Festival planning is a niche area of expertise, one that can lead to worldwide acclaim and enormous demand for subsequent events. However, for every Glastonbury, there is also a Fyre Festival.
To avoid becoming the subject of excoriating Netflix documentaries, festival planners must consider every aspect of what goes into accommodating large numbers of people in open spaces where sobriety is often in scant supply.
At the very top of the priority list has to be festival-goer safety which means the completion of thorough risk assessments, the provision of basic amenities, and ready access to first aid. It also means the need for boots on the ground to ensure conduct remains as respectable as can be expected at such events.
In this guide, we look at all aspects of festival security from why security is so important to what powers a security guard has whilst on duty.
The role most commonly associated with festival and other event security is the response to and, ideally, prevention of anti-social behaviour and crime. This usually begins at entry points where suspicious or heavily intoxicated individuals will be assessed as to their risk to themselves and others, and potentially being denied entry. Once the festival is underway, security will then patrol the site, neutralising any flashpoints and removing disorderly or ticketless persons.
Should you hire security guards through a reputable UK security company, you’ll also get more than just muscle. Licensed through the Security Industry Authority (SIA), guards will possess multiple skills, including first aid and crowd control management. Should an incident occur that requires the involvement of emergency services, security personnel are also trained on how to communicate with the various services to a high level of competence.
In many cases, the involvement of a security company comes months before the festival itself. In conjunction with organisers, the company will be involved at the risk assessment stage and ensure top-level security procedures are in place. This will include the development of evacuation plans in the unlikely event of a catastrophic incident so attendees can exit safely and efficiently.
For any noteworthy incident that does occur, security guards will also be able to prepare detailed incident reports to provide full clarity on the nature and scale of the incident.
There are many risks and each presents a different level of threat. In most cases, festivals pass without major incident but with a high consumption of intoxicants common among attendees, fights will occasionally break out. Generally, these confrontations involve only a handful of people and can be easily contained, but it’s vital they’re contained quickly before more people are drawn in or serious injuries are sustained.
The risk of serious injury is heightened where attendees are able to enter a festival with weapons or other dangerous items and is one of the main reasons searches have become more commonplace at entry points. Particularly since the Manchester Arena bombing, searches are also carried out to prevent explosives making their way into an environment where large crowds are congregating.
Injuries can also occur from intoxication – particularly where it is drug-related. To mitigate the risk of overdoses or of controlled substances leading to dangerous behaviours, security guards will be alert to individuals distributing such substances and are trained on how to remove them safely.
For family-friendly festivals, the welfare of children is also a crucial consideration. Particularly with younger children, there is a risk of them becoming separated from their guardians, accessing prohibited areas, and of incurring injury. SIA licensed security guards possess the necessary skills to safeguard child welfare and of the procedures needed to locate and reconnect lost children with their guardians.
Depending on the scale of the festival, it’s likely that VIPs and celebrities will either be in attendance or performing. Mostly, such individuals will have their own close protection officers but a contracted security company will be expected to contribute to their safety by helping unwanted guests from accessing their personal space.
In terms of legal powers, security guards are still classed as civilians, meaning they are bound by the same rules and laws as anyone else. However, in their capacity as providers of protection and deterrence, they must routinely interact with the public and it’s important to know what they can and can’t do.
Searches: A common sight at festival-type events is security guards performing searches on attendees at entry-points or where they have reason to believe a search is necessary for the prevention of a crime.
Searches, though, cannot be undertaken without consent. A security guard can deny entry or escort a person off the premises if they do not consent to a search, but that’s it. The only exceptions to this rule are where an item such as a rucksack has been left unattended and is raising suspicions. With no-one to acquire consent from, a search here can be legally performed. The other exception is where the owner of property is incapacitated. Here, a search of their belongings can be completed to establish their identity as a means of providing assistance.
Detainment: Security guards are able to legally detain a person under the powers conferred to all citizens as part of a citizen’s arrest. This means that they can deploy “reasonable force” to restrict the physical movement of someone in the process of carrying out an offence or who is suspected to have carried out one.
Making this a potentially grey area is the definition of “reasonable”. Although security guards are not allowed to use violence to detain a person, proving any force used was reasonable can be difficult should an incident lead to a complaint that must be settled in court. It is thus highly recommended that guards are provided with body-cam systems as video footage makes for more reliable testimony than individual witness statements.
Surveillance: Security teams are able to monitor CCTV from control rooms and dispatch guards to a location where it looks like their presence is needed. The rules, however, are more stringent when it comes to other forms of surveillance.
For example, biometric data, such as iris and voice recognition or fingerprints, is considered to be “personal data” under the GDPR and therefore cannot be taken without explicit consent.
This also makes some next-generation CCTV systems problematic as they are equipped for AI-driven facial recognition. As facial recognition is categorised as biometric personal data, these systems must be deployed with care, not least because they can be perceived negatively by guests.
This is a notoriously difficult question to answer and you should be wary of any resource that provides steadfast ratios. The number of guards you employ will depend greatly on a range of factors from the nature of the festival to the number of attendees, to the UK threat level at the time.
It’s also important to understand that quality trumps quantity. 10 highly trained security personnel will be more effective than 30 guards with little to no formal training.
Arguably the most important factor when determining the number of security guards needed is the presence of alcohol. If alcohol is not served at an event, one guard per 100-150 guests should be adequate. If alcohol is to be served, halve the number of guests per security guard – so one guard for every 50 to 75 guests.
It must be reiterated that this is a highly generalised ‘rule of thumb’ and should not form the basis of a final decision. An alcohol-free Arts & Crafts festival in a rural village is unlikely to require the same number of security guards as a Punk Rock festival. Nevertheless, when it comes to personal safety of attendees, it is always better to deal in definites rather than likelihoods.
If you’re really not sure, the best step you can take is to contact a security company and describe the nature of the event. They’ll be able to tell you the optimum number of guards needed to ensure that proceedings can pass without major incident.
Founded in 1996 as Churchill Security, Churchill Support Services provides an extensive range of security services to public and private sectors across the UK.
Our processes and solutions have been recognised by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) as being “industry-leading”, and we are currently ranked in the top 1% of all approved contractors. We are committed to the provision of unmatched, expert security solutions and customer service and dedicate much time to attaining external accreditations from renowned certifiers to prove this.
Whatever the nature of your festival, from a celebration of rock and heavy metal to the exhibition of classical symphonic orchestras, Churchill Support Services will tailor a security solution that ensures all risks can be mitigated. Whether that’s security guards manning doors, perimeter monitoring and car park management, or the installation of CCTV, your guests will enjoy a secure experience.