You would never just order “food” for your event—you instead create detailed menus for every meal and break. But when it comes to event security, many just layer in security without defining what is actually required for that specific event or what exactly the security you hire is supposed to do, said former Secret Service specialist Thomas Kasza at a session on risk management at the 2016 Financial and Insurance Conference Planner Annual Conference.
Kasza, who currently is president of Corporate Risk Group, an advisory firm specializing in providing projection, investigative, and critical incident solutions, outlined what planners need to do to anticipate, assess, and address each event’s security needs from soup to nuts.
Define What Security Should Look Like for Each Event
You don’t want to just plan for contingencies, said Kasza. You have to approach security planning with a prevention mindset. “Using a reactionary model, we would have lost every president in history,” he added.
This means doing the upfront work to anticipate issues that could arise given the event’s location, dates, attendee mix, potential for media attention—all the elements that could factor into a disruption—so you can stop it from happening to begin with.
Among the factors he said planners should consider:
• The nature of the event. Is it a small, local event? A large, public one?
• Who the attendees are. Are they your employees? The public? Will anyone high-profile or controversial be attending?
• How will you know that those attending are in fact the people you invited? What level of credential and identification do you need? “At the Republican National Convention, credentials were at a premium because so many wanted to get in,” Kasza said.
• Who cares about the event? Is it something of interest just to your invited attendees, or might the media sniff controversy and want to attend?
• What are the consequences of a disruption? This determines how much effort you put into prevention or mitigation of any specific potential threat. For example, he said, “If all you’re worried about is someone getting in and eating a meal uninvited, the damage may be small, so security can be small. On the other hand, if you have a red-carpet event with media attention, you’ll need heightened security.
• Who controls access to the event, and how do they do it?
• How you will communicate and inform in the case of an issue. “It’s not just security’s job,” he said. Adapt the government’s “See something, say something” campaign for your event—tell people what to look for and who to say something to.
• Determine when recovery would and would not be possible. Sometimes an incident is so disruptive that the meeting can’t continue—have a plan for how and where it can continue if possible, and for how you would handle it if something shuts your meeting down entirely.
You don’t necessarily have to have a full Secret Service-level security plan, of course, but you should have a basic outline of how you can keep people safe in place that is appropriate to that specific event, said Kasza. “If you know the risks and have a mitigation plan that keeps damage to a minimum, you will be on the right side of litigation.”
Integrate Safety into Your Event
Once you have thoroughly assessed the potential threats to your event and assigned the level of security you need to counter each one, it’s time to determine what you will need to provide to keep people safe. Kasza outlined a few safety issues most planners should consider.
• Fire. Calling fire and smoke “the great equalizer,” he said that it’s essential to have a plan to get everyone out, preferably in the three minutes you’ll have before you need air. Your attendees’ brains need to be trained on where the escape routes are. With a few exemptions for historic buildings, most venues have two stairwells—know where they are and how to access them, he said, and share that information with everyone in attendance.
• Accidents/incidents. Do you know the fastest route to the nearest hospital? How would you handle a stage collapse? Tell people where to go to be safe should an emergency situation arise.
• Targeted violence. This is unfortunately on the rise in the U.S. What plans do you have in place should this happen at your event? An incident of unrelated targeted violence also could happen, which could put your meeting in lock-down mode. “Don’t dwell on [that possibility], but don’t ignore it either,” he said.
Don’t be afraid to use all available resources, including the facility’s security plans already in place. Talk with local police about any potential threats they may see for an event with your profile. Hire private security, though he also said it’s fine to use volunteers and staff to handle low-level threats, like telling people not to use a particular stairway. Monitor social media for any hateful or threatening rhetoric. “Everything you need to know is available for free on social media,” he said.
Security is everyone’s duty, he added. At every briefing, tell people what to expect, what to do in case of an incident, and who to tell if they see something suspicious. “There’s a difference between a suspicious bag and an unattended bag, and calling police to come check on an unattended bag could ruin your event. Have a contingency plan for how to assess whether or not it’s a threat, and what you can do to mitigate the risk.”
It may sound a bit overwhelming, but a thorough security assessment and mitigation plan is not something you can ignore. As Kasza said, “Security is always too much—until it’s not enough.”
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