Most of us grew up learning that if we wanted some directions or needed help we should go and ask a policeman. Times however have moved on and we now tend to find ourselves looking for someone carrying a clipboard or wearing a high-vis jacket. It’s incredible the level of confidence a high-vis can instil in your average member of the public. The jacket makes them look part of a wider team, official and if they are branded then clearly, they must be someone important. However, the reality is somewhat different – with many people now wearing them simply to stop themselves being run over by errant motorists – we need to check who we are asking for advice before doing so.
There is however a much more important distinction here that needs to be made, particularly when it comes to events and public safety. A large number of high-vis jackets tends to make crowds think they are safe, being looked after and generally secure. However, not all high-vis wearing individuals are the same, with the biggest difference being between stewards and security. To the public it might not appear to matter but those two groups will have undergone very different levels of training and are there for a very different purpose. Consequently, organisers of events need to fundamentally appreciate the difference in the two roles and plan accordingly.
Stewards are a vital part of any event, they help guide participants, marshal larger crowds, offer advice and are ultimately a front-line, customer service focused role. A good steward should have a wide understanding of the event, be aware of where facilities and infrastructure are and generally be able to help answer most questions a visitor might throw at them.
Security guards are a different matter altogether. First of all, they should be licensed professionals, they should be part of a wider security team focused on safety. They are not there for an organiser to hastily reassign to another role or “borrow for a few minutes” and they must at all times adhere to their assigned tasks, taking their lead for no one other than the head of security.
There is a perception that a lot of stewards on site will make people feel better and safer. However, this is not necessarily backed up by reality. Organisers must make the distinction and ensure they are hiring the right people for the right job. Stewards are vital and have an important role but they are not a substitute for licensed security professionals, in fact it is worth noting that stewards are not licensed. On-site security needs to be handled by professionals who know what they are doing and are capable of reacting the right way under pressure.
There was one recent example of a security crisis at a major event. Afterwards members of the public complained that security reacted badly, ran away and didn’t help. The truth though was that those individuals were stewards, people very capable at their assigned role but not in the face of violence and terror. The lack of distinction between the two roles was apparent and it highlighted the fact that the organiser hired stewards but gave them a security role. That is a big mistake and puts lives at risk.
Ultimately a well-run event needs both stewards and security guards. It needs the right balance of both, they need defined roles and there should be no cross over. Working together the two teams can create incredibly successful and safe events for all in attendance.