Ken Juel, manager of sales incentives and recognition programs for Mutual of Omaha in Omaha, Neb., doesn't remember ever worrying about security issues. But senior management recently asked him to consult with an expert to ensure the safety of participants in an incentive to Ireland next spring. Juel, like many of his colleagues, is enrolled in a crash course on the new realities of travel and meeting security post-September 11.
“Our safe cocoon has been broken,” agrees 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.
Juel acknowledges that extra security on incentive trips could help to ensure that the program will move forward. “We have a number of producers who have worked 16 months to qualify for the Ireland trip, and we're trying to do everything we can to honor that,” he says. “If things get truly dicey, we're not going to put our group at risk. But for now, they still want to go. They understand that we are taking the necessary precautions to ensure their safety.”
What's the Risk?
While the war on terrorism is causing planners to re-evaluate meeting security, it is important to keep in mind that, realistically, most meetings are not terrorist targets. “Let's keep this in perspective,” says Rick Werth, president of Event & Meeting Security Services, Franklin, Tenn. “The 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, a hostile employee, or a theft that would impact the business.”
That said, Werth recommends that planners conduct a risk assessment before every 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,” he says.
Werth was joined at a seminar on the effects of 9/11 on the meetings industry at the Motivation Show in Chicago on October 10 by Jonathan Howe, Esq., president/senior partner of Howe & Hutton Ltd., Chicago. It's important to communicate accurately to attendees about risk assessment in written documents, stressed Howe. “I can't blame you for bad news, but I can blame you for not telling me.”
Another panelist, Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM, president/CEO of Krugman Group International Inc., a St. Petersburg, Fla.-independent planning company that specializes in international programs, 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.”
Above all, the panelists emphasized, communicate as often as possible with corporate senior management about your risk assessment and research every step of the way.
Make a Crisis Plan
Werth, Krugman, and Howe recommend that you meet with the chief security personnel at each hotel and venue that you intend to use. Find out about the plans in place for rescue, emergency, and medical teams, and make all those local resources, including hospitals, known to every attendee.
“Your research into crisis handling then becomes a contingency plan,” said 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.”
Added Werth, “It is clear that companies in the World Trade Center with building and employee emergency plans fared better than those without.”
When hired as a security consultant for an event, Werth completes an 18-page checklist. “It's not a cookie-cutter approach,” he said. “Every client and venue is different.”
If you've assessed all the potential risks for a meeting or event and there is a good business reason to hold it, move forward cautiously and alertly, advises Werth.
Understanding the odds does not allay every attendee's fears, however. “Right now, everybody is concerned,” says Gary Moses, a Los Angeles-based event-security consultant. “What you want to do is present a picture that the event is very safe and secure, and that proper steps are being taken for the safety of anyone attending.”
Creating that aura of safety takes a variety of efforts. Many organizations are offering employees the option to drive or take a bus or train to meetings. Others are stepping up security by issuing identification that can't be easily copied: badges laminated with the group's logo or that include a photo ID, for example. Werth says that paying more for security personnel and demanding competency is a must in this new environment.
Booking travelers from one organization onto multiple flights is another popular security measure, although it is nothing new. “I have always tried to limit the on-site team from flying together,” says Barbara McManus, vice president of meetings management for Somerville, N.J.-based Embryon Inc. “After September 11, I am adamant.”
Rudy Maxa, the original host of National Public Radio's “Savvy Traveler,” who now publishes a travel newsletter, stresses that international travel requires a bit more vigilance. He 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. one,” he suggests. “But I don't offer that advice with much enthusiasm.”
Perspective is very important. Real threats are unlikely, but travelers should “expect a lot of necessary inconvenience,” according to Charles Slepian, a New York attorney whose Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center advises companies on travel safety and security.
Choosing a Venue
Meeting location is a consideration that has taken on heightened importance. One warning from Krugman: Every destination has its dangers. Do not promote any particular 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,” notes Slepian.
“Everyone ought to have alternative destinations identified as part of a contingency process,” says Werth, who suggests that second- and third-tier cities or resorts might be good options. Access may be more difficult, but your group may draw less attention in Santa Fe than in Los Angeles, for example.
Moses suggests that planners who are extremely concerned about security look for venues that are simple to secure. Hotels usually mitigate the accessibility of meeting space by locating it on upper floors that can be closed to the public if necessary.
Some high-profile events or venues don't raise major security concerns because they have historically demanded very tight security. Mutual of Omaha's Juel, for example, did not vary his game plan for taking groups to several World Series games in October.
“Security is more than sufficient at the ballparks,” he says. “Two years ago at Yankee Stadium, I heard there were 1,200 policemen around the perimeter — you feel completely safe in that environment.”
Finally, security experts advise keeping meetings as low-key and quiet as possible. They suggest avoiding big signs and banners at the airport and at hotels, using buses without signage, and discreetly giving attendees directions to meeting venues rather than making a public announcement with directions.
“We are in a totally different world, and we are changed,” Werth observes. “If anybody thinks we're going back, they're mistaken.”
Safety Tips for Attendees
The National Business Travel Association Web site (www.nbta.org) lists traveler security tips in light of 9/11, which can be helpful information to e-mail or print out for your attendees. They include the following:
Share your travel itinerary with at least one colleague as well as your family.
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.
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 cell phone 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, including blood type, as well as 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.
For More Information
Magellan's (www.magellans.com) offers online travel guides focused on the following security topics: 1) new airport restrictions; 2) last-minute packing advice; 3) FAQs regarding water purification and terrorism.
For up-to-date information on the new FAA Guidelines for air travelers, visit the FAA Web site at www.faa.org.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency last May published new terrorism-preparedness planning guidance for state and local governments. Much of the information also is useful for meeting planners seeking guidance on developing risk management, contingency planning, and disaster-control plans for meetings. The document is posted on the FEMA Web site at www.fema.gov/pte/gaheop.htm.
Your Meeting Emergency Plan
Before the meeting, assign critical staff functions. Put one person in charge of each of the following: communications, accountability, logistics (supplies), operations, finance, and planning. Give people authority to carry out their tasks.
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 talk only with decision-makers.
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 won't be able to rely on a credit card to make purchases.
Have backup communications. If you use two-way radios, also have cell phones, and make sure there are phones in the meeting rooms.
Take care of your staff. People can handle only eight to ten hours of high-stress situations at a time. Work in two- or three-hour shifts, and then take breaks.
Source: Kevin Mellot, president, ERASE Enterprises, Dallas