Like it or not, the world has changed. Security and safety concerns must be front and center at business and association meetings these days.
In May, the Events Industry Council, comprised of CEOs of more than 30 leading industry organizations, released its top five trends shaping the events industry: safety and security was No. 1.
The EIC’s announcement included this statement: “Given the state of national security around the globe, it is imperative that the events industry concentrates on efforts to ensure the safety of attendees. In this regard, Events Industry Council member, the International Association for Venue Managers is developing a safety and security designation and guidelines for convention centers to meet Department of Homeland Security accreditation. Additionally, the Events Industry Council’s APEX initiative has formed a work group to develop additional resources for meeting professionals to become more educated and proactive on safety issues.”
The topic of event safety was a headliner at multiple industry events this summer. For example, Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Congress announced at its meeting in June a collaboration with the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security at the University of Southern Mississippi to develop educational programming and resources, with the first course, Emergency Preparedness for Meetings and Events, debuting at WEC.
The International Tourism Safety Association, together with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Las Vegas Security Chiefs Association, put on the 24th International Tourism Safety Conference in June. More than 20 countries were represented at the conference, which took place at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC). Among those speaking was Ray Suppe, president of the International Tourism Safety Association and executive director of customer safety for LVCVA.
Prior to the conference, we asked Suppe for his take on what planners need to do in light of recent attacks at various types of venues, including the concert in Manchester, England. He started by stating that risk comes in many forms.
“Concerns vary from show to show, depending on the nature of the show,” Suppe says. “For example, some shows that come to the LVCC demonstrate equipment that may be hazardous, such as welding machines, or the exhibitor may have hazardous chemicals or processes to demonstrate. These all contribute to risk that must be mitigated to protect the building and occupants in a way that allows exhibitors to demonstrate their products or services. Building occupancy is also a concern — how many people will be in the building? Do we see potential for a large group to cause a bottleneck that needs to be prevented? We also review and approve floor plans prior to shows in order to assure that we have enough capacity to provide clear egress routes from the show floor in the event of an emergency.”
Cities also must be prepared, and Las Vegas is a prime example of being ready for the unexpected. “Las Vegas is among the safest travel destinations in the world and uses the most advanced training and technology to maintain a secure environment,” Suppe notes, adding that the key to successful preparedness lies in communication and collaboration.
He says the city has three primary components to its collaborative security and safety efforts. “The first is the Las Vegas Security Chiefs Association, which was formed in 1987 and promotes security professionalism and enhanced communication and information-sharing between resort security directors, corporate security leadership and all public agencies.
“The second is the Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center, aka, the Fusion Center, comprised of multiple agencies providing direct communication, resources, expertise and intelligence across multi-jurisdictions within the Southern Nevada region, including the resort corridor. The Fusion Center maximizes our ability to respond to all potential crimes and hazards affecting the destination. The Fusion Center also houses the first position of its kind, an intelligence analyst dedicated to the resort corridor. The position is responsible for direct liaison with resort security directors and corporate security leadership.
“The third,” Suppe continues, “is our Convention Center Area Command, responsible for policing the Las Vegas Strip. The station is housed on the campus of the Las Vegas Convention Center and is home to the tourism safety unit. Through a secured texting environment, law enforcement shares up-to-date information and status reports of ongoing events.”
For planners, Suppe says he believes the first step is development of a crisis plan for each specific event. His group can even provide a template for guidance.
“It’s important that organizers understand the life cycle of an event from the security perspective,” he says. “Once the lease for a show is signed, organizers need to get their contract security provider in place. I recommend having one person in charge, whether it’s a dedicated show staff or hired consultant, to better facilitate communication. Then there are milestones that should be accomplished six months before the show, such as organizers meeting with the venue security team and learning about resources they can provide, and three months before, such as finalization of evacuation and crisis plans, as well security, fire and medical plans. We also encourage organizers to consider heightened security measures such as photo ID requirements, explosive detection dogs or increased local law enforcement as appropriate.”
One directive organizers should communicate to attendees is See Something, Say Something, which is essential. “Convention attendees can participate by texting the center’s security team or talking to any of our security representatives in person,” Suppe says. “Our building partners, show producers and contractors have provided support by sharing the program with their employees. See Something, Say Something is a simple, effective program to raise awareness of safety and security concerns and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity or behavior to security personnel.”
Partnerships and collaboration with local experts are also imperative in terms of cybersecurity, according to Lawrence Roney, executive director of information technology for the LVCVA.
“Cybersecurity is at the forefront of our information technology initiatives,” he says, “especially since the LVCC hosts some of the world’s largest technology shows, such as the Consumer Technology Association’s CES, the National Association of Broadcasters and InfoComm International.
“The LVCC’s exhibitor and public-access networks are physically separated from any corporate information and building system control networks,” Roney continues. “Additionally, we rely on our partners at Cox Business, and their advanced convention services team, to provide carrier-grade security, network monitoring, intrusion detection and threat mitigation for our trade show producers, exhibitors and guests at the LVCC, as well as the Cashman Center (20 minutes away). Network and cellular equipment operation centers are monitored around the clock. These areas deploy advanced physical security safeguards and access control protocols to ensure our physical information technology infrastructure remains secure.”
Preparedness, communication and collaboration with venues and community partners also top the list of what planners say they believe is essential for ensuring an event is safe.
Kari Messenger, CMP, meetings manager with Association Management Center, worked on the 18th annual meeting of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) in Washington, DC, in October — shortly before a well-publicized presidential race. The group of 1,200 was based at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.
“There are many factors when thinking about safety and security,” Messenger says. “The most common emergencies at a conference are medical emergencies when an attendee gets hurt or needs assistance, power outages and social disturbances. More serious situations planners should be ready for include fire, terrorist attack and citywide emergencies.”
To plan effectively, staff and attendees must be informed and work together. “While emergencies are not always life-and-death circumstances, staff and attendees look to the meeting planner as to how to react to a situation,” Messenger says. “Planners need to communicate with venue security teams to ensure all safety and security information is shared. Once the planner has this information, it’s important to put it in writing and share it with staff attending the meeting.”
For ASBH, Messenger had several documents in place prior to the event:
An emergency preparedness plan detailing information on local hospitals, in-house security information and how to respond in different emergency situations.
A crisis management communication flow chart, listing staff names and telephone numbers and showing who contacts whom in an emergency, as well as which staff person contacts exhibitors, board members and speakers.
A staff responsibilities document stating the responsibility of each staff member should an emergency occur.
“Educate your staff and provide them with these materials to review before leaving for onsite,” Messenger advises.
Given the location and timing of the ASBH event, security was heightened. “Our team wanted to ensure we were ready for any event,” Messenger says. “Besides having phone conversations with our venue security team and discussing procedures, our CSM provided us with a tool called District of Columbia Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (DC HSEMA), an app that alerts those in the area of any threats or emergencies in the city. Our CSM mentioned that many locals use this app, too. Being from another state, I felt more connected to the conference city and confident I’d have timely access to information in an emergency.”
Just weeks before the team headed out, Messenger received a call from her CSM alerting her that a high-profile guest needed to host an event during ASBH’s move-in and first day of registration. “As it was only weeks before Election Day, it didn’t take much detective work to figure out who this guest was as it was mentioned that the Secret Service would be present,” she says.
Once onsite, Messenger said she was impressed with how prepared the hotel was. “From the time of the call from the CSM, we worked on a plan to ensure our attendees could reach the registration area as needed while still maintaining proper security requirements for the high-profile guest. Once the day arrived, I was mesmerized by how polite and accommodating Secret Service agents were to our attendees and my team. As promised, they followed through with allowing our attendees to cut the line of security to enter the registration area for ASBH. The hotel staffed the area to ensure our attendees knew where to go and what was happening within the hotel. This communication made it seamless for our meeting to continue on schedule. Not only did our group feel safe and well taken care of, we were a small part of history being in the action of a high-profile candidate rally weeks before the election, not to mention seeing the best of the best of conference security in action.”
Regardless of location, Messenger expects a venue to provide access to its security team around the clock. “I want to know who my main contact is, how the situation will be handled and how long it will take for a response. I’m looking for who on their staff is trained in CPR, where fire extinguishers and defibrillators are located and where the emergency exits are in each breakout room. These details must also be communicated to the rest of the event staff so all are prepared.”
As for attendees, Messenger says providing an emergency contact during registration is paramount. “And once onsite, emergency exit information should be brought to the attention of all attendees in each session room. These notes can be added into the housekeeping section of announcements. Just a few minutes of calling attention to the space gives attendees a clear idea of how to exit in an emergency.”
When it comes to what’s most important, Messenger echoes others. “Communication! That’s the No. 1 thing to ensure that a planner and team are ready to handle any situation. Taking time to go through each potential situation and how to handle it is so important. If a situation does occur, your team will know what to do and where to report. That can make all the difference in handling an emergency.”
Pamela S. Dallstream, CMP, CMM, director of education for the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM), says planners need to be aware of global security concerns as well as concerns within their own environment. SCCM’s group of 6,000 met in January at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu.
“Planners need to watch the news and understand any threats that might impact their meeting environment,” she says. “Medical organizations are especially susceptible to individuals or groups protesting pharmaceutical companies (that are) exhibiting at a meeting, so planners must be prepared for instances such as picketers outside the facility, protestors entering the facility with signage, etc.”
SCCM requires all venues and facilities to provide a copy of their security measures, noting all exit doors from the buildings and including a list of the closest hospitals, pharmacies and security numbers to call within the facility (not necessarily 911). “We also provide SCCM staff with a map of the facility and identify where staff should gather in case of emergency. Staff leadership has a set of security guidelines to follow should a disaster strike during an event.”
As for language in contracts, Dallstream says, “Planners should require hotels and other facilities to agree to an expanded force majeure clause that allows for the organization to cancel the meeting if a natural or unavoidable disaster strikes that prevents 25 percent of registrants from attending the meeting.”
To keep critical information secure, she says, “The SCCM maintains our data behind a secure firewall. We are PCI compliant, so credit card payment onsite at meetings is handled in front of the customer — no swiping of cards behind the scenes.”
Like Messenger, Dallstream says attendees must provide emergency contact information during registration, including a name, phone number and email address. “This information should remain on file with the meeting organizer and should be added to the name badge, along with the name, number and address of the local hotel, for quick reference by onsite medical personnel.”
Dallstream advises planners to, “Keep your eye on what is happening worldwide and be prepared for the worst-case scenario at your event. Assume disaster won’t strike your event, but have plans in place should something happen.”
Phelps R. Hope, CMP, is senior V.P., meetings and expositions, with Kellen, an association management company. He lists the primary safety and security concerns for planners as physical safety, personal items/equipment security, food safety and data security.
He stresses collaboration in preparedness. Event organizers should, “First, identify the needs areas, then the vendors, contractors and local officials who will influence success in these areas, and create a planning committee comprised of each of these team players so the issues of security have a professional, educated, experienced approach to the planning, communications and execution of safety and security.”
In terms of venues, Hope says, “Planners should expect only basic security coverage from most venues. Regardless of needs and what is contracted, all planners should broach the topic of security specifically with their venue partners so it is an open and understood topic. That way any supplemental needs can be quickly identified and a plan developed to accommodate them.”
He points out that communication needs differ at different events. “The frequency of communications depends on the level of security protocols and what needs to be communicated to attendees and exhibitors and how often. Regardless of the specific environment, a communications plan should be established for every conference, even if the decision is not to communicate,” Hope says.
International destinations require different protocols and considerations. “A non-U.S.-located conference requires more security protocols, communications and planning. Additional items such as medical evacuation or hostage insurance and security might be required,” he says. “Talk with your peers, listen to the local officials and vendors. If in doubt, err on the side of being overly cautious.”
That said, Hope believes most vendors, venues and contracting professionals, whether here or overseas, have a stake in making a meeting safe. “Our collective livelihoods are hinged on successful meetings and events, so in general we all have a vested interest in a successful program. However, on every team are those who are not as committed or who are perhaps simply having a bad day, and it’s the planner’s responsibility to not let those people negatively affect the integrity of the planning process. Sometimes it takes more effort, and that’s what makes a good meeting planner a great meeting planner.”
Like others, Hope says data protection is critical. “The two main areas for cyber protection at a conference are the registration database and credit card payment information for registration and hotel bookings. Since all credit card processing requires heavy PCI compliance, specifically around the storage and use of the actual card numbers, this is an area that is assumed to have solid protection. “However,” he adds, “a planner can make a mistake by deviating from an established, reputable online registration system and management company by going with a ‘free’ online tool found in the public domain. This can lead to serious data-protection failures. A mistake many inexperienced planners make is sharing a registration list openly with too much data included. Planners should protect their data as though it is a pot of gold, because in essence it is!”
To fellow planners, Hope says, “Never let your own ego or agenda get in the way of the job at hand. Be humble when dealing with other cultures and communities, but be firm and never let the integrity of the event be compromised. Remind yourself that you do not know it all — even if you have done the same event many times — and you need to listen to others. You may need to rely on them at some point, so begin the relationship with that in mind to help build loyalty and ‘buy-in’ to your goals.” AC&F