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Adding Up Little Things to Make a Big Difference in Meeting and Event Security

IMEX America Safety and Security

Keeping attendees safe during meetings and events has always been an important subject for industry professionals, but it has become more of a concern with incidents over the past several years, most recently with the concert shooting on the Las Vegas Strip.

The message during the IMEX America Smart Monday education session “Meeting Safety and Security - Every Little Thing,” moderated by Tyra Hilliard and Alan Kleinfeld, was that the details could make all the difference when incorporating safety and security into event planning.

“It’s really not a big task, it’s just a lot of little things,” Hilliard said. “You guys do a lot of these little things already, so we’re hoping if the session goes the way it should, then you’ll leave here patting yourself on the back a little bit for the things you’re already doing and be able to learn a few new things you can add to your repertoire.”

Kleinfeld asked the audience to close their eyes and took a poll by show of hands of how many marked exits attendees saw when they walked into the room. After an even number of votes between two, three and four, Kleinfeld said that the answer was four.

“I just put that out there to demonstrate that if you as planners don’t know your exit strategy, then your attendees don’t either,” he said.

Hilliard then addressed the industry’s hesitance in being more aggressive in addressing safety issues.

“Safety and security and [the meeting and event and hospitality industries] don’t always go hand in hand. But as we’ve seen from recent events, they have to,” she said. “It’s just a matter changing our mindset…we have to be prepared for what life throws at us and we need to protect our attendees and our organizations.”

Several of the ways they said planners can protect attendees are planning for first aid, monitoring bars where your people are drinking, having uniform guards in your meeting space and taking name badges off when attendees leave the building.

Badges were an important item, according to Hilliard.

“When your attendees are walking down the street with their name badge on, they may as well have a target on their foreheads,” she said. “That’s who bad guys want to attack.”

She said that working with the hotel in advance can reduce this risk, by asking front desk and bell staff to advise guests to remove event badges when leaving the hotel.

Kleinfeld discussed what he calls the “security umbrella,” which consists of crucial areas planners should consider when making their event security policies. These areas included technology (protecting data by ensuring firewalls and backups are in place), reputation (protecting the name of the company), staff (who will be watching out for the attendees) and political climate, which Klein said is taking on more importance due to legislation such as the recent bathroom bills.

“I was working with [an LGBT group] and they actually have a special security plan so they can feel safe in cities that they go to,” he said. “That’s a security concern for them, where they have to pick a political climate where they’re welcome.”

Kleinfeld also shared a graphic that is used by FEMA in their decision-making process for emergency response. The steps included:

1. Determine the problem.

2. List possible solutions.

3. Decide on the best solution.

4. Implement the solution.

5. Reassess.

As Hilliard said, some of the attendees were already putting some of these practices into place, such as independent planner Cas Strouse, CMP, CMM, who said that not only does she work ahead with the venues, but also make sure attendees are aware of what to do in an emergency.

“We make the attendees aware of the safety precautions,” she said. “Sometimes we’ve even done some fire drills just to make sure we’re fully prepared.”

Suzanne Zanoli, director of events and travel management for Kelly Services, said that their safety protocol came from their clients.

“It actually started because a lot of our clients required it. A lot of them are in industries where safety is key,” she said. “Our account managers came back from their meetings, brought it to us as a best practice and we adopted it.”

Strouse reinforced the point that the meeting and event industry has to be more proactive on the issue of safety and security.

“Some of the recent events it brings it to the forefront and you say, ‘Okay, I can’t want any longer,” she said. “It’s not a matter of ‘maybe’ but ‘when,’ and we need to be prepared. It’s unfortunately part of our world now.”


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Jeff Loy
Jeff Loy

Digital Editor at MPI