The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is the international tech industry’s biggest annual gathering. The show is massive, the last one having attracted nearly 185,000 participants. Not only is CES the biggest show in Las Vegas, a town that’s all about big shows – it’s the biggest trade show in the United States, period.
In this blog, Christian West and corporate event security expert Andy Jaeger draw on years of CES experience to point out the six things that make CES interesting – and challenging – from a security perspective.
1. CES is THE place for new tech
Last year at CES 2017, 67,000 exhibitor personnel introduced 109,000 industry attendees to thousands of brand new tech products. Equal parts global PR platform and good old-fashioned trade show, CES is the place where many highly anticipated technological innovations – as well as plenty of surprises – are unveiled. This is where the new gadgets and gizmos, the ones that will soon be hitting the stores and changing our lives, first meet the public.
Event security is always primarily about protecting people, and security for CES is no different. But because it introduces so much new tech, often in the form of shiny new things that represent billions of dollars in sales and share prices, security at CES is also very much about asset protection.
Event security takeaway: Event planners and CSOs will want to make sure that security providers can provide robust proof of how they will protect highly valuable physical assets. From build-up to tear-down – and everywhere in between. Maintaining a friendly and open guest experience, while at the same time protecting against everything from simple theft to sophisticated industrial espionage, is a challenge for all of us working in event security. At CES, the challenge is that much bigger.
As is well known, most theft is internal. We don’t know how many flat screen TVs we’ve pulled out of dumpsters over the years, but it’s more than a few. There are a lot of people working internally at such a massive show, and it’s impossible for corporate event security teams to keep an eye on all of them. Protecting assets entails working closely with logistics providers, venue security managers and staff, unions (remember, Vegas is a union town) and other stakeholders to make sure systems are set up to deter and discover “accidentally thrown out electronic devices” and more.
2. CES is so big that it’s different
The build-in started right after New Year’s Day and lasted a very intensive week. The next CES will probably have close to 250,000 participants and will cover at least two and a half million square feet (232,000 m^3) of exhibition space. Even in Las Vegas, which holds over 20,000 conventions per year, CES is a big deal. In fact, it’s the biggest deal in a town that’s used to some very big deals, and it creates significant logistical challenges for everyone.
Event security takeaway: You snooze you lose. Demand for event security services is high, and there are supply issues for practically everything corporations will need. For example, the Las Vegas Convention and World Trade Center, the main venue, hires over 350 security guards locally all by itself, just for CES. Get organized and book resources early – or you’ll be left behind with second-tier solutions.
But event planners and security teams must also really sharpen their scheduling skills to achieve success. Build-in and build-out periods are hyper-busy, too, with thousands of people moving around millions of dollars’ worth of new tech. Careful planning and execution are essential to ensure end-to-end security.
3. CES attracts a LOT of media
Last year more than 7,000 print, online and broadcast professionals attended CES. They generated nearly 60,000 media mentions worldwide in intense competition to be the first to break a story and provide their audiences with the latest tech news. A lot of the coverage is immediate: journalists armed with everything from iPhones to onsite studios are ready to capture what’s new and interesting, and upload it to the internet in minutes.
Event security takeaway: We’ve seen people do all kinds of things at CES. One moment a guy is trying to pocket a thousand-dollar gadget; the next moment someone is staging a spontaneous, one-man demonstration meant to highlight grievances against a brand or CEO.
Welcome to the front page. Are you ready to go viral with everything you do as security professionals, from greeting guests to taking care of critical incidents? How security personnel react to these occurrences is important not only to the protection of people and assets, but also to corporate reputations. Event security teams need to approach CES in the same way they would work a live broadcast show, because that’s what it has become. If they don’t plan ahead and train how they will defuse eye-catching disturbances, they might become news, too.
4. The guest list at CES reads like a who’s who of the corporate elite
CES attracts more prominent players in the tech industry than any other event. In 2017, 38 of the Fortune 500 exhibited. Hundreds of CEOs from the U.S. and abroad attend each year. While at the show, thought leaders and tech visionaries engage in nearly non-stop activity, holding a wide variety of keynotes, press conferences, and one-on-one meetings. These VIPs pack in dozens of appointments in a day and have precious little time to stand in line.
Event security takeaway: Event security teams must work closely and seamlessly with executive protection professionals tasked with safeguarding tier-one and tier-two execs who have tight schedules and sky-high productivity goals. Only by coordinating across all security layers, from venue security to EP teams, from arrival at the front (or back) door to moving between pavilions, can event security teams ensure that key executives move efficiently from appointment to appointment.
5. One show, one city, one week – many events, locations and stakeholders
CES officially ran from Sunday, January 7 to Friday, January 12, 2018. Peak traffic times were at opening and closing Tuesday – Friday. CES has 11 official venues grouped in three parts of the city: Tech East, Tech West and Tech South. All the big players have booths at the convention center – as well as extensive, by-invitation-only activities at major hotels. Depending on what the corporation has going on at CES, event security teams might have to effectively double their activities to cover both booths at the convention center and event security needs.
And yes, expect traffic to be a mess.
Event security takeaway: Multiple locations impact manpower requirements, of course, but it also has consequences for the kind of event security management you need.
For one thing, be sure to hire security drivers who know their way around town. They are more secure than other types of ground transportation, and they will know the back roads and alternative routes. They won’t get you there fast. Nothing in Vegas traffic is fast during CES. But they will get your VIPs there safer and faster than others.
For another thing, remember that corporate event security professionals will need to cooperate with multiple sets of stakeholders that range from convention venue security to hotel security, local law enforcement, trade unions and more. In our experience when navigating all of these stakeholders, experience and a good deal of emotional intelligence go a long way.
Executive protection teams should know that it’s possible to meet arriving private aircraft on the tarmac at McCarran International Airport – but only if the vehicle is registered and has a TCP number. This is another good reason to plan early – registered vehicles and the best security drivers usually get booked far in advance.
6. Relying on existing security will be OK for some – but not for all
CES event security was ramped up in 2017 and 2018. This included new restrictions on bag sizes and numbers, baggage screening, photo IDs, and more. Given recent events in USA, expect even tighter restrictions in 2019.
However, since the show must go on, and because the number of visitors is so huge, the effectiveness of these measures is not absolute. We all know this as security professionals: There are , always trade-offs between complete safety and complete freedom of movement. Clogging the arteries of CES with show-stopping lines did not seem to be an option in 2017, and there were widespread reports of the new guidelines not being met. One seasoned tech journalist even did a piece on “security theater” at CES (their words, not ours).
Event security takeaway: Major corporations who invest heavily in CES will want more event security than what the venues provide. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not knocking what our colleagues at the convention centers and hotels do. We’re just pointing out that there’s only so much that they can do – and that they’re there to protect everyone, not any one specific corporation.
Corporations who spend significant resources on CES will want to add their own, dedicated event security teams, and tailor their services to match the corporation’s specific needs in terms of security and the branded guest experience