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Major Special Events Planning

Preparing for any large public gathering is all about contingencies.

April 25, 2011  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author


Photo: Amaury Murgado.

Police officers around the world share many common issues; they deal with organized crime, inefficient bureaucracies, a lack of manpower, and a diverse list of threats against their communities. As if these issues were not enough, most agencies must facilitate crowd control and provide security for several major special events throughout the year. These may include anything from a presidential visit to a rival high school football game.

If you've worked one of these events, you know that the plan is only good up to the point of execution. Once the event starts, anything can happen. In other words, don't fight Murphy's Law but instead, embrace it as your credo; anything that can go wrong, will. The best time to handle a problem is before it ever starts, so incorporating contingency planning is critical to a successful event.

A Place to Start

If you are tasked with handling crowd control and all of the other issues related to a major special event in your community, first review how the event was handled in the past and use it as your starting point. Hopefully, your predecessor had a working file that included an operations plan and an after action report (AAR). If not, then your only other option is to meet with the members of the past detail and pick their brains.

Assuming that you do have a working file, keep two things in mind as you read through it: If it isn't broken, don't fix it; and just because it was done a certain way then, doesn't mean you have to do it that way now. These may sound somewhat contradictory but they are actually two sides of the same coin.

Take a past traffic flow solution, for example. Just because it worked doesn't mean it can't be improved upon. The trick is to think in terms of what I call the "Trading Axiom." It states that you should always trade up; never sideways or down. Applying this method helps you evaluate past and present considerations. 

If you want to trade your new idea for one done in the past, utilize it if it makes things more efficient (trading up). If using your idea causes the results to be the same (trading sideways) then leave it alone; why waste time and energy unnecessarily? If your idea creates other issues, (trading down), then leave the old idea in place and move on.

Keep in mind that change, just for the sake of change, rarely works well. Your primary planning priorities are about accomplishing the mission, not making a name for yourself. The fact that you pull off a successful event should give you all the warm and cozy feelings you need. If you need more attention than that, buy a dog.

Don't Reinvent the Wheel

After you have reviewed past events, you can start the planning process. Since getting organized is always the hardest part, I try to avoid replicating other people's work. One great source for getting organized is FEMA's independent study course, IS-15.b, "Special Events Contingency Planning for Public Safety Agencies." This Web-based course provides officers with information related to "pre-event planning, forming the planning team, event hazard analysis, and responding to incidents during special events in their community." There is also an extensive job aid manual that is included in the course and available for download. My favorite part is the series of checklists that you can print and use as a planning guide.

If you haven't already taken the course, I highly recommend that you do. At a minimum, I suggest you download all the materials and use the multiple checklists. I even go so far as to present the checklists to my counterparts during pre-event planning. I recommend that they study the course as well. The reason I stress this material so much is that it helps everyone involved, police and otherwise, to have a common base of knowledge. You have to know what you are talking about in order to talk about it.

Being able to point to an established reference helps you make suggestions that are beyond the realm of your responsibility. For example, most of the time law enforcement works the security angle, but it's been hard for me to sit quiet in a meeting when I have realized a critical issue has been overlooked. Pointing to the FEMA checklist has helped me draw attention to a potential risk that, more often than not, has led to a discussion on how to mitigate it.

Contingency Planning

Former WWII Supreme Allied Commander and President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower is quoted as saying, "Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised." What he was referring to was contingency planning. The biggest gift you can give yourself during a planning cycle is to play the "what if" game. You and your planning partners need to sit down at some point and fire off possible scenarios at each other.

For example, it might go something like this. You're at a planning meeting and you turn to your counterpart, Mr. Shaw, and ask him the following questions:

Tags: Event Management, Crowd Control, Mounted Units, Best Practices


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