Open any newspaper, visit any news site or read through social media feeds and you will see an ongoing ominous concern being covered.
The surging crime that has taken over many major cities across the U.S. seems to be out of control and the headlines of shootings are reminiscent of the days when daily casualty counts were reported from foreign wars.
For the last few years, increasing crime has become an issue in many cities, especially where event centers are located. Just ask Sacha Walton, event and business strategist who helps people grow sustainable businesses with strategic events, marketing and other activities. With over 20 years of event production experience, Walton who serves as CEO of SWI Management Group, in Hampton, VA, has seen, firsthand, the impact crime can have on events.
“With the rise in event spaces opening up everywhere, there is the concern with whether the community is truly being surveyed and the crime levels are being analyzed,” Walton said. “Meeting and event planners who are hired to curate an event are facing challenges with violent crimes in the surrounding area, property crime, panhandlers, drug dealing and loitering, which will leave attendees feeling unsafe. The overall event experience starts when attendees arrive and what takes place outside of the venue can weigh heavily when it comes to feedback and reviews.”
Recently, there was a nonprofit event that Walton planned and the location was in a crime-ridden area. She devised a safety plan to mitigate the risk involved with having an event in that area.
“The attendees’ safety was a high priority for us, as well as our client’s investment with the event,” Walton said. “A security team was hired to conduct periodic walks around the building, monitored the parking lot, and remained visible as attendees were arriving and leaving the premises. They also were able to keep the homeless population from hanging around the building as well. The presence of off-duty police or a security team can deter individuals from committing property or violent crimes.”
Walton points out that, according to the FBI, violent crime rates have decreased overall by 1% between 2020 and 2021; however, there certainly are cities with increasing rates in violent crimes.
“In general, the crime issue affects meetings and events in a way where the planners must become more vigilant with their safety measures in comparison to several years ago,” Walton said. “It is a risk having an event in a high crime area and the negative impacts are reflected in low attendance and safety concerns expressed by all event stakeholders.”
As a result of surging crime nationally and globally, security costs for events may be higher as organizers may need to hire additional security personnel or take other precautions to ensure the safety of attendees. Additionally, crime issues negatively affect the perception of certain locales as a safe destination and can have long-term implications for the industry due to a lack of confidence in planning events there.
Frank Harrison, regional security director, Americas, at World Travel Protection, in Toronto, Canada, said that crime is a persistent problem that has been around for a long time.
“Violence and crime in certain locales have been ongoing issues for years,” Harrison said. “This has been impacting the tourism industry. Meeting and event planners face safety concerns, infrastructure limitations and communication barriers. Surging crime can have a range of negative impacts on the world of meetings and events — from safety concerns and increased costs to logistical challenges and reputational damage. Event organizers must take appropriate measures to mitigate these risks and ensure their events are safe and secure for all attendees.”
Harrison primarily sees in certain areas, concerns for safety, increased costs, event and planning disruptions and the current state of negative destination reputations.
“Safety concerns are likely the biggest obstacle to marketing go-to destinations and assuring potential attendees that their safety will be protected, especially in areas where crime rates are high,” Harrison said. “Pre-Covid, many travelers to certain destinations accepted the risk; however, with the very visible violence in many destinations broadcast across social media and news outlets, there has been a marked decrease in attendance or reluctance to book events in the first place.”
Infrastructure limitations may also pose a challenge in some parts of both the U.S. and abroad due to the ongoing impacts, labor shortages and significant shortages in hospitality-focused services.
It is important for event planners to gain a sense of how safe a location is by surveying the area and reviewing the crime rate statistics. Walton points out that the local municipalities and/or police departments will have the area demographics, which includes the crime rates.
“When this extra step is included in the planning process, the event planner can better advise their clients in finding more adequate venues to accommodate the safety of their attendees,” Walton said. “Event planners will be better equipped to develop a robust safety plan based on the local area of the event. Driving around the neighborhood in the day and at night will also give the planner a better vantage point regarding the area surrounding the event space. Having knowledge of the area is necessary in the proper planning for the event.”
Glen Bhimani, owner and CEO at BPS Security, in San Antonio, TX, agrees that the first step planners should take is to assess exactly what risks could be posed at the event and which ones are most likely to occur. From there, a plan of action can be designed to prevent and handle those different issues.
“My best recommendation would be to get a security expert to consult on your individual situation because each one is different and the threats that different event planners are going to face is going to change based on the area and kind of event being planned,” Bhimani said. “Many security experts will provide these kinds of consultations for free, so you shouldn’t be out any money to get a risk assessment and mitigation recommendation. At that point, you can start to truly plan for security and safety at the event.”
In general, the most versatile kind of security plan to pay for at your event is a physical security guard present to deter potential criminals. You also may want to include a bag check to prevent weapons being brought into the event.
Bhimani said that while cameras can be helpful if you have someone monitoring the feed in order to shorten response times, they are typically only helpful in the aftermath of an incident when investigating a crime; as opposed to preventing a crime or protecting people during a violent situation.
“If you can’t get private security guards, finding ways to make the event look impenetrable or like a costly target for the crime is another avenue you can pursue since preventative security is the best kind of security,” Bhimani said.
There are several additional precautions to take when orchestrating a meeting or an event in a locale with surging crime. Walton suggests hiring a police officer from the community to assist with developing a safety plan. A local law enforcement officer knows the community well and can advise on what to look for and how to control the event. It will also better reinforce to law enforcement the fact that an event is taking place. Placing it on their radar is never a bad thing.
“If the organizer happens to own the venue, they should install security cameras and proper outside lighting around the building and the parking lots,” Walton said. “A safety plan should also include a paramedic team on-site or know where the nearest fire station is in case a violent crime happens. It is good to communicate with the local fire department, the community task force and build relationships with local business owners. Fostering community partnerships is a good way to create an effective plan.”
Harrison adds that there are some additional steps meeting planners can take to get a sense of how secure a location is. These include:
Review media coverage: Planners can review media coverage of the area to get a sense of any recent incidents or trends in crime. Review social media posts and online forums for a destination to understand expat, tourist and local attitudes toward safety.
Review crime statistics: Planners can review official up-to-date crime statistics from the government. Government statistics provide information on crime rates, types of crime and trends over time.
Conduct site visits: Planners can conduct site visits to assess the safety of specific locations. A site visit allows the planner to identify infrastructure and features that promote safety and perimeter security and access controls. Things to look for are well-lit streets, ample lighting in stairwells and limited access from the outside, clear sight-lines and active use of public spaces. They can also identify potential safety hazards, such as areas with high levels of graffiti or poorly maintained infrastructure. A seasoned planner can book a location and not reveal their intent to get an agnostic POV.
Consult with local law enforcement: As part of a site visit, planners should consult with local law enforcement officials to get their perspectives on crime and safety in the area. Law enforcement officials can provide insight into specific types of crime, areas of concern and strategies for improving safety. Many destinations have municipal tourist police who understand local issues and safety recommendations.
Consult with residents: Planners can consult with residents to get their perspectives on safety and crime in the area, including hotels and resort staff, taxi drivers and service industry employees. Community members can provide valuable information on areas to avoid, specific safety concerns and strategies for improving safety.
Conduct a risk assessment: Conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify potential hazards and vulnerabilities and to develop a mitigation plan..
Establishing communication protocols: Establish clear communication protocols with the local authorities, security personnel and attendees to ensure everyone is informed and can respond quickly to incidents.
Implementing access control measures: Implement access control measures with the security provider and site owner to prevent unauthorized entry into the event venue, including bag checks, metal detectors and ID checks.
Providing safety instructions: Provide safety instructions to attendees, including emergency procedures, evacuation routes and other safety precautions.
Staying informed: Stay informed of any changes in the security situation and adjust plans as needed.
Although meeting and event planners need to do their due diligence when identifying, selecting and preparing a meeting or event location, they also need to clearly communicate any safety and security issues with the attendees themselves. This should be intended as a way to inform rather than scare attendees. This communication is vital to ensure attendees play a role in their own safety and security in an insecure area.
Jason Porter, vice president for Pinkerton, in Dallas, TX, suggests meeting planners have a transportation plan in place in areas of surge crime and discuss ahead of time how attendees are getting to and from the venue or conference, or to and from the airport.
“Create a travel plan and restrict attendees, if you can, from taking their own transportation,” Porter said. “Companies should consider chartering buses or other forms of transportation from the airport to the actual location.”
Also create a travel safety and best practices guide for attendees, and compile a list of common scams and schemes that attendees should be aware of in case they may be a target.
“It’s important for both planners and attendees to know where the closest hospital, fire and rescue, and police stations are located,” Porter said. “It is prudent to have a medical plan in place, determine the arrival time of first responders and know how to handle a security breach, or if someone is causing problems at an event, and what security measures need to be taken.”
Whether crime issues are surging or decreasing, Walton believes those things should always be addressed.
“The responsibility of an event organizer is to decrease any liability involved with a meeting,” Walton said. “The need for safety and contingency plans is always necessary because you never know what can happen. Being prepared is better than not having a plan at all.”
Harrison said meeting planners will need to continually consider the crime issue when selecting a location for their events and take steps to ensure the safety and security of their attendees. There are many items to consider including working with reputable hotels and transportation providers, conducting thorough risk assessments, as well as providing education and resources to attendees about staying safe while in a certain location. C&IT