It looks as if most people will travel as usual and most meetings will go on as planned on September 11. However, some companies — and even a division of the Department of Justice — have banned meetings on and around that date.
To help you plan, we asked four security and travel experts to share their risk assessments and offer some security advice for meetings and business travel.
Bill Mattman, president, Mattman Security Consultants
“If I had an event scheduled for September 11, I would have extra security,” says Jurg W. “Bill” Mattman. Simply put, visible security calms people down. “Be it a hockey game or a meeting, people will want to see more security on that day — it will make them feel better.”
A former agent with the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Justice, Mattman has 18 years' experience in international law enforcement, including presidential protection and other VIP security, intelligence, Interpol liaison, and criminal investigation. He says people in his business — his company consults with many Fortune 500 companies on workplace security measures — are acutely aware that significant dates bring added threats to security.
“Anniversaries of certain happenings or events always throw up red flags. Frankly, however, I see more of a threat outside the U.S. for the foreseeable future. I'd be surprised if we had anything major happen in this country in terms of terrorism for at least another year — we're so focused on making security a high priority.”
Mattman, who is based in Murierra, Calif., recommends starting with a risk assessment. “That will help determine the probability of something happening, and what your security needs will be. Many Fortune 500 companies are very aware of the need for risk assessment and have highly qualified security people …. But most smaller companies don't, and they should get assistance.
“No one's going to make the decision to attend a meeting based on the fact that there will be a high level of security — if they've decided not to come, it won't make any difference. Where it will make a difference is that for the people who attend, there will be a higher comfort level.”
Kevin Mellott, CEO, Erase Enterprises
The question isn't whether companies should increase their security for September 11 meetings, but whether they ever had enough security to begin with, says Dallas-based Kevin Mellott. With more than 25 years' experience in law enforcement, emergency response, and private-security operations, he should know.
“An event needs to have four basic security measures: good intelligence, access control, highly qualified security personnel, and an emergency management plan. It's safe to say that most events don't have anything near these four — let alone security that's ratcheted up.”
For example, most event access control measures just aren't effective. “No more laminated ID cards, for example — they should include photos and scannable magnetic stripes that contain information about the holder.” Security personnel “should be trained personnel who want to be there, who know what they're doing, and who will follow guidelines to the letter. And all security personnel should know about packages that are incoming to an event — it's that kind of detail that less-qualified security might overlook, but that could pose a threat.”
Like Mattman, Mellott thinks that September 11 probably won't see a terrorist attack like the one that occurred last year. “We think the [terrorists'] next move will be the kidnapping and killing of senior corporate executives. VIP protection is a big issue for us right now. The Daniel Pearl incident was only the first in a line of this type of activity.”
Rick Werth, president, Event and Meeting Security Services
A well-known consultant to the meeting industry, Rick Werth, president of Event and Meeting Security Services in Franklin, Tenn., agrees the chances for a terrorist attack on September 11 are relatively low. Still, it's best to be cautious and cover your bases when traveling on that date.
“Is the city you're going to a potential target? Should certain buildings be avoided? Those are all possibilities.”
Most business travelers won't be attending meetings in targeted-terrorist venues. But Werth still suggests playing out worst-case scenarios. “Air traffic is shut down — what do you do? You have to evacuate a meeting because of a bomb threat — what do you do? Planners are obligated to do those things anyhow, no matter the size of the event, the dates, or the relevance.”
Now is the time to be planning security and communicating to attendees. “It will comfort them to know what the company is doing and that measures are being taken.”
Rudy Maxa, NPR's first ‘Savvy Traveler’
As for tips for individual travelers taking to the skies (or highways) on September 11, who better to ask than public radio's Rudy Maxa?
“How great is the threat [of an anniversary attack]? I have no idea. But the fact of the matter is this: You can't interrupt your life, and you can't interrupt your business travel.”
What would he tell people traveling on that date? “If you're traveling overseas, don't advertise your American-ness — a special tip is not to wear gym shoes. Obviously, if there's a commotion somewhere, don't rush to it. In fact, it's good advice to avoid crowds in general. I also advise not staying in a convention hotel unless you absolutely have to, and avoid tables by the windows when you eat in a restaurant.”
Perhaps most important, Maxa says, is to “be aware of what's going on in the city you're traveling to. Do your homework or, to put it more appropriately, do your own risk assessment.”
Maxa's basic philosophy of traveling nowadays is a familiar one.
“If you're asking if I advocate not traveling, I don't. Far from it.”