A stranger traveling in a strange place often encounters hazards along the way. That's why the “it's not going to happen to me” syndrome has no place in religious meeting planning. Thinking “it can absolutely happen to me or someone in my group” is more like it.

All risk cannot be eliminated. But by making safety and security an integral part of the planning process, organizations can dramatically lower the likelihood of a problem.

Travel Safety

One way to help protect your attendees traveling to areas where tourists are targets is to provide them with a list of precautions. Tell them to:

  • Be aware of those around them. Remain alert at all times, especially in crowded areas. Thieves often operate in pairs. One may bump you while the other picks your pocket. Try to avoid carrying valuables in baggage that can be easily snatched, snipped, or removed without your knowledge.

  • Stay in well-lit areas. Avoid unlit driveways and shadowy places. When possible, ride rather than walk, particularly at night. If the streets around your hotel are deserted, take a taxi or shuttle bus, even if your destination is within easy walking distance.

  • Keep a low profile. Do not draw attention to yourself by ostentatious dress and displays of wealth. Stick with plain clothes. Don't wear your badge or carry your meeting materials with you outside your hotel. Outsiders are prime targets for thieves. As much as possible, try to look as though you belong.

  • Adhere to a buddy system. If you know someone is headed for the same destination you are, see if you can tag along. Few travelers become victims when they are in the company of others. Be sure to walk with another person, particularly at night.

Venue Safety

Is your hotel and/or venue fire-safe? When inspecting a site for fire safety, look at every angle. Have the director of security show you the fire exits and the facility's evacuation plan, and visit the closest hospital or emergency room. Note the most direct route, how long it takes, and the admission procedure.

When considering a venue, ask these fire-safety questions. The local fire department can be a useful resource for answers and can help evaluate a facility's fire preparedness.

  • Are there fire sprinkler systems, and smoke and fire detectors in guest rooms and meeting rooms? Are the smoke detectors hard-wired to a central station or to the fire department?

  • Is there a fire alarm system to alert attendees? Does it sound automatically?

  • What action does the facility's staff take when the alarm sounds? Do they follow an established standard operating emergency procedure?

  • Are exit doors and routes clearly labeled, and are exit signs illuminated? Is there an adequate number of emergency exits?

  • Is there emergency lighting?

  • Are fire extinguishers, fire hose valves, and manual fire alarm pulls easily accessible?

  • Are corridors, exit doorways, and exit stairways unobstructed? Are exit doors unlocked?

  • Are clear emergency instructions posted in each guest room?

  • How are guests with disabilities evacuated?

  • Is the facility subject to a fire code? Which one? Are any fire-safety violations related to safety inspections outstanding or uncorrected? Double check with the local fire department.

The National Fire Protection Association has compiled a hotel fire safety checklist. To obtain a copy, contact Albert B. Sears Jr., assistant vice president, meetings, NFPA at asears@nfpa.org.