Security and safety are on everyone’s mind these days. It’s hard not to think about it. Given that we’re in the face-to-face business, where (hopefully) large crowds gather to engage in commerce and shared experiences, it’s a subject of great importance. Bottom line – we are bringing lots of people together in one place – so ensuring their safety is not an option.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Vicki Hawarden, CMP, president & CEO from the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) at Expo! Expo! in Baltimore to discuss what convention centers and other venues are doing to, as she succinctly put it, “Ensure the safety and security of all guests while still providing a great experience.” We, as show managers have our own security and safety policies, but ultimately, if something bad happens, building policies prevail.
Maybe now is a good time to re-read the emergency manual(s) of buildings where your company holds events.
Vicki said that there has been an increased focus on safety since 9-11. Recent events are making everyone take a fresh look at what they are doing and how they can improve what is already in place, regardless of venue size.
So what are we seeing used? Enlarged and professionally trained security forces, a bigger use of on and off-duty police, metal detectors, scanners, and sometimes, dogs. Dogs are one of the best and fastest ways to detect weapons and explosives, while allowing attendees entry into a building at a faster rate. However, they can only work for two hours at a time then need to rest. As we all know, dogs are far more expensive to keep than electronic equipment.
Training for security personnel to do things such as spot trouble before it starts and not be combative (de-escalate situations, not add to the problem) are some of things that IAVM offers its members. They have a variety of educational and training options available to show organizers as well as venues (Go to iavm.org).
The one most apropos programs for readers on the IAVM web site is called the “Active Attacker.” It is training for everyone on staff to learn how to respond appropriately and affect crowd control, should an attack of any kind occur at an event. The program may be held on site or in your home office.
I also had the chance to ask David Boon, director of commercial & international affairs of Brussels Expo, about security at venues in Europe. Unlike many centers in the U.S., Brussels Expo and other European exhibition centers have placed fencing around their fairgrounds and campuses, with limited access/egress points. He mentioned that when the city security level went to four (out of five) as it did just after the Paris attack, every single truck had to be searched offsite before it could go unload inside the Brussels Expo complex. Each and every truck. Imagine how that would that impact your shows!
Am I being paranoid? I prefer to think of it as being proactive and prepared. The fact is, expos are a possible target for terror. We bring together thousands of people in one place at one time. We encourage press coverage. I urge you to take this subject seriously and have discussions with your teams. Have discussions with your suppliers and venues. Have a plan. If nothing else, it’ll make your family feel better.