Just three months ago, we never worried about hijackings or bombings or anthrax. Now planners who are not obsessed with those issues risk accusations of negligence.
“Our safe cocoon has been broken,” says Patti Roscoe, chairman of PRA Destination Management, headquartered in San Diego. “Now we have to look at everything we do from a security standpoint.”
The future of the meeting industry rides on the perception that security is being addressed. In an October survey of 200 corporations, which was conducted by the National Business Travel Association, 71 percent of respondents said that their top concern was how the government manages security. “Ensuring passenger safety is the number one priority for getting corporations back on the road,” says Marianne McInerney, executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based association.
Rudy Maxa, the original host of public radio's “Savvy Traveler,” who now publishes a travel newsletter (www.rudymaxa.com), thinks “business travel is going to creep back slowly — at least until something else happens.” He senses that many business travelers are waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Until people feel a sense of closure on the international scene, they just don't know what to do.”
Like Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson, which asked its employees not to travel during the week after the World Trade Center/Pentagon disaster. “But as soon as flights were back in the air, people were back on the road,” says Joe Hyce, a company spokesman. International travel at the company continues to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, though.
The motorcycle manufacturer's attitude toward travel and meetings is typical of many companies: “We don't want to say it's business as usual, because obviously the world is different. But we're trying to get back to the pace we anticipated and get people back in the showrooms,” Hyce says.
Michelle Reeder-Dauten, conference and exhibit director with the Investment Recovery Association, Mission, Kan., says that some corporate travel policies are interfering with her members' ability to attend an upcoming conference. Some companies are not allowing multiple attendees, and other restrictions are forcing some board members to get creative. One will fly part of the way on a corporate commuter airline and then drive the rest of the way; another is taking vacation time to skirt the rules and attend.
Booking attendees from one organization onto multiple flights seems to be a popular response, although the practice is nothing new. “I have always tried to limit the on-site team from flying together, mainly because of delayed or canceled flights,” says Barbara McManus, vice president of meetings management for Somerville, N.J.-based Embryon Inc. “After September 11, I am adamant that teams, especially when we send only two people for smaller programs, not fly together.”
Many organizations are offering employees the option to forgo travel or to drive or take a bus or train to attend meetings and conduct business — and some skittish travelers are taking advantage of that flexibility. For those who do travel by air, NBTA has issued a list of general tips (see box), and travel and security experts offer their own advice.
Patience and preparation seem to be the key for business travelers these days. Heightened security at airports and other transportation hubs is slowing the boarding process, identification is checked at multiple locations, and some airports have restricted parking. Additional measures will likely be implemented in the coming months. As a result, “You may need to familiarize yourself again with airports you know,” says New York attorney Charles Slepian, whose Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center (www.frac.com) advises companies on travel safety and security. Limousines and other private transportation services may not be able to pick up passengers at their normal locations, for example, so the client would have to meet a driver elsewhere.
Maxa suggests following some basic common-sense rules, which most people already know, but he stresses that international travel requires a bit more vigilance. “Pick your assignments carefully,” he suggests. “If you're going to do business in a dangerous place, vary your routes every day, and don't do things at the same time.” He also advises staying away from crowds and tourist magnets, which seem to be favorite targets for terrorists. “If you really want to be paranoid, fly a foreign carrier instead of a U.S.-based one. But I don't offer that advice with much enthusiasm.”
Perspective is also important. Real threats to travelers are unlikely, but they can “expect a lot of necessary inconvenience,” Slepian predicts.
Understanding the odds does not allay every attendee's fear, however. “Right now, everybody is concerned,” says Gary Moses, a Los Angeles-based event-security consultant. “You want to present a picture that the event is very safe and secure, and that proper steps are being taken for the safety of anyone attending.”
A Need for Meeting Security
The war on terrorism has caused every planner to re-evaluate the security measures they have planned for future meetings. Realistically, just as individual travelers are at very little risk, most meetings, conventions, and other gatherings are not terrorist targets.
“Let's keep this in perspective,” says Rick Werth, president of Event & Meeting Security Services, Franklin, Tenn. (www.eventsecurity.com). “The average risk of anyone being exposed to a terrorist attack is low. The reality is that we are still probably far more concerned with the threat to proprietary information being stolen, with a hostile employee who has been terminated, or with a theft that would have an impact on the business.”
That said, Werth recommends that meeting planners conduct a risk assessment before every meeting or event, and put it in writing. “You have a moral and legal responsibility to identify the risk. You are going to be held responsible if there is a safety or risk issue.”
Werth was joined at a seminar about the aftermath and impact of September 11 on the meetings and event industry at the Motivation Show in Chicago on October 10 by Jonathan Howe, Esq., president/senior partner of Howe & Hutton, Ltd. Howe stressed communication of factual information. “Don't tell me what you think, tell me what you know,” Howe recommends in reference to written documentation. “I can't blame you for bad news, but I can blame you for not telling me.”
Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM, president and CEO of Krugman Group International Inc., an independent planning company specializing in international programs, another panelist at the seminar, has been conducting independent risk assessments for her meetings for years. “Still, I can do all the due diligence, and none of us can identify a random act of terrorism.”
So as not to scare anyone from ever planning another meeting, Howe adds, “A planner is not a guarantor or insurer [of safety].”
Above all, the panelists recommend, communicate as often as possible with your client about your risk assessment at every step of the process. If you're an independent planner, communicate with your in-house contact; if you're in-house, communicate with your internal client.
Steps to Take
Werth, Krugman, and Howe recommend that you meet and talk with the chief security personnel at each venue, hotel, and convention center that you plan to use. It's important to find out what kinds of plans rescue, emergency, and medical teams have in place, and to make those local resources, including hospitals, known to every attendee.
“Your research into crisis handling then becomes a contingency plan,” says Krugman. “You must have a leader for the plan, and it must be a team effort. And you can't carry out an effective crisis plan if you haven't practiced it beforehand.”
When he is hired as a security consultant for a meeting or event, Werth completes a standard, 18-page security checklist. “It's not a cookie-cutter approach,” he says. “Every client and venue is different.”
Aura of Safety
Creating an aura of safety takes a variety of efforts. Proper identification is a basic, but with heightened security concerns, organizations can step up their efforts by making sure that they issue identification that cannot be easily copied — badges laminated with the group's logo or that include a photo ID, for example. And security personnel need to pay particular attention to catch anyone trying to register fraudulently. Werth says that paying more for security personnel and demanding their competency is a must in this new environment.
Location is always a key consideration, but it has taken on heightened importance. One warning from Krugman: Every destination has its dangers. Don't advertise or promote a place as being safe.
“Convention centers are big targets all over the world because they involve a lot of people, and often they're high-profile groups,” says Slepian.
Moses suggests that planners who are extremely concerned about security look for venues that are simple to secure. A building with easy public access, for example, would be a poor choice. Hotels usually mitigate their accessibility by locating meeting space on upper floors that can be closed to the public if necessary.
“Everyone ought to have alternative destinations identified as they go forward as part of a contingency process,” says Werth. Consider meeting in second- or third-tier cities, or perhaps at resorts. Accessibility might not be as good, but these locations are less likely to draw unwanted attention. And incentive winners might not want to take advantage of travel-based incentives, so Werth says companies may need to look at alternatives.
Finally, security experts suggest holding meetings as quietly as possible. Keeping a low profile may be counter to a company's desire for publicity, but it's a necessary tradeoff these days.
Bill Mattman, a former Secret Service agent and president of Mattman Security Management Consultants, Murietta, Calif., says the publicity dilemma was the same when he was guarding the president. “We wanted him in a tank, and [political advisers] wanted him to walk the street.”
Mattman suggests avoiding big signs and banners at the airport and hotel, using busses without signage, and telling attendees where to go rather than indicating that publicly at the venue.
“List it as some other kind of event,” Slepian says. “And make sure you instruct the hotel to inform their employees. They're usually the biggest leak.”
The panelists at the recent seminar also suggested that very sensitive attendees can request a guest room below the ninth floor; they may not always be guaranteed that they will get it, but the request itself may help ease their minds.
All this is a lot to swallow, but it's the reality of doing business in today's environment.
“We are in a totally different world, and we are changed,” Werth observes. “If anybody thinks we're going back, they're mistaken.”
Tips from the National Business Travel Association
Before you go —
Share your travel itinerary with at least one colleague as well as your family.
Limit carry-ons to purses, briefcases, and absolute essentials.
Have two forms of identification, and carry them in separate locations.
Be sure to bring any medical information that may be needed if you are injured or incapacitated.
Carry all documentation and receipts related to your trip.
Allow time for travel processing, and allow airline personnel and security personnel to do their jobs.
Clearly identify all baggage, including all items that you carry onto the plane.
During the trip —
Be aware of your surroundings. Take note of what is happening around you.
Have trip documentation and identification accessible.
Be polite and considerate of airline and security personnel.
Have ID, credit cards, and money in separate locations.
Carry a fully charged cellphone at all times. For international travel, know how to make long distance and emergency calls.
If you are approached and feel that you may become a victim of crime or theft, do not try to be a hero. Respond to requests quickly and remain calm.
Always carry information related to medical conditions, blood type, and all contact information.
For international travel —
- Do not display wealth or attract attention.
- Keep a low profile. Avoid casual conversations with local citizens.
- Dress to blend in, and avoid clothing that would attract attention.
- Check security advisories for the country you are visiting.
IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY
Some sound advice from a security expert
Before the meeting, assign critical staff functions. Someone should be in control of communications, accountability, logistics (supplies), operations, finance, and planning. Give people the authority to carry out their tasks as needed.
Develop a chain of command among your staff and the hotel staff in case of an emergency. Only certain people should have decision-making authority. Command-level people should only talk with those decision-makers. Know who these people are at the facility so that you don't waste time talking to (or through) the staff.
Create a disaster supply kit, with a flashlight, extra batteries, AM/FM radio, and basic medical supplies.
Establish an emergency cash fund. When computers are down, you can't rely on electronic funds, such as a credit or debit card, to make purchases.
Have backup communications. If you use two-way radios, also have cellphones, and make sure there are phones in the meeting rooms in case the roam system goes down.
Take care of your staff. People can only handle eight to 10 hours of high-stress situations at a time. Work in two- or three-hour shifts, and then take breaks. Have a quiet room where people can rest in between.
Source: Kevin Mellot, president, ERASE Enterprises, Dallas, inmagazine.
THE NEW RULES
Revised FAA Guidelines
Only ticketed passengers will be allowed beyond security checkpoints. Those holding electronic tickets should contact the airline to determine the needed ticket documentation, such as tickets, boarding passes, or reservation confirmation. All passengers should bring government-issued photo identification.
No knives or cutting instruments of any size or material will be allowed in the aircraft cabin. Knives may be transported only in checked baggage. Airlines will no longer provide steak knives for on-board food service.
There will be thorough searches of all airports and airplanes before passengers are allowed to enter and board aircraft.
Curbside check-in is prohibited.
Checking bags at off-airport sites is prohibited. You may still use these sites to obtain boarding passes and seat assignments.
Vehicles parked near the airport will be closely monitored.
You may notice additional uniformed law enforcement officers and FAA canine teams patrolling the airport.
FAA Federal Air Marshals who are armed and trained in the use of firearms on-board aircraft will be flying anonymously on select flights. The FAA will not reveal the number or identities of the marshals. The DOT is working with other government agencies to see if other highly trained agents may be deployed to augment the Federal Air Marshal force.
Task forces have been created to develop additional airport security measures.