“As a first step, planners should anticipate whether any of their attendees may bring firearms notwithstanding a ban,” says Joshua Grimes, Esq., of Philadelphia-based Grimes Law Offices. “If it’s possible that they might do so, the planner should engage event security to offer to check the firearm at the door. An attendee who refuses to leave his firearm at home or check it, when it is prohibited from bringing the weapon to the meeting, should be banned from attending.”
So you’ve got armed attendees, logic may dictate the need for armed security as well, right? There are certainly occasions when armed event security is necessary—such as when high-profile VIPs, royalty or politicians are in attendance.
The Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting took place while I was at a conference. So the next day, I queried a veteran security professional who was working the event.
“Would you prefer to be armed when doing security at an event like this?” I asked. An unwavering stare fell upon me as he responded, “How do you know I’m not?”
The ensuing conversation was revelatory. It can be just as strategic for firearms on security personnel to be visible as concealed.
“It depends on the situation,” the anonymous security staffer shared. “If a shooter enters the venue and sees I’m armed, I become the first target. And I can’t do my job and effectively secure the situation if I’m down.”
Thinking back, this logic was presented to me earlier in the year, albeit not as bluntly. In the wake of recent, high-profile shootings at meeting and event venues, security was heightened for the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, to include bag searches, explosives-detecting K9s and more personnel. CES is the world’s largest annual trade show, with 170,000 visitors, and temporarily home to more CEOs than any spot on the planet.
During the event in January, Ray Suppe, senior director of security for the Las Vegas Convention Center, explained some of the challenges and how this year’s CES was different for them—including the strategy behind armed security. The appearance of security officers is cyclical, Suppe said: One year, they’ll be decked out in uniforms clearly representative of security or law enforcement—with a visible sidearm—then that will shift to more relaxed, plain-clothed attire. However, if a high-profile incident takes place somewhere in the world, organizers become more interested in having security donned in severe, tactical gear. It’s an ever-changing, partially psychological strategy that affects the attendee experience: Do you want attendees to see the law enforcement presence (and if so, how extreme?) or is it better to have a force that’s invisible to guests?
These are questions that you need to ask of your C-suite, board, supplier partners and event security to ensure you move ahead with the strategy that best fits the needs of your brand and audience.
“Armed security on site may help, but would likely be an over-reaction for most meetings. Armed security might also provoke or exacerbate a confrontation,” Grimes warns. “As a general rule, I would not recommend armed security unless the activity at the meeting would otherwise make it appropriate for protection, such as when a high-level VIP will be attending, the group is particularly controversial or it has experienced violence in the past.”