You’ve secured a venue, contracted vendors and selected a menu, but have you considered the safety of your guests? If your idea of event security is the property’s uniformed security guard or a burly, suit-clad bouncer checking off names at the entrance, think again. While neither are bad options, they shouldn’t be your only ones.
In the sporting world, the best defense is known to be a strong offense. That’s also true when it comes to event security. Start by thinking of the numerous things that could go wrong, and get to work creating a course of action to prevent and/or combat them.
“Develop a contingency plan for every meeting, regardless of size or purpose,” says Brad Goldberg, a retired U.S. Air Force major, and owner of TriGold Consulting, a firm that specializes in contingency planning and risk management for meeting professionals. “Walk the meeting space, talk to hotel staff and always refine your procedures to ensure you are ready to meet any potential issues that may arise.”
Goldberg suggests planners create checklists to stay on top of various security-related issues. Take into account medical, weather, technological and human frailty concerns. Share these plans and checklists with the venue’s chief security officer, and be sure to get the security officer’s contact information.
If your event isn’t the only one happening in the facility at the time, it’s possible that the venue’s in-house security may be stretched too thin. Talk with the venue to find out what procedures they have in place. Then, fill in any gaps, if they exist. All you may need is to hire a couple of plain-clothes officers to blend into the crowd.
“The event site needs to be secured from every entrance and exit standpoint,” says Wendy Pangburn, whose company, Pangborn Partners, organized the Jan. 20 Lincoln 2.0 Inaugural Ball in honor of President Obama. Pangburn also suggests planners keep close watch over what is brought on site, inventorying every box and delivery item. “The planner should know exactly what the delivery is, who brought it in, and who is responsible for the item to assure that no one tampers with it at any time,” Pangborn says.
Jennifer Collins, CMP and president of Washington, D.C.-based The Event Planning Group, recommends restricting who has access to event areas, especially places where sensitive information and money is kept. “Having room monitors who are able to watch the guests and any packages left [behind], or watching for anything out of the ordinary is key,” Collins says. “Placing cameras in key locations that [are] not outwardly visible would be helpful, as well.”
Collins should know. “I [found] someone sleeping under a table while we were setting up to host a meeting,” she says. “We didn’t notice the individual under the table until I went to place my personal belongings there.” She believes it was a homeless person who got past the access points. She says that experience taught her the necessity of vigilant security.
To cover all your bases, Goldberg suggests creating a site diagram to include emergency exits and recovery areas — predetermined spaces that can be used to gather attendees or staff members to keep better control of a situation and to facilitate emergency decision-making processes. He also says having a communication strategy in place before the event happens is another essential step planners need to take. “Communicate the plan to everyone,” says Goldberg. “There are too many ways for things to go wrong simply because not everyone was aware of how and when to react to a situation. Responders from 9-11, Katrina and even the latest incident in Mumbai will tell you that communication is the greatest asset, and often the greatest failure, during a crisis.”
With waning budgets for meetings and events, it’s understandable to be concerned about costs, but security is not an area you want to scrimp on. Collins says security should always be a priority, not just for the protection of guests, but also for the interest of your clients. “Because of the litigious society that we are in, it’s imperative that we always do our due diligence in promoting safe environments.”