Security isn't what travelers want to think about before heading to a vacation, but top tourist sites are working hard to keep visitors both secure and happy.
By Joan Goodchild, Senior EditorJuly 14, 2010 — CSO —
While many people are getting ready for their summer vacations, security professionals at tourist attractions around the country are preparing to ramp up their efforts. A recent Harris May Poll finds 66 percent of Americans will take a summer vacation this year—good news for the country's $704 billion tourism industry, which relies heavily on summer travel each year.
The last thing travelers have on their mind during vacation is security, and the top tourist sites around the U.S. want it to stay that way. But that doesn't come without an intense amount of preparation and work by officials in charge of security at tourist sites, according to Bill Farrar, senior vice president, operations & business development with security firm Andrews International. From museums and monuments, to theme parks and movie studios, there are different and unique challenges to securing each type of site.
"There is a different culture in each place, and that also depends on the state and part of the country it's in, too," said Farrar. "Security needs to be geared for the needs of that site."
Farrar, who during his career has overseen executive protection and investigations, including stalking problems, to ensure the welfare of numerous entertainment and executive clients of Andrews International, gives us a rundown of the security needs at some of the popular destinations sites for summer vacation.
Movie studio (Examples: Universal Studio, Warner Brothers Studio, Paramount Studio)
The biggest security concern in a movie studio where the public is allowed to come on site for tours is keeping those people that are working there feeling comfortable, said Farrar.
"They need to feel that they are able to do their jobs without being bothered or threatened by the general population," he said. "Everyone thinks of terrorism when it comes to security, but it's as much as the obsessed fan or stalker that can be anywhere from a pest to being deadly. You are dealing with all levels of it."
The challenge is to keep security tight while also allowing for employees to work without feeling too hindered. That means access control that is both appropriate and secure.
"We try and make the person who is there working every day feel comfortable going to work and that they are not going to be bothered and are free to do what they need to do."
Landmark site or museum (Examples: Washington monument, Statue of Liberty, Smithsonian Museums)
Depending on the nature of the site, they can truly be a target for security incidents, said Farrar. Many landmarks and museums have now implemented magnetometers for visitors to pass through before entering the building. This can cause a mixed reaction among tourists.
"Some people are fine, ready to go through it. Other people don't want to be bothered and will walk through and try and create a confrontation so you will confront them; they're hoping for some kind of legal dispute. Some people figure if they walk on through and act like they belong they'll just be allowed to go through."
Farrar said it is important for security personnel at these types of places to be changed out to varying roles frequently so they can stay sharp in the face of some of these challenges.
"Someone who is standing at the door for eight or nine hours without relief is going to get lax and not do their job."
Farrar said the other important role security folks must play at landmarks and museums is customer service representative.
"You want things to be secure, but also to appear as friendly and unthreatening as possible. So, it's going up to visitors and saying 'Hi, how are you? Can I help you find something?' At the same time you want a bad guy when he walks up to it know you mean business here. Greeting them lets them know that they are being watched."
Public spaces (Examples: Time Square, the Las Vegas Strip)
Because areas that are public spaces are not officially controlled by any one person or organization, security in these areas requires a combined effort between citizens and police.
"When you have venues like Times Square, or other locations where people will go to and it would make an impression if something happens, the community must be educated and authorities need to be approachable," said Farrar. If police don t have a relationship with the community, the community won't know what to look for, and may also be afraid to talk to the police."
Farrar says many successful awareness campaigns around the country that encourage citizens to pay attention, notice strange things, and report them, have resulted in stopping a catastrophe. The recent Times Square bombing attempt is one example.
"The Time Square attempt was all citizens being aware of what was going on and they may not have known what to look for if they hadn t been educated about what to look for," he said. "You can't do a policeman's job or a security function without the cooperation of the citizens."
Theme parks (Examples: Disney World, Six Flags, Cedar Point)
Tourists may sometimes get a little nervous before stepping onto a roller coaster at a theme park, but concern over a security incident is usually not on their minds. But security is just as important at a theme park as at any popular tourist spot, because if anything happens, it can ruin business, said Farrar.
"Everybody is going to go for the soft target," he said. "You don't want to make it easier."
The challenge is, of course, making things fun and secure.
"You have to be able to actually ward off threats, but create an atmosphere where everyone is comfortable."
Farrar said in his experience, an effective technique is fastidious upkeep of the grounds that work in tandem with a tight security plan. Appearance is everything, he said. And well-kept areas tend to attract less crime.
"The nicer it looks, the better it looks, the better people act," he said.
Public/Private venue (Examples: Navy Pier in Chicago, Faneuil Hall in Boston)
Venues that are open to the public for shopping, dining and entertainment pose a unique security challenge in that they are also sometimes used for high profile events. In these instances, security crews have to balance the need for higher security during events, but also make the venue as open as possible for others so businesses in the facility will not be impacted. Farrar has worked on security for a number of events involving the entertainment industry.
"We can do an event venue where you have a street shut down and have a red carpet, but I still have the rest of the facility open for business."
Security for these types of events usually means extra police and security around the entire facility, not just the event. And security also needs to be on hand for arrivals in order to ensure secure access control.