world, Glastonbury Festival is a virtual minefield of risks. The annual five-day outdoor music festival on a farm near Glastonbury, England attracts 150,000 attendees each year and requires substantial year-round risk management planning, says Tim Roberts, director, Event Safety Shop Ltd., Bristol, England. Mr. Roberts’ company has served as the health and safety adviser and coordinator for Glastonbury Festival since 2002.

Although the unique rural setting provides flexibility for accommodating crowds and stage arrangements, myriad risks associated with the open area require Mr. Roberts’ team to constantly assess the land for known and unknown variables that could injure someone or shut down the festival.

For example, there's permanent national infrastructure across the site, including buried and overhead power lines up to 400,000 volts and a high-pressure natural gas main. “If we came into contact with any of these utilities, not only would it present fatal risk to the workforce, but it could have significant impact on regional infrastructure and business far afield,” he says.

To mitigate this risk, installation of festival site infrastructure, such as security fences, is closely managed. Teams review maps that locate all lines and mains, and no mechanical digging or groundwork is allowed without direct supervision. For instance, the team aims to avoid contact with power lines if someone were driving a bucket truck with the boom extended too high or carrying oversized stage elements across the space. “It's not how anyone would have chosen to design Glastonbury, but the site has history,” he says.



So instead of moving the event, Mr. Roberts’ team developed and constantly adjusts a risk management framework for the festival.


“Our first goal is to engage with as many stakeholders as possible, as early as possible,” Mr. Roberts says. He notes that any large-scale event is a joint endeavor between the organizer and local authorities and enforcement. “That doesn't mean we expect them to take responsibility for our event; it's just that we can't produce or deliver without consent and engagement,” he says.

That engagement includes working with adjacent landowners, utility owners, and police, fire and water departments, along with all of the entertainers, vendors and event planners, throughout the year. The team uses email to exchange data and documents. However, Mr. Roberts says there's no substitute for face-to-face meetings.

“Glastonbury Festival organizers in particular are very engaged with the local government and stakeholders, so there are a number of formal multi-agency meetings to attend along with a range of one-to-one sessions with police, fire and ambulance services.”


Even though the festival's requirements are roughly the same each year, Mr. Roberts’ team starts fresh each season. “We walk the site and perform a systematic review of when, where and how incidents causing injury or damage have happened and how we can prevent or mitigate them,” he says. His team also creates a timeline of every task that will occur, from before the first vendors arrive on-site until the event is complete and the site is returned to farmland.

By establishing a mitigation plan for each possible threat, the team proactively diffuses problems from the start. For example, the team assembles a steel fence around the event's perimeter to eliminate the threat of fence-hoppers exceeding site capacity. It implements a compulsory passport check to prevent the use of fraudulent tickets or multiple people entering on the same ticket. The team treats the local water supply and checks for leaks in the underground water system six weeks prior to the event to ensure reliable access to clean water.

Although the team is always focused on identifying high-profile security risks such as mass shootings, Mr. Roberts notes the most common risks are ordinary. “Active shooters and terrorism are big issues of the day, but you can't afford to lose sight of mundane threats like severe weather impact or golf-cart accidents,” he says. “Risk management has to address all potential threats to personal well-being, project delivery and the festival's reputation.” PM


—Tim Roberts, Event Safety Shop Ltd., Bristol, England

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