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Alexandra M. Schwappach/MEDILL

United Center’s security is managed by At Your Service.  Safety measures include electronic security cameras indoors and outdoors, door alarms and 24-hour lighting and security personnel.


When two or more (thousand) are gathered, the name of the game is keeping people safe

by Alexandra M. Schwappach
May 24, 2011


The United Center seats more than 21,000 people.  Wrigley Field can pack in around 40,000.  Soldier Field holds about 60,000.

   

Chicago is host to many large-scale events every year, from games to concerts to parades.  And with thousands of people moving around, safety is critical.

 

One security expert put it simply: “A 500-person event is one thing, but once it gets up to Super Bowl status, it takes on a whole different meaning.”

 

And Chicago has experienced violence at large gatherings.

 

In 2005, two men were wounded and one killed near the corner of Wabash and Jackson in the Loop as more than 3.6 million people left the fireworks show at Taste of Chicago. The year before, a 15-year-old was wounded after being shot on Balbo near Columbus as crowds dispersed from Taste.

  

After Taste in 2008, gunfire left one dead and three wounded. Sources at the time criticized police, saying those assigned to the event were inexperienced and unprepared.

 

Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th), chairman of the Police and Fire Committee at the time, said of Police Supt. Jody Weis, "I don't know if he blew it, but I can tell you that there was unprecedented violence at the Taste of Chicago, and it was on his watch.”

 

Police said the following week that  they would focus on street crowds  for all subsequent Tastes and other big events. 

 

Police said the number of police deployed at Taste since then was not based on past crimes but on the size of the anticipated crowd.

 

This year's Taste will be from June 24 to July 3. Allpoints Security and Detective Inc., a 25-year-old private security company in Chicago, is often hired to augment security for this event and several others, including the annual Bank of America Chicago Marathon. They say planning is everything.

 

“For an event to be successful, a key component is the pre-planning,” said Brian Taylor, director of operations for Allpoints.  Taylor, who has worked in security for more than 20 years, said security personnel look at the what, the who, and the where to prepare.

 

The What

 

Event planners consult with Allpoints to look at what the event is and what type of crowd to expect.

“If it is an invite-only event, the crowd will probably be more subdued,” Taylor said. “But if it’s open to the public, you might not know who is going to show up.”

 

Another factor for security personnel to keep in mind is if alcohol is going to be served at the event. 

“If there is alcohol being served, we tend to beef up our security staff,” Taylor said.

 

Taylor said the hardest type of crowd to control is concertgoers.

 

“Sometimes when people arrive at a concert, they are already two sheets to the wind,” said Don Rashid, director of marketing for Allpoints. 

 

“They are doing things they might not normally do because they are under the influence,” Taylor said. 

For larger crowds—a Super Bowl-sized event for example—Allpoints needs extra medical responders and has to develop an evacuation plant, Taylor said.

 

“We always have emergency responders,” he said. “They need to know how to respond to all types of situations, like, for example, if someone is having chest pains.”

 

The Who: 

 

Taylor said during planning, security will ask: Who is going to be there?  Will there be dignitaries or celebrities in attendance?  If so, security needs to think about where these people will be safest and whether others in attendance will need clearance.

 

“Our job is also to make sure they have a safe and pleasurable experience at our event,” Taylor said.

Rashid said security also consults with event organizers to determine whether they should carry weapons.

 

“We get together with the event planners and, based on the threat-assessment of the event, decide if our personnel need to be armed,” he said. “It is a case-by-case analysis.”

 

Allpoints employees are all certified in security training.  Some employees are law enforcement officials, which allows them to make arrests, Rashid said. 

 

 The Where:

Allpoints considers whether the event is going to be indoors or outdoors, how many people the venue will hold and how large the anticipated crowd will be.

 

Some interests include pedestrians and vehicle placement: how cars are getting in and how cars are getting out, Taylor said.

 

During planning, Allpoints employees identify potential targets, both buildings and people.  Then they develop a strategy on how to protect these assets, Taylor said.

 

“We review the status of the event and the venue, determine the possible vulnerabilities and come up with [the] number of security personnel that we should have there,” he said.

 

The positioning of security staff is key.  Security needs to be heavy at the front and back exits, and also in the parking lot, Taylor said. 

 

“If our staff has high visibility, it gives people a psychological boost of security,” he said.

 

Chicago Transit Authority also takes extra precautions during events at which a high volume of people will be using public transportation.  Security for CTA is provided by the Chicago Police Department and other local law enforcement agencies, said Lambrini Lukidis, media representative for CTA.

 

“When there are special events that can attract large crowds, CTA works with these agencies to determine the most effective ways to provide a safe environment,” Lukidis said. “The deployment of officers is determined by the respective law enforcement agency.”

 

The number of security cameras at each rail station was also recently increased.

 

“The CTA has a fiber optic cable link that allows us to transmit real-time images to the Office of emergency Management and Communication,” Lukidis said. She said this is possible because of the funding the CTA has received from the Department of Homeland Security. 

 

As of last spring, more than 60 percent of CTA stations were equipped with more than one camera.

While the CTA is happy to boast about added security cameras, they are hesitant to speak of any detailed safety plans.  

 

“For security reasons, specific strategies are not discussed publicly,” Lukidis said.

Similarly, officials at Wrigley and Soldier fields would not comment on security issues, and United Center officials did not return calls.

 

But police are a part of security at all large-scale events.

 

Bruce Rottner, a deputy chief with the Chicago Police Department, said that before large-scale crowds, Bulls games for example, police officials will meet to develop strategies on how to manage the crowds.

 

“The police aren’t worried about rioting,” Rottner said. “We just prepare for a high exuberance of people.” 

 

He said this year police might have to prepare for a Bulls championship win.

 

“That hasn’t happened for 12 years,” he said. “So we have to be able to prepare for anything.”