Operations

How To Handle High-Profile Funerals

Jim Luff
Posted on May 24, 2019
Officers gather for a Dec. 29, 2014 officer funeral at the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel in New York City. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Patrick Cashin/ Metropolitan Transportation Authority)

Officers gather for a Dec. 29, 2014 officer funeral at the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel in New York City. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Patrick Cashin/ Metropolitan Transportation Authority)

I have been honored to organize the transportation of many high profile funerals. Such funerals include those of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty, soldiers, celebrities, politicians, or any VIP who draws media attention.

These services tend to draw long processions of vehicles and spectators. They can be filled with pomp and circumstance. Precise planning and execution are required. This mean you have to interact with many entities such as the funeral home, the family, security or police, and sometimes even the media. Learn what kind of planning is involved to make the event flow smoothly.

Setting the Stage

Most importantly, project yourself as an expert on handling this type of transportation. Remember, you likely do funerals on a regular basis. For the people involved in a funeral, it is a lifetime event. The exception to that is a law enforcement or fire service funeral where many protocols are followed based on a playbook. However, being an expert on your portion of the planning will be appreciated by all of those you work with.

As soon as you agree to handle a high-profile service, always reach out to the funeral director and establish a working relationship. The director will be invaluable to you in knowing who is who in the family, the estimated size of the funeral, and other vital details. Such information can help you deliver flawless service.

Landing the Assignment

Don’t wait for someone to call you. They might call someone else. Contact the public information office for law enforcement or fire department funerals. For government dignitaries such as city, country, or parish officials, call their office. Offer your services for immediate family while expressing condolences. I always comped this ride and inevitably many more rides would be ordered.

There are many sources of income for these rides but you might have to wait to get paid. Funding might come from their union or a benevolent fund or organization. Your initial offer to provide transportation will open the door for other participants. For example, when famous country singer Buck Owens died in 2006, his company and family directed many celebrities to me who attended the funeral.

Getting a Police Escort

Getting a police escort for a funeral not involving a fallen police officer or firefighter might take an act of Congress, unless you approach the right law enforcement agency with the right request. In general, law enforcement will usually decline to provide an escort for any private citizen.

As famous as Owens was for his days on Hee Haw and Buck Owens Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, Calif., his family approached the local police department and were declined. The procession would take us on state highways to get from the church to the cemetery. I contacted the Captain of our local office of the California Highway Patrol with my request. I cited my concern that the procession of limousines and private vehicles would be very long and I worried that people would ignore traffic signals to stay in the procession. I also feared for pedestrian safety as many stars would be present and fans would be trying to take photos in our path. The very next day the CHP determined our route of travel, what intersections would have an officer stationed to control traffic, and which highway on-ramps would be closed as we passed by. Don’t ask for a favor. Ask for the safety of your local citizens.

The Route of Travel

Make sure that every chauffeur participating in the move knows the entire route of travel for the entire day. I once had a vehicle fourth in line that pulled over because a passenger became sick. The chauffeur had no idea where the procession went and was tardy to the church. Routing is important. Choose the most efficient route between all locations. If law enforcement is providing an escort service, ask the sergeant in charge for the preferred route. Once the route is determined, do a dry run before the event so every chauffeur knows exactly where to park at the church and cemetery and make sure there are no places that would require a U-turn or a backing maneuver. Stretch limousines, vans, and shuttle buses should have clear access to all entrances and parking lots. Enable all vehicles to make the turns needed on small cemetery roadways.

Communications

Distribute all the cell phone numbers of every chauffeur participating in the trip on a list. That phone list should also include the funeral director’s number and the officer in charge of your escort detail. You might also consider adding the phone numbers of the church, the cemetery, and the reception facility, just in case. If a vehicle is blocking the pre-determined drop-off point at the church, you need to be able to call the church office immediately and have the vehicle moved. If you want to take communications between chauffeurs to the next level, you can buy a five-pack of walkie-talkies from Amazon for $60. They include earpieces and allow communications of up to two miles. This allows the lead chauffeur to communicate with all chauffeurs participating without the passengers hearing the chatter.

Delivering precision service starts with a plan and proper attire. Every chauffeur should wear the same uniform. (LCT file image)

Delivering precision service starts with a plan and proper attire. Every chauffeur should wear the same uniform. (LCT file image)

Precision Service

Delivering precision service starts with a plan and proper attire. Every chauffeur should wear the same uniform. You never want two chauffeurs with coats on and one without. Since the route is predetermined, stay together and close but not so close you might rear-end the car ahead of you. The lead car following the hearse must always park at least 15 feet behind the hearse so the pallbearers can move the casket. All chauffeurs should stand just outside the passenger door, and the lead chauffeur signals to the others to open the doors to all vehicles at the same exact time.

Once the passengers exit, all chauffeurs should remain in the exact same position beside the vehicle until the passengers have entered the church or walked to the graveside.

Other Concerns

Try to determine who is who in the family. Recognize the widow(er) or ask the funeral director to point out. Offer to assist her (or him) with anything they need. Often, they are given plants, flags, photos, shells from volleys of gun salutes or other items you need to secure and safeguard.

The lead chauffeur should offer personal valet services for the day without being obtrusive. No one likes to be seen crying and high profile funerals will involve the media. You may need to shield the family from the media or ask media to step back before opening the doors of the vehicle for families to enter or exit. Position your body between the camera and your passenger if necessary. The funeral director will usually tell you ‘who is who’ and might even determine who rides in what vehicle. Sometimes family rifts exist and the director will share with you which family members need to be kept separated. This is more common than you might think.

Related Topics: client markets, funeral business, funeral vehicles, How To, law enforcement, special events, traffic assessment, VIP service

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
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