Security lessons from the G20 and Vancouver

May 10, 2012

Shelley Timms, B.A., LL.B., LL.M.
Timshel Services Inc.
Alcohol Risk Management

Recent events such as the G20 and the NHL Final in Vancouver are examples of what happens when security issues are not given the attention required. In once situation, there was inadequate time to train people for the situations that were expected and in fact did happen, and in the other, there appeared to be little planning at all.

Security is needed for most events from the most innocuous (in-house residence nights) to the regular (pub nights) to the obvious (Homecoming/major sports events). Its importance needs to be reflected in the planning. Like most matters, building a strong foundation is key. Security personnel, whether full-time or part-time, must be properly trained. Too often we see campus security not involving themselves in situations because “they don’t want to get hurt”.
When a situation occurs on campus, in most instances, the community is required to call campus police first, but if they refuse to get involved in de-escalating a situation, the situation will likely worsen, and time has been lost in the delay of calling police. If there are concerns about the involvement of security on campus, this needs to be communicated. Simply sitting back and complaining about the situation will not improve the situation and could be a recipe for disaster.

The first responder must make an assessment as soon as possible. That will start with the call-in, – location, how many, males/females, crowd situation, weapons, injuries. The assessment will continue throughout the incident — once the first security officers arrive (and they should be in pairs), they will continue to make their observations, and decide whether other officers and/or local police will be required.

Crowd control will be critical at all times. The incident may occur in the stadium or arena or pub where there will be many people but even in situations of an altercation involving 2-3 people, it can quickly turn into a spectator sport, or even a participatory event, if the crowd is not managed. The age of social media means that any situation can be fluid and change from controlled to out of control in seconds if there are not people who have a handle on the crowd.

If possible, talking (not screaming or yelling) needs to be attempted first. Only force that is reasonably necessary to bring the situation under control is legally allowed. There have been numerous cases involving the issue of force and each case will be decided on its facts. But the worst case situation is when security personnel lose their cool and therefore lose perspective on the situation. This is when more force than is necessary is used, and injuries result. Usually, the perpetrator becomes the victim and the security officer the “bad guy” resulting in potential criminal charges, and usually liability against the employer.

A common denominator in most situations where things go out of control is the lack of planning and training. One of the issues of the G20 riots was the fact that the meeting was moved to Toronto on fairly short notice. While there was around the clock planning by the police forces, it was still too short a time line to put proper procedures in place.
What is clear, is that for regular occurrences, there needs to be a plan in place and it needs to be reviewed on very regular basis.

There will certain campus events that happen every year, from Homecoming to Halloween, to certain sport events to particular pub nights. We know there are going to be issues, so the planning needs to occur immediately, involving all stakeholders, from the event planners to campus security to local police. Those who will be involved need to be trained properly if security is not a full-time job. The training can be found in a variety of areas and doesn’t need to cost a lot, but neither should it be short-changed. Cutting back on this cost could result in the bigger costs of property damage, injury and liability.

Make sure there is a plan of which everyone is aware. The plan will include how many people are required for security (which includes simply watching for exits and potential trouble spots, as well as actual hands on), trouble spots such as location, certain groups, and particular activities if the event is multidimensional.

It is also important to realize that problems may still occur. Therefore, it is important to have a bit of flexibility and to be aware that the unexpected may occur. Security is critical in that it is part of the “reasonably foreseeable” aspect of liability. One campus officer stated that when planning a major event, the team should look ahead to the worst possible situation and what would happen if that occurred, i.e. a coroner’s inquest. While that may seem a bit extreme, it forces the stakeholders to imagine the worst case, and then take steps to try to insure that it does happen.

There also needs to be constant follow up. For regular activities, such as pub nights, a following meeting with staff to review what went well and what didn’t go well, can help minimize further problems. Likewise, a meeting following a major event should occur to make recommendations for the next year.

Bear in mind that if there is a recommendation that an event should not occur in the future, the event may go underground and occur without the blessing of the institution. It still creates the same headaches and some potential liability without the control.

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