The meetings and events industry is still working to figure out a better approach to security. For the time being, safety should be the priority for planners as they look to stage new events, even if a destination doesn't seem particularly risky.
Meeting planners face a number of challenges in 2018 but given growing safety threats across the world, event security has taken on a newfound importance across the industry.
Safety and security risks come from natural disasters, data security breaches, and even food safety issues. The most dramatic threats, however, can come from domestic and international terrorism, according to experts.
The recent shooting of concert goers on the Las Vegas strip, which left 58 people dead, and the Florida school shooting last month, in which 17 died, once again make the vulnerability of large groups all too clear. It is the unpredictability of these incidents when compared to things like adverse weather or digital hacking that poses a major challenge.
“Safety and security rank number one [in importance for events]; unless people are safe and secure, nothing else matters,” said Joan Eisenstodt, founder and chief strategist of Eisenstodt Associates, a meetings industry consultancy. “To me, meetings are one big, giant hazard. There’s nothing that isn’t scary about them. [Attending a meeting feels] like going home, so attendees believe that someone else is protecting them.”
The Exhibition and Meeting Safety and Security Initiative has signaled the overwhelming importance of protecting meetings attendees, according to Gary Schirmacher, senior vice president of industry presence and strategic development for event management company Experient.
Participating groups say that, with current threat assessments by security professionals, the industry needs to establish national guidelines for convention centers and related venues to protect the $283 billion dollar meetings, conventions, and exhibitions industry from terrorist incidents.
Schirmacher said the initiative is about best practices in the safest venues and cities.
“It’s a shared responsibility, not just for the supplier side,” he said. “It’s definitely part of the conversation and more and more organizations have security and safety plans around their meetings.”
Yet the industry — from meeting planners and their clients to hotels and convention centers — isn’t doing enough, in Eisenstodt’s view.
Facilities need plans for sheltering in place while cities need evacuation plans. Meeting planners should have written contingency plans that include how they will coordinate with local agencies, the Red Cross, and Homeland Security, just to name a few relevant organizations, she said.
“And planners need to begin with the selection of destinations and hotels,” said Eisenstodt. “You start there and then look at your audience, their needs, what other groups will be in the city, the speaker at another meeting who might be targeted.”
Tracy Stuckrath of Thrive! Meetings & Events, an event management company, agreed that destination and site selection play a key role today in evaluating potential destinations and venues.
Stuckrath also points to companies like iJET which planners can enlist to manage safety and security at international meetings. An integrated risk management company, iJET offers threat intelligence and response services to help organizations avoid threats and mitigate risk.
“You never know when something is going to happen, so how as a meeting planner do you manage that?” she asked. “It’s a duty of care that planners need to embrace.”
Schirmacher believes that ultimately convention centers, for one, will go the way of airports in terms of limiting access. “You have a convention center that takes up to three blocks and has doors that randomly open to the street,” he said.
He predicts there will be limited areas to enter the building along with hidden cameras if they’re not already in place, audio surveillance, and facial recognition.
In the meantime, though, Eisenstodt isn’t optimistic.
“People are afraid that they have to do it all at once,” she said referring to ways meeting planners can proactively react to safety and security issues. “The industry has done things in fits and starts, then they back off, and go back to the way it’s always been.”
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Photo credit: A crowd outside Comic Con with protestors in the distance. Meeting planners are paying more attention to safety and security in an uncertain world. Nathan Rupert / Flickr