It's not something a lot of people want to think about, but with large gatherings increasingly becoming a target for violent attacks, meeting and event planners have to step up their security tools and protocols.
Held just one week after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, attendees at this year’s IMEX America event were unified in their message: We stand behind Las Vegas.
But mixed in among the 5,500 attendees and 3,200-plus exhibitors at the Sands Expo and Convention Center’s 2,000-square-foot exhibition hall was a new and unusual sight: K-9 units, named Zeus and Hunter, both from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
“Talking to the security team at the Sands, it’s not just that [the dogs] make people feel safer, but it is preventative as well, to a degree,” said IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer. “They said that dogs in particular can be a real deterrent to people” wishing to do harm.
The K-9 units were just part of a stepped-up security effort at this year’s IMEX America. IMEX America planners and the Sands security team tightened security by hiring additional unarmed and armed guards, and increasing random bag searches. These extra steps were in addition to the usual security procedures in place, including camera feeds monitored by the Sands security staff and badge reviews for restricted backstage areas.
“We have a robust security plan and we go through that with the Sands every year, regardless. The Sands has a very good and large security team, and multiples types of security as well, which I think is important,” said Bauer. “But obviously, as a result of the event, we did sit down and go through what their day-to-day operations are and then what enhancements we make anyway for the show, and then we did add a few things.”
Beyond Bag Checks: Security Technology
No doubt it can be challenging for facilities and venues to adapt to current and emerging threats and there are some technologies in place that are aimed at making events safer. Today, magnetometers and even bag X-rays are the norm at major sporting events and festivals. Security cameras are a part of everyday life. And badges enabled with RFID (radio-frequency identification) and facial recognition technology are gaining ground as ways to restrict access to certain areas, even providing live information on who is at the event and where they are at any given time.
Experts say event and meetings security and the technology employed is continually evolving and will likely evolve even more rapidly after the Las Vegas attack.
One company, Shooter Detection Systems, has seen an uptick in interest for its products, particularly the Guardian Indoor Active Shooter Detector. The Guardian system uses acoustics and infrared technologies to detect gunfire and immediately relays this information via floor plan map to key security personnel. When fully integrated with a building security system, the Guardian System calls up surveillance cameras in the incident area, initiates lock-down procedures, sends mass notification alerts to desktops and mobile devices, and provides immediate notification to first responders, all within less than a second.
“We’ve had a lot of inquiries since Vegas for demonstrations,” said SDS CEO Christian Connors. The Guardian system is already in commercial use in several schools, courtrooms, private offices, a major sports stadium, and at least one airport with four more planned in the coming months. The system is also in place in “a couple of” convention centers “and we expect at least one more this year and a couple maybe next year,” Connors said. SDS also conducted a live fire demonstration for a few Las Vegas casinos less than a year ago, Connors said.
For security reasons and customer privacy, Connors will not divulge exactly where or in what facilities the Guardian systems have been installed, but he did say that, so far, with up to 17 million hours of customer use time and testing, there has not been a single false alert.
Preparing for the Unexpected
Nevertheless, security technology continues to lag behind traditional, visible security measures and even situational awareness. “Technology doesn’t provide all the answers to everything. I’m in favor of technological solutions, but let’s be careful to identify the problem, which is easy access to things that cause significant harm,” said Steve Adelman, vice president of the Event Safety Alliance, an Arizona-based organization dedicated to promoting “life safety first” throughout all phases of event production and execution.
Still, in light of continuing attacks on gatherings of people and the need for planners to provide an increasing sense of safety, event security could be the next burgeoning market for technology companies. “We had a number of new technology exhibitors at IMEX and also IMEX Pitch exhibitors, but I’m not sure to be honest that any of them dealt with security,” said IMEX Group’s Bauer. “We haven’t really explored that yet, I have to say. Maybe that’s part of the future in the event space.”
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Photo credit: IMEX America 2017 was held in Las Vegas. one week after one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history took place in the same city at an open-air concert. IMEX Group