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Mitigating Risk: Why Hiring Security First, Not Last Will Keep You Safer

Guest Feature: Justin Hale

We all know security is a must-have for every event. We need security at the gates, at the stage and backstage areas, and some roamers throughout the venue to keep a general watch on what’s going on. Often, we plug a number into our budget and find a security company that can provide the number of guards we need that falls within the budget. Then we can check security off the list and move on to the next thing, right? Yes, but...

According to Justin Hale, an Army veteran and CEO of Citadel Security USA, that is the perfect recipe for disaster. With more than 500 employees and operations based out of Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, and Utah, Justin and Citadel Security have covered more than a few events. As a result, he has a few thoughts on how security should be considered instead. From his experience, security should be thought of first, not last.

Justin Hale

“Events that involve security in the planning process go a lot better - hands down - compared to those who tell us they need X-number of guards to show up on the day of the event. Events that don’t involve security early end up missing things and those things end up occupying a lot more time than they should,” says Justin.

The best plans are created when working with local law enforcement and sheriff's departments, fire and ambulance teams, as well as state and federal agencies and the event organizers. Plans must cover everything from how to handle disorderly conduct to mass evacuations and active shooters, must be written out, and be easy to execute by the top officer down to the bottom officer and even by the patrons.

“Planning equals efficiency. I have learned during my career that the better we can plan and the more familiar we can get with each person on the team, the better prepared we are to overcome any obstacle set before us,” he says.

Continuous networking with law enforcement agencies across all jurisdictions has been integral in getting buy-in and support from local agencies for Justin. In doing so, he is able to elevate the level of overall safety for event guests and staff as well as gain valuable intel on available resources. One such resource that he highly recommends all events and security directors take advantage of are fusion centers, or “intel hubs” that are used to share resources, expertise, and information in order to detect criminal activity across law enforcement agencies. This is done by sharing all available information including from social media, police reports, and on-site at events. The ability to communicate with local fusion centers was a direct result of Justin’s networking and is something that he uses at every event along with feedback from officers on the ground. He also likes to reach out to Homeland Security and invite them to the events to help.

“I bring in every person I can because we all want the same mission. You just have to be aware of who to reach out to. I recommend developing a network and that network will flourish,” says Justin.

You can reach your local fusion center via your local law enforcement, if ever needed.

Citadel’s goal is to bridge the gap between law enforcement and security with a focus on excellent customer service. One way Justin and his team do that is by creating a military-based command and information deployment structure that starts with a security director and 8-16 officers with military or law enforcement backgrounds.

“It is impossible for me as security director to control a venue with hundreds of security officers; it leaves the client vulnerable,” he says.

Instead, he runs the leadership team, the leadership team runs their teams, and on down.

Networking is also very valuable when building a team. Again, Justin relies on his military background and his long-standing relationships with military vets. But he also builds relationships during each event he works, often recruiting some of the local law enforcement staff from one event to be part of his leadership team at another event. His leadership staff generally have real-world experience as police and military, he then works to teach them his philosophy of risk mitigation and de-escalation and set expectations from both himself and the event organization.

“You can train anybody to do gate security or check wristbands, but at a high level, your team has to be thinking of the bigger picture,” according to Justin.“We work hard to be the calm in the storm and that is done by keeping the customer experience a top priority along with countless hours of training to de-escalate situations. At every event we know that people are there to have a good time and at times that involves drinking. Our job is to make sure that is done in a safe environment. People want to come back because of the event, but also because the security was there to ensure safety, not just be the muscle.”

Of course, Justin trains his team to be “the muscle” if needed, but they focus mostly on being the voice of reason and recognize that some guests may not be thinking clearly. COVID compliance enforcement particularly benefits from this approach.

“We have to put officers in those situations to de-escalate. It hasn’t been a smooth road for everyone and enforcement takes a huge amount of training. We have to understand what a person is thinking and not focus on changing or fighting the rule, but to help with the situation overall,” he said of COVID enforcement.

Successful security all comes down to planning and preparation. Security needs to be involved in early stages of planning to mitigate risk and ensure optimal safety for everyone.

“When the event organizers, law enforcement, and the community all work together and support the event, man, that’s fun to be part of,” says Justin.

Justin’s Parting Words of Wisdom

  1. Involve security in the planning phase so they can be an asset. Events spend a lot of money on security, make sure you are working with the right team who wants to bring value to the event.

  2. Research the security company properly. Make sure that company’s philosophy matches that of the event. Ensure their approach to security matches your expected response. If de-escalation is your preferred approach, find a team that provides that method.

  3. The best run events are those with great team cohesion. Bring department heads together to build rapport and encourage communication prior to the event so they feel comfortable bringing up issues or problems with each other.

  4. Let the new person ask questions and remember that a new perspective is good. It’s intimidating for someone new to walk into a room of folks who’ve all worked together before, so make sure that person feels comfortable, make them part of the team so they can bring value to the team.

About Justin

Justin Hale is an Army veteran who relies heavily on his military background and training as security director and consultant. He’s the owner of Citadel Security USA. After 8 years in the Army followed by a stint as Director of Security for an Ambassador to the US, Justin realized that there was a need for a security company in the Western Slope of Colorado that bridged the gap between law enforcement and security. In 2007 he started Citadel Security USA with a core group of veterans focused on bridging that gap and providing quality service.

Today, Citadel employs more than 500 officers with locations in Iowa, Missouri, Colorado, and Utah. They have provided security services for large music festivals, the world ski championships, ESPN televised events, food and wine, county fairs, the Junior College World Series, sporting events and more. But no matter what the event, Justin says the most important thing is to involve the security team in planning from the beginning.

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