London-based Integrated Security Consultants Ltd (ISC) rose to a complex close protection challenge recently, when American Football took over the UK capital.
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers challenged the Chicago Bears at London's Wembley Stadium, the USA's National Football League (NFL) called on ISC to provide close protection and security not only for both football teams and their officials, but for the team of 34 cheerleaders accompanying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the visit.
The spectacular cheerleading displays were a crucial part of the pre-event publicity. Performing in several public engagements before the match, including the Oxford Street branch of a global sportswear retailer, they required one of the most demanding security operations on the tour. They also performed at Crystal Palace and in front of an estimated 50,000 people at the NFL 'Tailgate Party' outside Wembley Stadium before the game.
"The schedule was crazy," says Catherine Boyd, cheerleading manager for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "Engagements were from early morning to late at night, going from one event straight to the next. The timetable was fluid, changing from hour to hour, and we all went with the flow."
The operation required daily meetings with NFL's own security team, as well as constant liaison with security at the store, four London hotels and other venues on the visit.
"The NFL team received updates from the US Embassy and we discussed the overall security threat, which was considered 'severe' in London at the time," says Steve Mack, ISC Operations Manager and Security Operations Manager for the NFL visit. "Plans had to be adapted to accommodate frequent schedule changes so we had to be prepared, reacting swiftly to new circumstances."
He describes the store visit as one of the most operationally challenging events. As with all venues, the cheerleaders needed their own area to perform in, while the fans were set slightly apart ensuring the location was safe and that the performers felt comfortable.
"Cheerleading is a new experience for the UK public, so security had to be tight. In Oxford Street, we understood the store location and had good liaison with the management and their security. We deployed staff in from other jobs and to boost our close protection teams while the cheerleaders were there. We liaised with the hotels or venues throughout the visit and carried out reconnaissance of all locations beforehand."
"The security team definitely made our job easier," says Catherine Boyd. "It's difficult enough trying to keep people away when we have just six girls but here we had thirty-four! The team could see things we couldn't see; they're trained to identify what may not be a secure situation. There was always someone around us and they went above and beyond their duty, even making sure we had our Sharpies for signings!"
"Not only did they take care of us in a security sense, but they were also very friendly, professional and the girls were really reassured by their presence," continues Boyd. "We were also here two years ago and it was great to land and see familiar faces in our security team. It made us feel at home, we really have built a very good relationship."
The cheerleaders' visit passed off without incident, ensuring that all media interest remained on the carnival-style atmosphere they generated, as well as the action on the pitch. "A successful security operation such as this doesn't happen by chance," says Mack. "It was all down to planning and using our assets wisely."