Orlando. Paris. Nice. Every new safety and security incident is a wake-up call for meeting and event professionals. The bottom line is that events and venues can be vulnerable. Wherever large crowds congregate can be tempting targets for terrorists or “lone wolves” with psychiatric problems. Even false alarms can send crowds into a panic.
In case you think this isn’t relevant to the types of events you plan and venues you use, consider these headlines–and this is nothing new:
- Toronto, Canada: CNE shuts down early after fights break out
- The Hague, The Netherlands: Al Gore at technology conference halted by bomb threat
- San Francisco, Calif.: Bomb Scare Halts OracleWorld
- Hanover, Germany: 21-year-old woman shot dead at wedding brawl
In the current environment what’s an event planner to do?
1. Conduct a risk assessment
There are companies that specialize in this area. They will even travel to foreign destinations and do a full audit of the hotels, resorts and event venues under consideration.
Areas to be assessed include:
- reviewing the venues emergency procedures
- determining if venue and event personnel have emergency procedures training
- determining how easily the general public can gain access
- ensuring that there are enough security cameras and that they are actively monitored
- identifying entrances, gates and doors that it is important to secure
- identifying potential hazards and hazardous areas should be cordoned
- locating fire exits
- ensuring ease of access for ambulances, police and fire trucks in case of an emergency
- locations for first aid and emergency services personnel
The main barrier to conducting security audits is that many corporate clients just don’t want to spend the money. For large events it is important to build a business case to demonstrate to the client why this is a wise investment. Present live examples and case studies to highlight the pitfalls of not ensuring due diligence in this area.
2. Remember, the larger the event, the higher the risk
3. If royalty, celebrities or dignitaries are attending or speaking, extra security measures are essential
Carefully suggest a venue that has these in place or develop and implement a plan to ensure the safety and security of high-profile speakers and guests.
4. Learn from other destinations and venues
I conducted an executive retreat in Egypt and noticed that the hotel in Cairo and Ain al Sukhna did bag inspections and had individuals pass through metal detectors similar to what airports use. Visitors to The CN Tower in Toronto also go through extensive security procedures before they are permitted to board the elevators to the top. There have been some complaints on TripAdvisor that the procedures are excessive, but it is a very tempting target so a high level of security is warranted.
5. Examine practices in other sectors of the events industry
Rigorous security procedures at concerts are nothing new. When Bob Marley performed in Toronto decades ago, at his request, there were bag searches. Today, in addition to bag searches, it is not unusual for concert goers, nightclub patrons and fans attending sporting events to be scanned with metal detectors and even frisked.
6. Determine which safety and security staff to have on-site. Prepare a list of emergency contacts.
Definitely include police, fire and ambulance but don’t forget hospitals. Identify and communicate with transportation companies that can assist if you have to clear an area on short notice.
7. Ensure that all event staff receives adequate training
Event and hotel staff needs to be familiar with emergency procedures. They need to know how to spot suspicious-looking packages and individuals, who to contact in an emergency and how to communicate and manage the crowd in case of emergencies. Off-duty flight attendants who are already trained in these areas are an untapped pool for sourcing event staff.
8. Prepare participants
If new security procedures are in order, it is important to communicate this to participants before the event. Give them a heads up of what to expect on arrival and give them some tips for preparing.
Given the current trajectory, metal detectors, bag searches, security dogs and frisking represent the shape of things to come for large business meetings, conferences and trade shows. Plan accordingly by planning for disaster with these best practices and essential contingency terminology.