“KEEPING YOUR EVENTS AND MEETINGS SAFE AND SECURE”
Q & A
In planning events and meetings, one can never put too much emphasis into creating a safe environment for attendees. Some planners may think the worst possible scenario is unlikely to happen to them, however, those planners who have gone through security threats will tell you it can happen to anyone.
These are tips to keep your events and meetings safe and secure.
1) What are some of the most common mistakes planners make when creating plans to manage meeting safety and security? How should planners avoid such mistakes?
In my opinion, some planners don’t plan for the worst-case scenarios. For example, no one wants to imagine that your meeting could be interrupted by a shooter, however, when you have these acts of random violence taking place at churches and Synagogues, concerts, nightclubs, a yoga studio, movie theaters and a supermarket, why wouldn’t a planner think this type of scenario could not unfold at their meeting or venue?
Some planners also fail to communicate the security and safety plan to the entire staff and volunteers. Perhaps, senior staff may understand the security procedures, however, in the case of larger meetings and events with volunteers or outside contracted staff – those individuals may be completely left in the dark about what steps to take for each type of emergency. One must understand the venue’s own security policies and how they prefer to hand a situation and then pass that information on to the entire team. For example, many venues will ask that security be notified first, before on-site managers call 911. This can create and cause chaos and lots of confusion for the first responders when receiving a mass number of calls from the same the venue – when the situation might just be handled by on-site security.
Lastly, it never ceases to amaze me that some planners and guests fail to identify all exits in case there is an emergency. Before take-off on a plane, the flight crew will ask that passengers identify their nearest exits. That’s also the case at movie theaters. And how many times has one observed that people neglect to identify those exits?
To avoid these mistakes, foremost is to inquire about the venue’s own security. As a planner, you don’t want to duplicate efforts or step on any toes. It’s prudent to follow the proper protocols in place.
In some cases, we ask if we may need to bring in or contract extra security. It could be security for guests parking. It might be extra security due to the size of the event/crowd control – or security because of a special guest or to fulfill the requirements of an entertainer and speaker’s rider clause.
In the case of tented events, we contract local security. Having a visible security staff not only makes guests feel some sense of comfort, it’s also a necessity in the case a situation arise that requires that special task. We have worked with local law enforcement in the case of doing many types of functions and corporate meetings. Because city and state officials would be present, we provided our plan to the local police department, who then worked through various channels to ensure proper security for those VIP guests. That may involve secret service. The tentacles extend from there.
2) Should planners put together their own plans to assess and manage risk, or do They need professionals to do it? Why or why not?
I personally believe a planner should put together their own risk assessment analysis and a plan first and then dove-tail that with the venue’s own security plan. In the case of a tornado, where should your attendees go? In case of unexpected protest, how will this be resolved? For an outdoor event, do you have cement barricades or vehicles in place to buffer any potential threat of a car that might come speeding into the space?
Again, having one’s own plan and thoughts in place can only serve as an asset when meeting with the venue’s on-site security – and possibly working together with the city’s, county or state’s law enforcement agencies.
And at the close of a meeting, a planner can ask themselves a few of these questions, which can aid in developing a better crisis management plan:
POST MEETING SECURITY QUESTIONS INCLUDE:
How did having security in place make the guests feel? What was the perception? For example, was there a comfortability level by having security in place or did they feel threatened or somewhat alarmed that security was there?
If an emergency would have arisen, was there adequate or enough security?
Was security in the right place? Did they stroll around? Were they courteous? Were they alert?
If undercover, did they blend in?
Although nothing may have happened, did the security seem prepared to handle a situation or emergency?
Conducting debriefings with supervisors and representatives from law enforcement agencies and key partners (fire/EMT, etc.) is a component in obtaining their feedback.
Were there deviations from the event security plan? If so, why?
Recommendations—what to keep, what to change, how and what worked and didn’t work
3) Why do so many planners lack crisis management plans?
That’s an interesting question. I personally believe many planners think it entails too much work or it may be too far out of their realm of expertise. Therefore, a detailed crisis management plan is never developed. As simple as knowing how to evacuate your attendees out of the building in case of a fire – perhaps descending the stairwells that may be in the back of the kitchen area of a hotel is certainly a good start.
The third reason why some planners may lack a crisis management plan is because they never think it could happen to them. How many times do we hear about tragic stories in the news and those involved say, “I never thought something like that could happen to me or my community.”
If one does not know how to create a crisis management plan, it would be wise to work with a trusted colleague or professionals to help create one for your team.
4) Please generally describe an actual physical security and safety issue that you know a meeting has faced in the past and how it was handled. You need not mention the name of the organization.
Two that come to mind include a function involving lots of media coverage and dignitaries from around the world, but with expected mass protesters – and the other a bomb threat.
In the case of protestors, that is a situation that could easily erupt into violence. To help diffuse the situation but allow those individuals to express their 1st Amendment rights of free speech, a protest area was setup along the outside parameters of the space. It was far enough away from the actual meeting location to avoid disruptions, but within proximity to allow those to protest. In addition, local law enforcement was involved in helping to address the plan and barricades were setup to prevent unwanted guests to enter the event space. While law enforcement had a major presence, they were attired in their regular uniforms – and appeared non-threatening. This all helped to create a peaceful protest situation – while carrying on the function without a glitch.
In the case of a bomb threat, it’s always to be taken seriously. The first course of action was to alert the venue. law enforcement, etc. The venue and law enforcement looped in the FBI. Prior to the function taking placed, law enforcement did an entire sweep of the building and security was beefed up.
5) How should planners go about educating meeting attendees and stakeholders about physical security plans and issues?
To avoid causing a panic with attendees, but providing them with useful information, a simple pamphlet can be created and placed in welcome packages outlining any security steps that may be needed in case of an emergency. It could be highlighted in BOLD in the form of tips such as:
- A) If you see something suspicious, please notify security. You can pick up any venue phone and dial: 123#
- B) Please identify your nearest exits in the case of an emergency.
- C) In case of a medical emergency, please contact security at 123# and/or the on-site EMT located on Ground Level.
- D) Please use stairwells in the case of a fire. DO NOT USE ELEVATORS.
Speakers also can serve as ambassadors to communicate physical security plans and issues. For example, prior to starting the meeting, when the speaker reminds everyone to silence their mobile devices and complete the feedback survey at the close of the meeting, that individual can remind them about some key safety issues. The information does not have to be presented as alarming, but just part of the ‘drill and conversation.’
6) What kinds of careless actions or inactions on-site among attendees and planners leave meetings vulnerable to physical safety and security threats?
I believe one of the greatest security threats is when there are multiple entry points at a facility, whereas anyone from the general public may enter anytime. As a planner, you don’t know what people are carrying and what they may be bringing into the building. That can be especially alarming at some larger convention centers with multiple shows and events taking place at one given time.
Another careless action that leave meetings vulnerable to physical safety is when traffic flow areas are blocked and when the maximum number of people gathered into the area is not adhered to. That’s completely unsafe! In the case of a security threat, evacuating an overcrowded space could result in some casualties.