21-23 Jul 2021
ICC SYDNEY, DARLING HARBOUR

Person of Interest: Michael Tagai

Event Security Manager, International Convention Centre Sydney.

Whether it be for work or passion, most people have at some point attended an exhibition, conference or convention. As exhibitors or attendees at such events, we rarely take the time to consider exactly what goes into running such large-scale gatherings. From the logistics of protecting property during the load-in and load out stages, to the safety of people and product during, the challenge is enormous.

The Security Exhibition & Conference would have been hosted next week, from 22-24 July, so in this month’s Person of Interest we’re focusing in on what it takes to secure an event like ours, and any other conference or tradeshow.

In the case of the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Sydney’s Darling Harbour, these challenges are compounded by added factors such location, with Darling Harbour being one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia. The Security Exhibition and Conference is of course hosted at the ICC every second year, rotating between Sydney and the Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre. The person ultimately responsible for managing these challenges at the ICC Sydney is Michael Tagai, Event Security Manager.

Like so many in the security industry, Michael’s career is not the culmination of a well thought out and perfectly executed plan, but rather the bi product of series of fortuitous events.

Michael’s story begins like so many others, as a young university student blessed with an abundance of enthusiasm and a lack of financial resources. In need of part time work, it was a friend who initially suggested Michael might work with him one weekend, providing security at the Homebake Music Festival at Domain in Sydney.

Studying software development at the time, Michael jumped at the chance with little thought as to the impact this decision would have on the next two decades of his life. Proving to be a natural at security work, Michael quickly found himself being offered more and more opportunities. It wasn’t until he finished his studies that, through a series of unforeseen circumstances, he ended up making the transition into full time security work.

Michael explains “I had just finished my degree as a software developer at what would turn out to be the worst period possible for people looking to start a career in IT. As I was leaving University, both the Y2K phenomenon and the bursting of the tech bubble occurred within a very short period. At that point most organisations wanted nothing to do with university graduates. They were only interested in people with experience.”

As a newly minted software developer with nowhere to ply his skills, Michael turned to security, working the typical array of pubs, clubs, outdoor events and festivals. It wasn’t until 2004 that Michael was finally presented with an opportunity to join the security team at the old Sydney Convention Centre, where he worked for 10 years until the centre was shut down in 2014 for a complete rebuild.

Deciding to move away from event security, Michael pursued other opportunities until in 2017, just prior to the reopening of the newly developed International Convention Centre, Michael was given the opportunity to return as the Event Security Manager.

“I had no real plans to return to event security,” explains Michael. “I wanted a challenge. But when the opportunity arose to take over and run a ‘Greenfeilds’ sight, from scratch, I decided to throw my hat in the ring as it was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. I was fortunate enough to be chosen and so, here I am.”

When questioned about how he has seen event security evolve over the last decade, Michael quickly point to changes in technology, citing smartphones as one of the most prominent examples.

“Typically, security staff are discouraged from using smart phones while at work. But these devices can be an extremely useful tool as they enable staff to write on the spot reports, receive instructions, stay up to date on incidents, ensure they always have the latest procedures with them and so on. It is up to team managers and supervisors to ensure devices are being used correctly.

“There have also been significant developments in areas like safety and screening technologies. At the ICC for example, we offer a range of technologies for different events. However, not everyone wants a highly visible, overt security presence. In such instances, we now have the ability to deploy things like walk through metal detectors that the average person would not recognise as a metal detector. It just looks like a modern, stylish pole that might be used for a range of purposes. They’re quite good for low to medium risk events where we’re trying to encourage pedestrian flow through checkpoints.

“The other area that I believe has seen significant development is training. Up until recently (prior to the COVID-19 outbreak) it has been my experience that organisations seem to have been much more willing to invest in training for front line staff, to ensure a higher standard.” Michael believes this shift represents a change in thinking. “Previously, the prevailing wisdom seemed to have been that by investing in your senior leaders, that investment would trickle down through the ranks resulting in better performance. Now, it appears that companies are starting to understand that a rising tide lifts all boats. In other words, invest in your ground level staff and the whole organisation lifts, resulting in an investment your business and its long-term future.”

Michael believes this investment in frontline staff applies equally to technological developments.

“I understand that I have a particular bias towards guarding services as that is my background and focus. In times like these, there is a tendency amongst companies to want to invest in things like thermal cameras and video analytics to help deal with more immediate threats around bio-security or terrorism. However, as we have seen in the news over the last few weeks, without a properly trained guard force to support those resources, then there is very little real benefit. It just becomes security theatre. Sure, a thermal camera might detect a person with an abnormal temperature, but then what? What do you do with that information? How do you manage that person? Video analytics are proving to be extremely powerful tools, but they are only part of the puzzle and not the entire solution.

“The other development that has proven extremely beneficial for our team is the use of body worn cameras. They protect both the security staff and the public. More often than not, when a person is made aware that he or she is being recorded, it diffuses a situation. Equally, body worn cameras serve to hold staff to a higher standard as they know that their actions can be reviewed at any point.”

According to Michael, “The last few years have been extremely interesting. The last few months have been extremely challenging. Based on my experiences, I believe that resilience is the key to effective security, whether it be the in the event space, in technology or so on. There will always be challenges, changes, obstacles and the like. Both technologically, operationally and interpersonally. How we prepare for them, how we manage them and how we bounce back from is key to how effective we are.


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