Feature Article - April 2003
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The Crowd Turns Beautiful

From crime and crushings to big threats and personal safety, a look at some of the best techniques for managing large daily crowds as well as mass-spectator events

By Mitch Martin

Easy now

One of the great challenges of providing against a lethal threat at a large event is providing security that doesn't overwhelm the event. The IAAM provides security-level guidelines for venue types based on the color-coded threat level indicator of the Department of Homeland Security.

Lauro safeguards many national landmarks considered prime targets for anti-American terrorism. However, he says he can still balance security with practicality. For example, park police concentrate on preventing people from bringing inside large weapons with the capability of killing many people at a gathering.

"It's not like an airplane where you have to make sure no one gets on who has a nail clipper on them," Lauro says.

Lauro says the park police still use snow fencing as entrance barriers even though it isn't impenetrable by any means. That's because in the event of a more likely safety problem, such as a crushing situation, snow fences can be taken down easily.

Several of the experts remark that "big threat" work is largely a manner of dedication, good training and planning.

"From a litigation standpoint, if you're just going to write a plan and not really carry it out, you're almost better to not do it at all," Fried says. "Because if you do have an incident, your plan will be used to show how you didn't meet your own standards."

However, Fried says the planning needn't be overly burdensome. A good plan, he says, is made up of relatively simple things, such as providing the public announcer with a readable message he or she can calmly read in the event of a crisis.

Several experts say crisis planning should be an additional layer of protection that doesn't steal from normal event planning, such as protecting against heat exhaustion or general personal security.

"After a major event, there's sort of a pendulum swing of extremes in reactions," Poe says. "We've tried to continually encourage a moderate, reasonable level of precaution that can be consistent over a period of time."

Under Protest

One of the more delicate security problems at a public facility is the political protest. U.S. Park Police Major Sal Lauro has dealt with all manner of protests, from the one-person anti-nuclear demonstration going on in the Washington area for almost 20 years to the massive anti-International Monetary Fund demonstrations last year.

Lauro offers a few tips on how to handle demonstrations at your facilities as peacefully as possible.

  • Meet with protesters if possible and ask what their plans are and how they intend to act. Ask them to provide a sufficient number of demonstration "marshals" to keep their own members acting appropriately.
  • If a political group has protested elsewhere, ask other agencies how the protesters behaved.
  • Make sure the law-enforcement agency has enough officers to make a strong showing and have enough officers in reserve to handle contingencies.