In today’s uncertain world, event organizers and host cities find themselves operating in complex multi-stakeholder environments. Among the challenges they may face are homegrown violent extremism, cyber-criminal attacks on data and IT networks, event cancellations due to severe weather, and oversaturated calendars offering competing events that visitors may choose.

Within this uncertain environment, how can event organizers and host cities enhance their resilience to manage the known (familiar and consistent occurrences) and prepare for the unknown (external, uncontrollable occurrences)? There are three proven concepts to help your team prepare for these complex and dynamic environments: risk-based event planning and decision-making; “secure by design” principles for enhancing safe and secure guest experiences in crowded places; and the performance of operational readiness exercises.

Over the last two years, I have been surveying the industry to gain a deeper insight into how event organizers across North America manage risk. Surprisingly, less than 33 percent have documented their risks through what is known as a risk register (a list of potential unwanted outcomes resulting from an incident, event or occurrence). Even fewer have identified and assigned a person in their organization to be responsible for assuring that appropriate risk-control measures have been implemented.

This is not to say that event organizers are not actively managing known risks. Rather, most have not implemented a structured approach to risk management to ensure that foreseeable event risks are identified, assessed, evaluated and documented. A risk management plan is fundamental to ensuring that your team understands the event risk ecosystem and how the organization will prepare for and manage potential incidents.

The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the recent mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California forever changed our mind-set about which events could be the targets of violent, deliberate attacks. Protecting crowded places will be an enduring challenge for event organizers and public safety agencies for the foreseeable future.

The Boston Marathon bombing and other events have changed the mind-set of what types of events are vulnerable. Photo: Matt Rourke/AP Images

So how can we enhance the safety and security of our events? During the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London, we adopted the “secure by design” methodology. The plan integrated design, people and process (what I refer to as soft measures) with technology and security barriers (known as hard measures). This approach is equally applicable to all events, regardless of their size, scale and scope. Through understanding the level of risk and potential security threats to the event, event organizers and their security partners are able to adopt a more pragmatic approach to identifying and applying appropriate levels of security measures based on the event risk profile.

Leading up to the opening ceremony for the 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, I asked myself whether our security team was “mission ready” to manage uncertainty and adversity during the event. While plans, policies and procedures provide the foundation for successful event delivery, it’s training and operational-readiness exercises (tabletop exercises, walkthroughs, simulations and drills) that put the team in operation mode. That can be accomplished through a series of readiness exercises to prepare them to manage the known and enhance their ability to respond to the unknown.

While we may not be able to predict when and where a risk may materialize, event organizers still have the opportunity to proactively identify risks, assess the potential impacts and develop a plan to help the organization and team members be ready to respond when the moment calls.


Peter Ashwin is the principal and founder of Event Risk Management Solutions, a security consulting practice. His work has included six Olympic Games, the ICC Cricket World Cup and the European Games. He will present the CSEE certification course for Sports ETA at TEAMS ‘19 in Anaheim. To register for the course, click here.