Security means different things to different people. For airport employees, it’s using metal detectors and bag searches. For data centers, it’s preventing cyber theft and hacking. For political figures and celebrities, it means hiring bodyguards and Secret Service. And for the average person, it can mean just about anything.
Event planners in particular have to take all of these security measures and more into account because they are entrusted to keep every level of people, from your average Jane Doe to the President, safe and secure.
With more intelligent cyber attacks, increased shooting-involved incidents and turmoil in the Middle East—just to name a few modern crises—the importance of having adequate security at events continues to skyrocket.
“Security is a growing concern throughout the industry as a whole,” says Cory Fowkes, director of production for Chicago-based Next Level Event Design—a global strategic event and conference management agency. “We are no longer in the days of simply needing a bodyguard for top executives or a wristband indicating you’re of legal drinking age.”
A HIGH-LEVEL APPROACH
Celebrities, political figures and athletes typically require a different set of security standards. Public figures may need background checks and personal info of everyone who will be on-site during the event, for example.
Spiaggia, an Italian restaurant located in Chicago’s Gold Coast, has hosted a number of events for high-profile clients, including Oprah, Heidi Klum and a mix of politicians, and its staff knows the drill well.
“Because their day-to-day lives require so much security, we follow their wishes and protocols,” says Marlee Schuster, senior sales manager. “I think it’s important to respect what the client wants, and if [security] is important to them, it’s important to us.”
For these types of events, it’s important to think of each and every possible outcome. This tends to mean extra security and intense scrutiny. A celebrity’s bodyguard detail does much of this work already, but venue staff needs to be accessible around the clock, too.
“The work is more on the end of the public figure,” says Erica Poppe, also a senior sales manager for the restaurant. “But we have to be available to answer questions [about the venue] and show them around when needed.”
Like Spiaggia, River North’s River Roast sees a number of high-profile guests come through its doors. Staying secure means keeping all staff in the loop.
“Every single person needs to be aware of the event needs, and proper protocol must be in place,” says Hilary Saurer, director of sales. “It takes a lot of advanced planning, working with the security team and working with the guests.”
LEAVING IT TO THE PROS
While celebrities and politicians may hire their own bodyguards, planners can consider hir - ing off-duty cops for other high-level or highcapacity needs.
“Off-duty police officers are a good idea for various reasons; most importantly they are generally knowledgeable and quickly briefed of the location and general potential threats within that area. They also engage in continued training on how to deal with potential situa - tions,” says Fowkes.
There is always the option of hiring private security companies, too, but Fowkes says he thinks off-duty cops are the better option.
“Private security companies do provide a great level of additional eyes and first response to a general minor situation,” says Fowkes. “However, off-duty police may have a more firm knowledge on the correct legal actions to take in a time of crisis, and can easily communicate with local police force if [additional resources are] necessary.”
Conceal and carry is another topic more peo - ple are growing increasingly concerned about, and it’s something planners in charge of largescale events should always be aware of given the changing legislation on that matter.
“Event organizers have a responsibility to create safe havens for all of our attendees. In doing so, an appropriate safety and security overlay is impor - tant,” adds Peter Ashwin, principal behind Event Risk Management Solutions—a company that provides security-consulting services. “While I appreciate that there are members of our com - munities who wish to exercise their rights, the open carry of firearms at an event is intimidating to other attendees and increases the potential risk of accidental or intentional use of firearms."
A HIDDEN ISSUE
Fowkes hasn’t had any experience with conceal and carry issues yet, but adding extra security has been more front of mind as handguns and open shooter situations become more prevalent in our culture. At many events, he’s dealt with magnetometer detectors.
Mike Mlady, president of operations and co-owner of AF Services Inc., an Illinoisbased security and ushering service provider, also has had to prepare for active shooter situations, particularly since their portfolio has included high-profile events such as Princess Diana’s famous visit to Chicago and the 2012 Chicago Summit—a meeting with the heads of state, heads of government and NATO.
He sees a risk at some convention centers across the country that choose not to have anyone armed in the facility, recommending they staff at least one person for larger events or events with famous people just in case something does happen.
“Not all shows are concerned about it because they’re not likely to have threats,” he admits. “However, I think major shows should have an armed security officer or [hire a] police officer within the city or town they are in.”
TAKING IT OFFLINE
Russian hacking, Wikileaks, Twitter hacking—cyber attacks are becoming a greater threat as our digital world expands. High-level events need to occasionally be wary of such a problem. Some clients will be unable to work in collaborative platforms like Google Drive because that type of storage is too vulnerable tor their needs. They also may have information that has to be handled offline and through meetings in person rather than through e-mail, both of which are good standards to use when there may be risk for a confidentiality breach. A more realistic threat, Ashwin says, is sensitivity to ransom ware, which comes from malicious sources and encrypts your computer or network so you can’t open it. This can occur because of unsafe or fake websites, opening attachments from unknown senders and clicking on malicious links. In all scenarios, planners should use discretion when the sender is unknown or the subject line and preview text seems suspect.
For large-scale and high-security events, confidentiality clauses are sometimes a possibility.
Fowkes has worked with these nondisclosure agreements for a few events—either around the event’s theme/topic, the location of the meeting—or both. As well, he’s planned events where phones, audio and video have been banned.
“All of these are very difficult to implement but necessary and able to be done,” he says. “It’s always fun to introduce a phone check for the first time.”
BEING PREPARED FOR ANYTHING
The challenge of adhering to security standards depends on the client’s needs, of course—and budget.
Ashwin notes that with increased security comes the discussion of rising costs. Planners can struggle to provide a high level of security that also fits within their budget.
“I have seen an increased awareness within the events industry for security at events,” he says. “Conversely, [I’ve seen] an increasing concern regarding how to balance that against a finite budget.” Engaging off-duty cops can be one way to solve this, and so can cutting some other less-essential corners that maybe take away from the ambiance but add greater piece of mind.
“Extra security is never a bad thing,” says Saurer. “It’s always worth the additional work and preparation for peace of mind.”
No matter what, the important thing is to be flexible. Even the most well laid-out plans can go awry since things can always happen that are out of your control.
“As planners, we pride ourselves in having a plan B in our pocket,” says Fowkes.
He and his team take time to discuss every potential threat and outcome. For planners, he notes, it’s better to be aware of all that could happen, regardless of its likelihood.
“Understand that there is always the chance for a security threat. Don’t be afraid of it. But rather, think it through and prepare for it so that you are in control if something does happen,” he says. “The fear of the unknown and not being prepared is far worse than having thought through it all.”
“There is something that always pops up,” adds Mlady. “You have to learn to think on your feet.” The benefit of a professional security firm is that they are trained to do so.
KNOWING WHAT IS MOST VALUABLE
Security also means protecting your valuables. If you’re shipping items to a trade show, for example, make sure to keep track of serial numbers and shipping numbers, as well as dates and times of drop-offs and pickups, says Mlady. This helps keep everything organized. If something is stolen, police can use that information to track down the goods. Also make sure you report guests’ missing items immediately so your security company can start looking for them without lost time.
Mlady also recommends putting the security company in charge of the lost and found area of an event, because they’ll keep track of things a little more closely.
For personal safety, Mlady encourages attendees to not wear conference or event badges outside of the venue. If you’re in Chicago, for example, and wearing a badge that says you’re from New York, you may be an easy target for burglaries or muggings because visitors are less likely to come back for a court date.
While these security measures can seem cumbersome and frustrating for attendees, most will likely appreciate all the precautions that are taken to ensure their safety, says Fowkes.
“As a planner, don’t allow the perceived inconvenience of security measures become the real threat to the safety of your event and attendees,” he says. “Most understand and accept that it means you’re taking their safety seriously.”