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by Senior Editor

World Cup security: Preparing for the unexpected

Jun 07, 20107 mins
IT Leadership

Security veteran Bill Besse details the complex planning that goes into protecting a client at the world's largest sporting event

The FIFA World Cup games kick off on June 11 in South Africa. One of the largest sporting events in the world, it features multiple games occurring across numerous cities, posing myriad logistical and communication challenges in an already volatile, high crime area.

So what’s the biggest challenge in protecting World Cup attendees? Willam Besse says it’s probably not what you think.

Besse is vice president, consulting & investigations, with security and risk mitigation company Andrews International; he is the former CSO of Belo Corp. and has played a role in past security planning for the Olympics held in Athens, Torino and Beijing. Besse is now spearheading efforts for a large Andrews client who is attending the World Cup and hosting events throughout the month. Besse spoke with CSO about the issues surrounding plans for client security and the unexpected event that concerns him most.

CSO: You’re involved with the security arrangements for a large client who is participating in some way with the World Cup. What kind of work have you been doing to prepare for the event?

Besse: Preparations started that over a year ago when the client did an event in Istanbul, Turkey. Part of the event was moving the World Cup from its home in Zurich, Switzerland to a special event being hosted by this client in Istanbul.

Amazingly, the logistics of moving that sports icon, one of the most recognized sports icons on the face of the Earth, was complex. Outside of the United States people want to see it, touch it. Moving it became more complex than we thought it was going to be. It travels and people travel with it. It has its own special case and rules about how it is to be secured and stored.

Also see Employee Safety in Global Hotspots

Our client is deeply involved in the World Cup and we have been helping them plan with logistics for having a large number of people associated within their organization and associated with their organization traveling from all over the world to South Africa to attend the World Cup event, which is a month-long event.

In contrast to the Super Bowl, which is certainly a world event, but it’s a week and involves two teams, the World Cup is a month and involves 32 teams at 12 or 13 stadiums. Some of these venues are near 100,000 capacity. When you put the events side by side, the World Cup is the largest sporting event that exists right now.

It has some complexities involving security and logistics and moving people and securing really the entire country, which is sort of unstable in spots to begin with.

So what is your biggest challenge when it comes to security at the event? What’s top of mind in the planning?

We can talk about all of these sexy things like terrorism and street crime and so forth. But when you have a large number of people you need to protect, as we do with our client, my experience tells me when you get a few hundred or a few thousand people together in an emotionally charged environment, and they’ve been traveling, and there is all sorts of excitement, they are tired. A medical emergency is one of the most pressing events that can occur.

What we found out in South Africa is there are some hospitals there you don’t want to be receiving critical medical care in. This particular client and a lot of the larger sponsors of this will arrange to have their own emergency medical care available. In the planning for the World Cup, security at each venue is designed in layers. In looking at diagrams, and in talking to people involved, they actually have in most venues these hard-wall perimeters built around zones of protection leading up to access to the stadiums at most of these venues. Hard walls built around the stadiums.

The World Cup organizing committee there has emergency medical care arranged of their own and they are going to allow first aid and emergency medical services access. But if you have a sponsor group there with a few hundred people and you have a emergency medical situation, you may not want the government emergency medical care. You may want your own emergency medical care that you’ve arranged through a contractor, like SOS International, because its of higher quality and you can choose which hospital you have your customer transported to, verse having the government make that decision.

This is a critical issue that needs to be resolved. And usually the way these things are resolved is through a lot of good, advanced planning. Advanced work and planning and having a good partner who is South African will go a long way toward gaining access, being able to have control of emergencies that come up, whether a common medical emergency other event.

350,000 to 375,000 people die every year of sudden cardiac arrest. That is probably the most serious medical event that might happen when you have thousands of people traveling from other parts of the world to a venue. Getting access to them and getting them evacuated to an emergency care facility is going to be one of the top challenges. Statistically speaking, there is a much larger chance of that happening than a terrorist attack.

With the sheer volume of people to consider at the World Cup, what do you need to consider when it comes to crowds?

Having some advance work on the ground there as to where exits are, where entrances are, the badging, the credential issues, are going to be very stringent there.

Also see Modern Crowd Control Lessons from Ancient Pompeii

We’ve already filled out forms that are very detailed about your name and nationality and matching credentials with tickets to the venue. There are two different issues there.

World Cup tickets are sold and the largest contingent of any nation will be Americans. Over 100,000 Americans have purchased tickets (See video of a crowd stampede at this year’s World Cup warm-up games). But having a credential isn’t going to mean you will have a seat in the venue. Just having a credential won’t get you in. So how can you provide those services without an actual seat? Where are you going to be? How are you going to know if there is an emergency taking place, say, in a sky box? Are the people that are going to be present trained adequately? Do they have the proper skills and know how to provide emergency medical care?

If a security team hasn’t done adequate advance work to ensure they have a ticket to the venue with access to seats, they may not even have access to where their client is watching the event. So that is a challenge and something that has to be worked through, because they will only allow so many tickets.

When you are in charge of private security for a client, do your plans sometimes bump up against the plans of event security?

Sometimes. You can’t walk up there the day of the event and expect that will be workable. You have to open a line of communication ahead of time and have a partner that is South African. You also have to be sensitive to cultural issues. There are also linguistic issues.

Having someone on the ground ahead of time to work through those things, and who has the professional contacts to work through those things, is an absolute necessity. [Editor’s note: see the book excerpt Conducting a Protective Security Advance.]That’s what makes it successful so it blends into the background and it can be present but not obtrusive.

Sometimes if you’re in the government, it’s real easy to have gates closed and open, streets blocked. In the private sector, it is more challenging. You have to make these arrangements ahead of time so what you do compliments what the event venue security has planned.

If there is something glaringly missing, I would want to work with the venue organizing committee and with the arrangements they’ve made for security. And it’s much better to work that out ahead of time.