Event safety requires taking action before tragedy strikes

How do meeting planners keep track of an ever-evolving landscape of risks, emergencies and event safety needs? The answer lies in being proactive.

According to Jason Porter, vice president of global provider of security, risk advisory and crisis management services company Pinkerton, the failure to prepare is baked into the nature of risks. “The top risks today didn’t exist 5 years ago, and the top risks today won’t be the main concern five years from now,” Porter says. “Event planners need to be constantly looking at foreseeable risks. Security plans are often an afterthought or a secondary need from an event planner’s perspective. Oftentimes, the priority is the overall event preparation and attendee experience. Safety plans can go overlooked or forgotten, which is a huge liability risk.”

Part of the problem as well, says Alan Kleinfeld, director of Arrive Conference Solutions, is that planners need to realize there’s a need for it, the fading attention to which he credits to Covid. “At the moment, so many planners are just glad to be getting beyond the pandemic that a lot of things have disappeared from their main view,” he says, “and elements like sustainability, health and wellness, and, of course, safety, are in the periphery, kind of lurking off to the sides. If planners don’t check their blind spots, they’ll be forced to overcorrect, which might be costly and dangerous.”

How to Start with an Emergency Response Plan

For those planners who don’t yet have an emergency response plan, Porter says the place to start is by conducting a risk assessment of the event’s location. “It’s important to know factual data of location risks,” he says. “Be aware of what the common threats are and what crimes commonly occur in the area. Research if there are any localized health concerns—local outbreaks or threats. Is the tap water contaminated? It’s imperative to have an understanding of the local landscape and plan accordingly.”

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“If planners or groups want to be proactive about active threat preparation, they can do staff training, create an active threat policy as part of their office and/or conference duty of care/code of conduct, and they can develop a policy on attendees bringing weapons on site,” Kleinfeld says. “There is no one-policy-fits-all, so each planner or organization needs to look at what goals it would like to achieve in this area.

Law Enforcement Coordination

“A common mistake among event planners is failure to coordinate with local law-enforcement,” Porter says. A relationship with law enforcement can provide intel and support during a meeting prof’s planning process. “It’s important to know where the closest hospital, fire and rescue, and police stations are located. Planners should also know the arrival time of the closest major resources (law enforcement, medical).”

Assessing the Likelihood of a Threat

When thinking about risk, it’s tough to know what to look for. Kleinfeld emphasizes the fact that active threats can happen anywhere. “Planners need to take a close look at how hotels and venues display themselves, if there is staff out front (bell staff, valet, etc.) and other means for the venue to see who’s entering the hotel, when, and in what condition (i.e. are they armed?).”

Porter says to consider what risks are possible in the future by assessing whether it has occurred in the past and its likelihood of happening again. “Standardize your baseline security measures by recognizing common threats to your locations and what measures you can take to protect your attendees,” he says.

“Event planners often rely on security tools to better understand local risk,” Porter adds. “Among them is the Pinkerton Crime Index that can help identify crime and forecast risk down to the neighborhood level. Whatever local metrics or tools you use, it’s important to have a solid understanding of threats at the local level.”

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Kleinfeld recommends keeping your eyes peeled in the present. “Because people are so unpredictable, it’s really hard, if not impossible, to predict when someone may go from mild-mannered civilian to gun-wielding nut job,” he says. “So really, the only thing we as planners and organizations can do is get into the habit of looking for signs.

“One of the common things we see on TV in the aftermath is some police chief or town official saying how the gunman had posted about his acts on social media or pasted his manifesto online. These are the types of characteristics we should be more aware of. In addition, because of the overall increase in anxiety and behavioral issues, sometimes the signs could be small, like someone who’s usually very outgoing becoming quieter at the office. That’s why we should encourage our coworkers to ask, ‘Is everything okay?’

“As for threat response, the FBI still recommends run, hide, fight.”