Safety and Security Planning for a Destination Meetings and Events

By Beth Buehler 

It seems like the atmosphere of today requires groups and meeting and event planners to be on top of their games regarding risk management; safety and security, more than ever before. Last year at the Meetings Industry Council of Colorado Educational Conference & Trade Show, I attended a pre-conference, planners-only session that featured a risk management panel. This year, the topic was expanded to a four-hour mitigating meeting disasters training session for planners.

As a magazine editor who covers the meetings and events industry, I also recently received an email from the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) to download “A Guide to Crisis Communications for Business Events Strategists”and received word about Meeting Professionals International’s “The Essential Guide to Safety and Security: Best Practices for Meeting and Event Planning 2018” that was released in June. MPI estimates that 53 percent of meeting and event organizers don’t have an event-specific crisis management plan in place. 

What does all this mean? It’s a big signal that safety and security can no longer play second fiddle to booking catering, décor, audiovisual, entertainment any more. It needs to be part of meeting planning initiatives from the start. Destination Colorado sought the expertise of two industry pros representing Colorado destination management companies: Kathy Fort Carty, president of DSC, an AlliedPRA Company, and Franny Starkey, COO of the Imprint Group. 

Are safety and security different things in the meeting planning world? How would you define both?

Kathy Fort Carty: We think of safety as what happens when a group is on-site and security as the planning that happens before and during an event to ensure the safety of our guests.

Franny Starkey: Generally, safety and security are intertwined, but what they mean and how you plan for both can vary greatly depending on the event you’re managing. For example, a large, public event requires certain safety measures that likely require security personnel. On the other hand, an event where dignitaries might attend would require security, but certain safety measures wouldn’t be necessary. Simply, safety planning is focused on the event’s flow and infrastructure and staff response in emergent situations. Security planning is more focused on the bodies necessary or process necessary to ensure guest safety and the event’s overall success in a variety of scenarios. 

VIP guests and entertainers may require extra safety and security measures. Photo courtesy of Imprint Group.

What are top things you think about when considering safety and security for destination meetings?

KFC: Key elements to mitigating risk and the safety of guests include ensuring we have a trained staff, understanding the venue or hotel emergency preparedness plan, identifying all egresses, making sure the key contact information is at our fingertips with a backup communication plan if phones are down, prioritizing and identifying the communication chain, and understanding the integration of the local police department, state police and Homeland Security. 

FS: The event itself – Is it open to the public? Is it focused on an issue or cause that’s controversial or will attract a lot of attention? Is it a high-profile event where dignitaries or VIPs might be in attendance? Are there activities that require waivers or include some element of danger? Is alcohol being served? If so, through drink tickets or open bar?

The crowd size – The larger the crowd, the more safety measures must be taken to ensure that participants can enter and exit in a safe manner, emergent services are accessible, overflow is managed, etc.

The venue – Is the event outdoors? Is the event in a high-rise building? Does the venue have its own security protocols?

Do these change based on the destination selected for your client?  If so how/why?

KFC: The basic procedures do not change, but the overall plan must be amended based on the profile of the event and guests, the venue or hotel, and transportation if shuttles are involved. It is important to understand this and be prepared for all situations.

An outdoor event venue requires considering different types of safety and security measures. Photo courtesy Imprint Group.

FS: The major changes to your safety considerations when you go from destination to destination should be the location itself and time of year. What will the weather look like? Are you in an area of the country where there could be major storms or events that must be factored for? Are you in a destination where infrastructure services aren’t as accessible or the resources aren’t available, such as an island for example?

What does “duty of care for attendees” mean?

KFC: Duty of care for attendees expresses an obligation on the part of meeting planners to exhibit reasonable care to ensure the safety of attendees when planning events or activities. At DSC, an AlliedPRA Company, this starts with our rigorous vetting of potential supplier-partners, especially those for activities with an element of risk, like water-based action or activities requiring physical exertion. We work only with the most reputable supplier-partners that meet our strict service, safety and insurance requirements.

This duty of care for attendees continues through the life of a program or event, where we work only with vetted suppliers and trained guides. We also respond as appropriate to real-time situations, such as rerouting transportation to avoid protests or using generic signage instead of company-branded signage to decrease unwanted attention on the group.    

When planning any activity, think through any necessary safety precautions. Photo courtesy DSC, an AlliedPRA Company.

FS: We take on every event, regardless of how few services we might be managing, as if it were our own. We want our client to feel like we care just as much, if not more, than they do about the program’s overall success. Certainly, our duty to care for attendees is paramount as part of that philosophy. If guests have a terrible experience or a major issue occurs that jeopardizes their safety, everything else that went wonderfully means nothing.

Do you have a process you go through for each meeting you plan when considering safety and security? If so, very briefly explain. 

KFC: Having an action plan to address what might happen is vital to the safety of guests and the reason we have an emergency preparedness plan in place at DSC, an AlliedPRA Company. Our multitude of processes—from response plans and staff and guide training to checklists and local contacts—allow us to be well prepared to handle emergency situations. We also have a risk assessment worksheet that has been developed with our safety and security consultant. This tool assesses a group of event variables, including client sector, group size, visibility of the event, client, venues and known threats and determines an overall event risk score, ranging from very low to very high. Using that score, we can work with clients to make adjustments to the event and/or bring on additional security staff to lower the overall risk and better ensure attendee safety. 

FS: Imprint has a standard safety and security protocol for every event, but we require that our operations managers look at each program with fresh eyes and adjust that outline accordingly. For example, in every safety plan for an event, the nearest hospital is listed or the local fire or water department’s information is included, which needs to be adjusted per program. But additionally, the venue will dictate how the safety plan has to change or a key attendee might cause us to adjust accordingly.

What are a few basic safety and security tips for groups and people assigned the task of planning a destination meeting?

KFC: Having a plan is most important, but communicating, keeping a level head and thinking on your feet will determine the outcome. Also, do your due diligence and ask your destination partners about their plans and the training they have in place for their staff. It’s those frontline people who will be interacting on-site with guests and have a big impact should an emergency happen.

Check with venue partners to see what safety procedures are in place. Photo courtesy of DSC, an AlliedPRA Company.

FS: The most basic, but also the most important, is to have a plan, period. What’s the chain of communication in the event of an emergency? Make sure every staff member, volunteer and client contact is aware of the plan. Have ready resources at your disposal, including key numbers and locations for basic services such as hospital, fire, police, water, etc.

What is the best way to learn about creating emergency response plans?

KFC: The best way to learn is to participate in workshops and training events. DSC, an AlliedPRA Company, sponsored a local security workshop to dive deep into the world of risk management and review current processes and procedures. The team studied our emergency contingency plans for incident management, communications, crowd control and situational awareness. From bomb threats to workplace violence, including active shooters, the team was given tools and resources to develop the best plan to ensure attendees are cared for and kept informed during an incident. Through role-playing and tabletop exercises, the team became even more well-versed on how to handle these types of situations.  

FS: The Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI) offers a wonderful two-day training and certification program for emergency preparedness, which our team has completed. While we haven’t had a major disaster to manage, certainly our plans have helped when a guest gets injured or passes out, a water line breaks, etc.

Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.