How Safe is Safe? Sorting out Security Protocols at Your Next Event

event security protocol

At a recent mega-conference in Las Vegas—CES2018—the dogs were out. You could not have packed more people into the 2.7 million square feet that is the outlay of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Nearly 200,000 people from all over the globe came to take part in the annual Consumer Electronics Show, including captains of government and industry and celebrities. However, this conference that showcased all the new and existing end-user technology happened on the heels of a mass shooting incident on the Las Vegas Strip, which killed 58 people and injured hundreds more attending an outside concert.

And despite torrential rains, electricity outages, public protest rallies and ongoing Wi-Fi issues, CES went off without a hitch. Bomb-sniffing canines, security lines, even in-app conference two-way communication systems were put in place as the show came and went with a whisper.

While most conferences and meetings are a fraction of that size, lessons learned in Las Vegas, and indeed, in many locations around the world where the unexpected—from shootings, to political hostage situations, to natural disasters—is happening with increasing frequency, event security protocols are beginning to get the front-and-center attention they require.

Ben Goedegebuure“The issue of security at meetings and events is now a top-of-mind factor. But in event planning, a strong security and communications plan needs to be part of the package and all those involved need to be taken into consideration and taken seriously at different levels,” says Ben Goedegebuure, global general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa here at Maritz Global Events.

Expecting the Unexpected

Expecting the unexpected is a familiar footnote in Goedegebuure’s experience. In his former position with the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, a very serious incident involving an international delegate occurred during a meeting at this venue, and the entire team, from meetings staff to operations to outside security, had to snap into a protocol that had been determined by the policing authorities.

While skilled planner instincts might have swayed toward stopping the event and clearing the space, security experts onsite dictated the opposite tact: continue the show without interruption but ensure no one leaves the site until all in attendance could be questioned. And in the end, the right choices were made in terms of communication and security protocols.

Kevin IwomotoSimilarly, Kevin Iwamoto, former category leader of corporate travel for a multinational company and now a senior consultant at GoldSpring Consulting, came face to face with the need to have security protocols in place when local staff was attending a meeting in Jakarta in 2003. A car bomb exploded outside a prominent U.S. brand hotel and resulted in significant damage and human casulaties. The absence of more stringent Duty of Care protocols resulted in the lack of visibility for local meeting attendees. Although neither the meeting nor the destination were on any master corporate calendar, it was still on his shoulders to help the local country executives manage the loss of life protocol involved.

“It’s an extreme example but the incident opened my eyes to the fact that there are things and circumstances that we do not consider in our own lives that can adversely impact others who are traveling around world,” says Iwamoto. “But the Las Vegas shooting is a great example of what can happen. Had the concert been part of the event agenda, then the safety protocol and response would have fallen on the meeting planners’ shoulders. If it was not in the plan but delegates were there anyway, then who is responsible?

“…if it is your event, it is on you and you will get involved with what happens whether you like it or not”

Who’s on First?

“Bottom line is if you are starting to put together a who’s on first, who’s on second scheme at the time the incident happens, a minute lost can equal casualties. When I ask meeting planners questions about this I usually get a blank stare. But if it is your event, it is on you and you will get involved with what happens whether you like it or not,” says Iwamoto. “It’s also wise to not just have security plans in place but practice test runs several times a year to ensure your plan works and people understand what their roles are in the process. It’s critical to keep the contact information for everyone involved in the security plan updated because people leave, get promoted, are out on vacation, or are otherwise unavailable.”

Both Goedegebuure and Iwamoto agree that communication is the key. It’s not just about knowing who’s on first and who’s on second, but knowing who’s at the top of the chain, at what point they should be brought in, who’s responsible for communicating down the chain, and making sure there is a plan in place for seconds in command if key people are not available.

Every meeting has calamities—speakers fall out at the last minute; maybe someone has an urgent health issue. Meeting planners must be vigilant—whether it is the keynote who can’t get out of Denver because of a snow storm or a man-made tragedy, says Goedegebuure. Bad weather, earthquakes … there are plenty of emergent ways meetings can be interrupted.

Not Always About Location

Avoid Las Vegas? An event planner can’t assume one location is safer than another. Kabul may not be a good bet these days, says Goedegebuure, but Barcelona, London, Paris, Las Vegas—places that are usually on the map—should firmly stay on the map, despite recent deadly incidents in those locations.

“The majority of meeting planners will know this, but asking about security protocol at the destination’s convention and visitors bureau, getting the hotel or venue on board with a security plan—these efforts are extremely important.”


Everyone at an event has their own personal responsibility for safety.

Finally, Goedegebuure says, while meeting planners must have big shoulders, everyone at an event has their own personal responsibility for safety. “We can never be responsible for how someone behaves, but we can be cognizant of what we can do to influence safety practices, not create opportunities for danger to creep in, and remain as diligent as possible in the event of an attack.

Is Your Meeting Safe?

The Exhibitions and Meetings Safety and Security Initiative (EMSSI) was launched in 2016 by the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM), the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) and the Exhibition Services & Contractors Association (ESCA) with the goal of protecting the $283 billion U.S. meetings industry and the people who attend meetings, conventions and exhibitions.

They raise these questions as a checklist for event  planners to consider in the course of their work:

  • What type of training has the venue/supplier’s staff received and how recently?
  • Has a threat and vulnerability assessment been performed?
  • Who is responsible for crowd control and how will it be implemented?
  • Is there a drone policy in place and what is the procedure?
  • Is the venue Safety Act certified?
  • What type of access control measures are required, especially for high in-and-out traffic such as is common with general service contractors?
  • What is the perimeter security, and how does it work for inbound and outbound freight and cargo?
  • How often do you invite law enforcement and EMS to your venue to ensure a high level of familiarity in the event of an emergency?
  • Who is responsible for ensuring each piece of the plan is executed?

The EMSSI also offers this list of best practices for ensuring event security:

  • Perform a risk assessment – always include a security representative in meetings
  • Site evaluation, parking, and security – prepare a checklist of security questions
  • Ask for evacuation plans in case of emergency
  • Crowd management – crowd types and guard force requirements
  • Know the location of all emergency exits
  • Access plan for EMS and first responders
  • Contingency plans in case of bomb threats or power outages
  • Medical service plan – addressing injuries and illness, and defining a staging area

If you’re working with a third-party planning organization, be sure they have a well-laid plan designed to handle any possible future event or circumstance in the most effective way.

Maritz Global Events has a very detailed crisis management infrastructure in place for the meetings and events we deliver. Our global experience has exposed us to many different situations in many different countries. This experience has enabled us to maintain the right state of preparedness for our clients’ meetings in the event of a critical or unexpected situation.

If you would like to learn more about how we can help your organization with any aspect of your next event, we invite you to contact us today.

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