Security at association events has moved to the forefront of association event planning in recent years. Regardless of the size or scope of the event, it is the association’s responsibility to ensure that delegates are safe and secure in the various spaces that the event is taking place. This article takes an initial look at how and when event planners should incorporate security into an association event.
When is Security Required?
Often the need for security will be dictated by the host venue. Most hotels and conference centres will have a minimum level of security staffing required based on number of attendees and whether alcohol is being served. The same can be said for most offsite venues as well, especially if they are government owned or operated. The primary factors to consider when planning if security is required include:
- Venue requirements
- Number of attendees
- Alcohol consumption
- Cannabis consumption (this will have a major impact on the meeting and events industry once regulation is more clearly defined)
- Hours of events (i.e. social night ending late)
- Location of events (i.e. if transporting delegates to and from an offsite venue)
One other factor to consider surrounding security at an association event is the content of that specific event and the climate of the association at that time. If the association is involved in a polarizing project or decision that could result in public or member pushback, security should be considered. There could be specific sessions that could have this effect as well that could result in protests and attract unwanted attention.
An incident occurred at an international conference I was recently involved with. There was a session focused on homelessness and, at the time, a negative article on the association’s members was published in respect to their involvement in tackling the homelessness issue. As a safety procedure, we informed the hotel’s security team of the threat of protesters and engaged undercover security to pose as conference attendees. The threat did not actualize; however, we were prepared had things gone south.
How to Plan for Security in Another City
I rarely plan association events in my home city, but instead have conferences that move across the country. Planning for security in other cities is no different than planning for other suppliers. It is crucial that you rely on the local hosts and other supplier partners to make recommendations. Work with the venue and/or the destination marketing organizations to better understand where security is required and where it is recommended. These partners can also suggest security companies that they have worked with in the past. For more information on how to best utilize DMOs, see my interview with three national partners: Association Event Planning Tips – An In Depth Interview with DMOs.
What to Include in a Crisis Plan
For every association event that we manage, regardless of the size, we create a crisis plan. This is a detailed document that outlines key people and procedures in the case of an emergency. The following items are important to include in any crisis plan:
- Phone numbers for local emergency responders (fire, police, ambulance)
- Closest hospital, walk in clinic and pharmacy
- Location of all AEDs in the venue
- Crisis Management Plan – plan to be used in conjunction with the venue’s existing emergency procedures which outlines an onsite emergency operations centre and an offsite meeting point in case of evacuation
- Crisis Communications Team members and contact information – this would be the security personnel, venue staff and event staff that have been tasked with executing the Crisis Management Plan in case of emergency
- Emergency chain of command – identify who is the lead in case of emergency and how the emergency should be communicated to all parties involved. The lead should be the security personnel if they have been hired
How to Communicate Security Information to Delegates
There is a fine line to communicating security measures to delegates without inducing panic. The intention is to have delegates feel safe and taken care of without creating an unnecessary sense of panic. Include information on your association event’s mobile app or printed program about the location of emergency exits and other venue related specifics. The information can be communicated using a flashy graphic so that delegates do not miss the information and are more receptive.
The key in any emergency situation or security breach is planning and communication. It is important to have a detailed crisis plan established prior to an event and to have that plan shared with all parties involved as early as possible. Security should be engaged in the appropriate capacity and should be relied upon as a resource when putting any sort of crisis plan together. The hope is that the crisis plan never has to be executed, but having one established is the event manager’s duty of care.