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Meeting and event professionals are very much aware of the security challenges generated by bringing people together. They plan for accidents, venue problems, protesters, weather related issues, and much more. In recent days, we have been confronted once again by televised images of terror being inflicted on participants at events, walking a bridge or attending a meeting. These situations make us painfully aware how vulnerable event attendees can be to a wide variety of security threats. In this post, we take another look at event security, and the role meeting and event professionals, and their security partners play in keeping attendees safe.

We spoke with security experts, meeting and event professionals to gather advice, techniques and best practices to implement as you plan your event security. One piece of advice stood out most: planning event security is not a task that should be accomplished in isolation. Planning for security involves a wide variety of stakeholders, and they should be engaged at the beginning of the event or conference planning process.

Mark Deane, CEO with ETS Risk Management brings years of experience to this conversation. Since Founding ETS, the company has become a leading provider of risk management and security services to multiple high-level corporate and VIP clients – including Fortune 10, Ultra High Net Worth’s, Energy companies, and multiple Fortune 500 organizations. Mark is a risk management specialist whose experience stems from his career working as an Operational Officer for the British Government. This sound operational knowledge is complemented with his extensive experience of planning, managing and implementing numerous security and risk management operations at both a government, and corporate level.

When starting the planning process, Mark advises planners to look at a number of key points. Planners and their security partners should first and foremost have a good understanding of the goals and objectives of the event. What are the organizers trying to communicate and who are the participants attending the event?

Next, organizers need to develop a comprehensive risk assessment of all the threats and dangers to the event and the participants, and understand these extremely well. This is where the experience of a security professional can greatly benefit the organizer.

Mark recommends that the following risks areas should be assessed during this process:
Political and social risks This includes threats of protest and terrorist activities. An event itself may not be at risk, the location however may pose an elevated risk. Think about recent attacks in Paris, London and Brussels. Your venue may be well-protected, but how do you protect your participants after event hours? Is the event a LGBTQ-themed gathering, a minority event, an event with an underlying threat from anyone? Has a regional government enacted a law that is perceived to be discriminatory against a group of people? Think about the bathroom and immigration bills passed in recent years and how those affected events. You will need to be fully aware of these risks and plan accordingly.

Venue risks Venue risks are many. You will need a clear understanding of all venue entry and exit points. How porous is the venue? How are people getting in and out of your venue? How will you vet and credential staff, volunteers, attendees, VIPs, entertainers…? How will you guide attendees through the venue and control their credentials? Are there enough exit points in case of an emergency? Are you thinking about leaving enough space to manage emergencies? Can the venue be accessed by climbing fences, through loading docks and other porous points, and if so, how will you manage these risks? Is the venue easily accessible by first responders in case of an emergency? Does the venue have onsite security staff, and what are they responsible for? How can your security team work with the venue’s team? Who will be the liaison between venue security, law enforcement and the event?

It is key to realize that venues have their own agenda when it comes to security and it is the planner’s and security expert’s responsibility to understand that agenda. Venue security will be focused on protecting venue assets, perhaps not so much your event’s assets and guests.

As an organizer, you open yourself up, and your guests, to certain vulnerabilities by solely relying on venue security. Hotel security teams are generally not executive protection specialists. You will have to work with an outside security specialist to manage risks associated with your high-level guests.

When selecting a venue, understand who else will be using the venue at the same time your event is being hosted. There may be conflicts of interest by competing groups. There may be organizations with opposing viewpoints that may cause unrest at the venue? How will you be able to manage these clashes, and protect your event and participants?

Attendee Risks It is key to understand all of your event participants, from attendees to staff and volunteers. Know your people! Events attended by a head of state may require all other attendees, staff and volunteers to be vetted in order to attend the event.

Should a CEO of a company be a keynote speaker, and some unrest is brewing at the company, the risk of staged interruptions or protests becomes real. What about a local employee who was recently fired and who has threatened to shoot the CEO? How will you plan for this?

Mark advises that planners must decide who and how to credential early on in the planning and risk assessment process. Will you provide simple name badges to attendees, or more sophisticated RFID badging systems for attendees, backstage, back of house, speakers, VIPs, volunteers, and staff? How will you vet people, manage and control all access and exit points? With badges and RFID technology, visual control is still needed, and you will need to plan for this.
Planners can now also implement biometric check-in at events to control access to the event as a whole, individual sessions, or specific meeting rooms based on visual identification. Eventinterface offers this solution increasing security and speed of check in.

Why work with a security company versus solely relying on venue security?
A good outside security company brings an objective eye and real world experience to your event. Experts will understand your event security staffing needs, how and where to assign staff to manage security. They will help you look at the many layers of security and bring the expertise to evaluate, plan and execute your event security plan. An event security company should be consulted right at the start of the planning process. This insures that you will not operate in isolation, and it will assure that you have a cohesive security plan in place for your conference or event.

Planners tend to falter when assigning people to security or relying on venue security alone. It does not help throwing people at a problem without fully understanding the risk. A security expert will help you plan the correct number of staff, and where to assign that staff. And, it is important to realize that security staff plays a much bigger role than simply guarding an access point. Security staff are the first and last people your attendees will interact with at your event. They assist with traffic flow, lost and found, logistics and everything that goes along with those aspects of your event.

Steven Smith, Founder and President of Guardian Defense in Florida specializes in active shooter training, workshops and classes that help organizations, companies and individuals prepare for the unthinkable, a person entering your event with weapons to harm or kill your attendees.

Steven too recommends that the event risk assessment should be conducted right at the start of the planning process. Planners with their security partners should have a clear understanding of the type of event that is being planned. How many people will be at the event? 100 or 10,000? This number will dictate the resources needed to manage security.
Is the event a concert, political rally, a gathering with religious motivations? Is the event private or heavily marketed? A general admission event, ticketed or by invite only? Who will be the people attending the event, the speakers, VIP guests? Have threats been made against the event or any of the guests? Counter protests? Have there been issues at the event in the past, or at similar events in other communities? What may be issues related to the venue? Entry and exits? Is there room for emergency responders?

Once you have a clear picture of all of your risks you can start assigning resources to manage these risks. Based on the assessment of the site, event and population, determine the resources needed. Do we need uniformed law enforcement? Off duty cops? Unarmed security? Do you need a K9 sweep of your event to look for explosives? Assign a safety team leader or security advisor with experience in the field to help you plan, evaluate, staff and manage your event security. The mission of any event is to host a fantastic and safe gathering. The safety of your attendees is paramount.
Active shooter response Active shooter situations are perhaps one of the hardest risks to prepare for. Steven recommend five immediate actions in the case of this type of crisis:
  • Evacuate
  • Evade
  • Isolate
  • Secure
  • Defend
The order of these actions may depend on the individual situation. The best way is to evacuate immediately. Planners and security teams can however prepare for prevention. Create a “see something, say something” culture at events. Insure that all entry points are controlled and conduct bag checks. Temporary water barricades can be brought in to prevent vehicles being used as weapons. Venues must also insure that escape routes are available, with doors unlocked so attendees can escape to a safe place.

Planners bring years of security experience to this discussion. Jody-Ann Rowe with Event Certificate in Toronto shares her experience:
When planning for emergencies or hazards that could occur during an event it is essential to follow this simple rule:

Find it, Assess it, Fix it.
FIND IT What this means is that emergencies will happen and they will be beyond your control, however, what you can do is forecast potential issues. Find all the possible scenarios that could go wrong at the event and make a list. You will need to work with your venue staff, stakeholders or experts who can advise you on your risk status.

ASSESS IT Once you have a list of potential scenarios that could affect the security of your event you will need to assess the risk. On a scale of 1 to 10, try rating the ‘likelihood’ of this scenario occurring and the potential consequences.
FIX IT With a list of potential emergencies and their risk rating in place, you will now need to fix it. This means you will need to identify practical measures that can be put in place to eliminate or control the emergency should it happen.

For example: If you are hosting a Chef Battle BBQ event, one of the most easily identifiable emergencies would be related to fire, since you will be outdoors with flames and flammable materials. Knowing this, and identifying the high probability of this occurrence means that you can ensure that a Fire Marshall is present at the event, that your venue is equipped with fire safety equipment and you can also order fire extinguishers for the event to control the fire should it ever occur.
Jacinda Knightner, Onsite Experience Manager with Red Velvet Events shares:

When beginning the process of emergency preparedness for any event, Red Velvet Events starts by making an emergency exit plan based on the specific venue the event will be located at. We establish two sets of rally points for guests to meet at if we were to evacuate. We put a map and a detailed diagram together and make sure that the client, vendors, and venue are all on the same page in case of an emergency.

We establish a chain of command as well. Specifying who will call emergency authorities, who will alert the venue, who will alert guests, etc. It is very important to make sure that all staff members who are assigned to a role within the chain of command know all processes and steps.

We make sure to have thought-out plans for several different emergency scenarios.
We work with the City and the local Police Department to make sure that we are aware of other large events that are happening in the area and inquire if they are politically charged. It’s very important be aware of other events, as an emergency could happen during another event but could affect your own if they are close enough in proximity.
We make sure to have security at events that require security and make sure that our staff is always aware of who is in our event or around our event. We want to make sure that only attendees are allowed in and that we are creating a safe environment for our guests.

In our emergency plan, we include: a detailed diagram with exit strategies and rally points, all local emergencies numbers (police, hospital, gas and water lines, etc.), our designated chain of command and the specific role each person has, guest counts, and vendor counts.

Heather Hess with Hessco Roadside Assistance & Towing Innovations in Jacksonville, Florida shares helpful advice from a different angle:

Event safety begins and ends with uninterrupted vehicle traffic flow. Traffic flow is important for all events. The best laid plans can be foiled by an overheated engine, a flat tire, or other vehicle breakdown issues. These things happen at the worst time and always in the worst place. The last thing any event or meeting planner needs is for traffic to be backed up at the front entrance of the event because of a vehicle breakdown.

A tip for event planners is to have a reliable towing company on standby. Not just a phone number of somebody you found in passing, but an established relationship with a trusted local business. Take the time to let your local towing company know where your event is hosted, when your event begins, and how long your event is planned for. Always make sure the tow truck is ready at least an hour before the event starts.

Call the towing company in advance with all the pertinent event information. If an event is really large, a tow truck onsite for the duration can be helpful with jump starts and other mechanical issues your guests may experience arriving or departing the event. While subscription roadside service plans may be a good option, it can take hours for a truck to show up. When hosting an event and speed is of the essence, a tow on call is a great option.