Event security by the numbers: How a deployment matrix can help SWAT

We might want SWAT at every public venue, but we just don’t have the money and resources to do it


In the wake of the October 1, 2017, Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, the demand for police assistance skyrocketed at public venues. Although police departments had always been part of the preparations for concerts, sports games and other special events, the massive casualties inflicted in Las Vegas made governments and public venue organizers more aware of the risks and vulnerabilities associated with large gatherings of people.

In short order, SWAT teams throughout the United States found themselves overwhelmed with requests to provide security at public venues. The demand for SWAT-qualified immediate reaction teams, sniper-observer teams, K-9 handlers and explosive ordnance detail (EOD) teams placed a significant strain on the limited resources of most departments, and their SWAT personnel in particular.

Limited resources

In this Sept. 21, 2018, file photo, the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino reflects the last sunlight of the day along the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
In this Sept. 21, 2018, file photo, the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino reflects the last sunlight of the day along the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

The overwhelming majority of SWAT teams in the United States are collateral duty teams, in which the officers are regularly assigned to divisions like patrol or detectives, but can be mobilized to form the SWAT team when circumstances require. Unlike their full-time counterparts, collateral duty teams typically have fewer opportunities to train together and tend to have fewer personnel assigned to the team, so it doesn’t take many additional public venue assignments to stretch available resources thin.

While police professionals realize the importance of having qualified SWAT personnel on site at public venues to provide security for large events, the unfortunate truth is that there just aren’t enough trained SWAT personnel to cover the public venue calendar and still meet their obligations for tactical emergencies within the jurisdiction and mutual aid callouts. Somehow, the demand for additional security at public venues must be balanced with the training and operational workload that already exists for busy SWAT teams, with budgetary restrictions considered as well.

We might want SWAT at every public venue, but we just don’t have the money and resources to do it.

Objective assessment

Mark Lang, the lead sniper Instructor for Tacflow Academy, recently discussed this situation with the attendees at the California Association of Tactical Officers (CATO) annual training conference and suggested a way to deal with the problem in an objective and comprehensive manner.

Lang recognized that in many agencies, the decision to deploy a SWAT team in support of a public venue is often based on subjective measures. While this method may occasionally be effective, there’s always a risk that precious resources will be wasted on events where they were unnecessary, or that other events will lack the resources they need and deserve. A better system is required to ensure that we are using our limited resources wisely – one that emphasizes objective measures, rather than subjective ones.

The other matrix

The solution preferred by Tacflow Academy is to create a “Public Venue Deployment Matrix,” which evaluates the risks of an event and provides guidance on the type and quantity of assets to deploy in support of it. This evaluation is conducted using a matrix that assigns points to varying degrees of risk within specific categories. After each category is scored, the total number of points will be used to determine the recommended deployment.

Tacflow Academy’s model matrix evaluates the following risk categories and assigns them points, based on the nature of the risk presented:

  • Projected attendance. An event that will draw a small crowd is assigned fewer points than an event that will draw a large one. Tacflow’s model matrix assigns a single point for events that attract less than 10,000 participants, and 5 points for events that draw more than 60,000, with events falling in the middle getting between 2 and 4 points.
  • Type of event. Family events score low on Tacflow’s model matrix, while interscholastic, community, intercollegiate and commercial events are assigned more points to represent the elevated level of risk associated with these types of events.
  • Criminal intelligence. Low-threat environments are assigned a single point on the model matrix, but the presence of credible threats or actual attacks in foreign or domestic environments will increase the amount of points assigned by the matrix.
  • Dignitaries and VIPs. The absence or presence of dignitaries and VIPs will drive varying amounts of point assignments by the matrix. A dignitary or VIP who is the target of a credible threat will result in a large number of points assigned.
  • Media. The absence or presence of media at the event will also drive varying amounts of points in the matrix. An event which is likely to create controversy in the press will drive a higher amount of points.
  • Threat assessment. Alcohol sales, the nature of local criminal activity and threats, the anticipation of organized protests, and the ease with which deadly weapons can be brought into the venue (or used against participants from outside the perimeter) are all factors that will drive higher numbers of points assigned by the matrix.
  • Mass transit. The proximity of mass transit to the venue will have an influence on the points assigned, because it offers a means of ingress and egress for attackers, as well as a secondary target.

Tacflow Academy encourages agencies to add, modify, or replace categories as required, based on the specific needs of the department and community.

Should I stay or should I go?

Once each of the categories has been scored, the total number of points is used to provide a recommendation for deployment.

In the Tacflow Academy model matrix, events that score a low number of points will result in a recommendation to withhold SWAT assets, unless the geo-political situation dictates an override. Conversely, public venues that score a moderate number of points result in a recommendation to deploy a minimum package of SWAT assets to provide security at the event.

The makeup of this minimum package may vary depending on the agency’s capabilities, but Tacflow Academy’s recommended minimum includes 2 sniper overwatch teams, 2 immediate reaction teams, suitable K9 and EOD assets, and a large caliber rifle team. Public venues that score in the highest risk category will see this minimum deployment package get augmented by additional assets and capabilities, to ensure that police are ready for the elevated threat.

Simple and straightforward

The Tacflow Academy Public Venue Deployment Matrix is a valuable tool for agency leaders and SWAT teams because it allows an objective evaluation of risk to drive the deployment of expensive and limited resources. The matrix is simple and straightforward, and by using a formal process it eliminates many of the pitfalls associated with subjective, ad hoc evaluations. This encourages greater confidence in the process and final decision.

The matrix provides a scalable response to risk, which allows for the conservation of limited resources. Its consistency and transparency will help agency leaders justify the level of deployment to civic leaders, public venue providers and the SWAT team itself. It’s a powerful tool that every agency should consider.

For more information about Tacflow Academy’s Deployment Matrix, or their innovative training programs – which include reality-based training courses conducted onsite in public venues such as stadiums and arenas – visit https://www.tacflow.com/ or email info@tacflow.com.

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