Three months ago, a religious meeting planner overly concerned with security issues might have been branded as paranoid. As of September 11, anyone not focused on security risks 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.”
While the war on terrorism is causing religious meeting planners to re-evaluate meeting security, it is important to keep in mind that 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, 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.
Carol Krugman, CMP, president/CEO of Krugman Group International Inc., an independent planning company specializing 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, communicate as often as possible with your client about your risk assessment and research every step of the way.
Steps to Take
Werth and Krugman advise you to meet with chief security personnel at your venue. Find out about the plans in place for rescue, emergency, and medical teams, and 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.”
When hired as a security consultant for an event, Werth completes an 18-page checklist. (To see a portion of his checklist, see “Security Checklist” on page 12.) “It's not a cookie-cutter approach,” he says. “Every client and venue is different.”
“Right now, everybody is concerned,” says Gary Moses, an event security consultant in Los Angeles. “What you want to do is present a picture that proper steps are being taken for the safety of anyone attending.”
Creating that aura of safety requires a variety of efforts. Many organizations are offering attendees 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, such as badges laminated with the group's logo or that include a photo ID. And 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 meeting management for Somerville, N.J. — based Embryon Inc. “After September 11, I am adamant.”
Meeting location has taken on more importance as well. A warning from Krugman: Every destination has its dangers. Do not 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 Charles Slepian, whose Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center advises companies on travel security.
“Everyone ought to have alternative destinations identified as part of a contingency process,” says Werth, who suggests second- and third-tier cities or resorts as good options. Access may be more difficult, but your group may draw less attention in Tulsa than in Los Angeles, for example.
Meetings that attract high-profile personalities or that deal with controversial issues have been planning around security issues all along. Last spring, PRA Destination Management got firsthand experience in dealing with threats.
The company was preparing for BIO 2001, a 15,000-attendee convention of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, when it learned that anarchists were teaching protesters how to break police barricades, make bombs, sneak into meetings, and stop motorcoaches.
In response, PRA rolled security into place to cover a range of disruptions to the San Diego meeting. Roscoe even hired security for her own company. BIO 2001 went off smoothly, but Roscoe isn't resting.
“When I put security on our building,” she recalls, “I said, ‘We're living in a different time.’”
Rick Werth couldn't agree more. “We are in a totally different world,” he says. “If anybody thinks we're going back, they're mistaken.”