Planning event security in 2017

In light of recent tragedies, such as the Las Vegas shooting, guests and attendees at high-profile events may feel nervous about personal safety. Though security has always been a component of event planning, high profile attacks have brought issues related to event safety into public discourse – and put the spotlight on event planners to mitigate security risks.

As an event planner, it’s important to not only protect your event attendees but help them to feel safe as well. Today, that involves combining traditional strategies with cutting-edge technology.

Think about security early to protect attendees 

To ensure that your event security is up-to-par, you need to start by creating a plan far in advance. According to Kristi Casey Sanders, CMP, CMM, DES, HMCC, Director of the MPI Academy at Meeting Professionals International, the first step is to assess the risks, then figure out ways to minimize, eliminate or mitigate them.

“I think the practice of event security has not changed – it’s always been an area these teams of professionals have paid close attention to,” Sanders said. “What’s changed is that the spectrum of risks they have to safeguard against has evolved to include previously unheard of threats and the general public and meeting organizers are more aware.”

Depending on the size and potential risks of your event, this may involve coordinate with local law enforcement or hire a private security firm. If you are planning a gala featuring high-profile guests or speakers or planning a trade show for a controversial industry, your security needs will likely be greater than when if you were putting on a private corporate training session with a curated guest list.

Prioritizing security at the beginning includes budgeting for these costs in the initial planning phases. If security is an afterthought, you may not be able to afford high-quality options, leaving critical gaps. And that includes when it comes to building the team who will help you create the event.

“During this assessment phase, it’s important to not only assess the risks but also your team’s capabilities,” Sanders said. “Anything that makes it stronger (e.g., CPR training, multilingual staff members, etc.) is a capability that should be included in your plan.”

Security is not an area you should skimp on, and recent tragedies serve as a grim reminder about the potential costs of security oversight. As such, it’s important to plan out your needs far in advance so you budget appropriately before making purchases.

Create a risk management plan

When it comes to ensuring the safety of your event, a risk management plan is one of your best resources.

According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), risk assessment involves four steps:

  1. Hazard identification.
  2. Profiling of hazard events.
  3. Inventory of assets.
  4. Estimation of potential losses – both human and economic – based on exposure and vulnerability of people, buildings, and infrastructure in the area.

Keep in mind that the plan you create isn’t all about terrorism or other attacks. It’s far more likely that your event could be disrupted by an earthquake, hurricane or other extreme natural force. So be sure that you prepare appropriately for those scenarios as well.

If you’ve never created a risk management plan, FEMA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security offer training, resources, and videos that can help you navigate the process.

However, until recently there wasn’t a comprehensive approach to risk management for events. That’s why MPI worked with the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security at the University of Southern Mississippi to develop a 6-hour certificate course on Emergency Preparedness for Meetings and Events, which is being offered Nov. 6 in Dallas and Jan. 11 and 12 in Rome, and will be taken to its chapters and World Education Congress in 2018. The course will walk you through the steps necessary to create customized risk management plans for each of your events.

Leverage technology to secure your event

When creating your risk management plan, consider taking advantage of the latest technology to help keep your attendees safe.

For instance, badges have long been an important component of ensuring that the people at your event are supposed to be there. But today you can do much more than a simple name tag on a lanyard. Smart badges can contain a person’s information and be automatically scanned at certain entrance points, limiting the chance that unauthorized personnel will enter the premises. These forms of identification are harder to duplicate, which means that an uninvited guest would have greater difficulty trying to fake one. Make sure that you emphasize to your guests that they need to keep track of their badges and not leave them unattended where anyone can take them.

This goes for your staff as well. Make sure that everyone working the event has a clear form of identification so you can see at a glance that they are supposed to be on site.

Take advantage of attendees’ smartphones and consider making your event app part of the security plan. A mobile app can contain evacuation information and other predetermined plans, and be used to issue live updates and instructions in the event of an emergency.

Finally, don’t forget about dangers from those who aren’t physically present: cyber threats. Your event’s WiFi and other digital assets could come under attack if they aren’t properly protected. Contact professional IT services to ensure that the proper safeguards are in place.

“Awareness is key,” Sanders emphasized. “You won’t be able to prevent everything, but if you’re aware, you can prepare as best you can. And that’s better than doing nothing, which is what 50 percent of meeting professionals are doing now.”