Protecting attendees: The evolving security imperative of today’s meetings

Since the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, Richmond Raceway has implemented public safety measures such as wanding, bag checking, and walkthrough magnetometers upon entry.
Since the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, Richmond Raceway has implemented public safety measures such as wanding, bag checking, and walkthrough magnetometers upon entry.

Event security is not a new strategy for meeting planners, but an uptick in alarming incidents has put efforts to protect attendees at the forefront.

From increased terrorist activity and shootings to inclement weather, today’s meetings must be more vigilant and proactive than ever.

“It is ever evolving,” said Chris Alberta, security manager for Richmond Raceway. “Security measures drastically started changing after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.”

Since then, Richmond Raceway has implemented public safety measures such as wanding, bag checking, and walkthrough magnetometers upon entry. In addition, the organization has increased explosive ordnance protection, police presence, biohazard sensing locations, and emergency response to unattended packages.

Amid increasing threats, Dean Dennis, senior vice president and general manager of the Renasant Convention Center and Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, noted it is more important than ever to stay informed about the latest technology and best practices.

“With the many tragic incidents and potential threats in recent years, crowd management and security services are the most important challenges confronting our industry today,” he said. “Any venue of public assembly, large or small, inside or out, is unfortunately subject to perilous and unsafe situations whether it be domestic or international terrorism, hazardous weather conditions, and now—pandemics.”

It is a topic which demands management’s full attention, Dennis added, suggesting it is now incumbent upon all full and part-time staff to participate in security and crowd management training for the safety of guests.

“We are the eyes and ears of the facility. Crowd management must be a very proactive and ongoing process,” he explained. “It is also important to communicate regularly with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies including Homeland Security and have emergency procedures prepared in the event of a major incident.”

Security basics

Foundationally, security starts with a deep understanding of a venue, Dennis said. This means a planner should start by analyzing the layout of space, exits, and access points and how on-site venue security teams monitor and secure those areas.

“This includes outdoor events where the planner needs to set a perimeter and assure boundaries are protected,” Dennis noted. “Diagramming the event and providing it to the event team is a key part of being prepared.”

Alberta agreed, adding in tandem with a venue analysis, security strategies must be built with an understanding of the size and scope of an event. For example, in the case of a concert, these parameters might include understanding how performers and attendees arrive and how to pair strategies with the performer’s security team.

“We host a variety of events ranging from small corporate events in our club level suite to our NASCAR doubleheader race weekends,” Alberta said. “Security requirements will vary based on the event; therefore, it should be a top priority to discuss with the event planners and stakeholders.”

Training is a critical component to ongoing security efforts, Dennis said, noting an event team should be trained just like the members of a facility security team.

“All members of our [team] are trained to develop exceptional observational skills and to be aware of their surroundings,” he noted. “We must provide for the safety of our attendees and employees and the security of the venue. We do that with cameras, search and wanding policies, and detailed monitoring.”

As a best practice, Dennis noted he also arranges a security audit of the facility through the Department of Homeland Security to enhance safe venue operations.

“We are in that process here in Memphis. This audit assists venues in best practices and potential areas of concern in the venue,” he said. “It is an overall evaluation of the venue’s safety and security plan and has been instrumental in the quality of our daily operations.”

In addition, Dennis suggested getting visitors and guests involved through signage which provides reminders.

“We have added signage reading ‘See Something Say Something’ throughout the property,” he noted.

Dean Dennis, senior vice president and general manager of the Renasant Convention Center and Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, noted it is more important than ever to stay informed about the latest technology and best practices.
Dean Dennis, senior vice president and general manager of the Renasant Convention Center and Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, noted it is more important than ever to stay informed about the latest technology and best practices.

Common security oversights

Even in the current climate, Dennis believes there are some groups who simply do not take security seriously enough, allowing other event needs to take priority.

“Simply assuming [because] your event—large or small—has been done this way for years, and there is not much risk, is a major oversight. The ‘we’ll be fine’ attitude doesn’t work in 2020,” he stressed. “Communication with your team and the venue are critical from start to finish. Talk to the experts or add one to your team. Take advantage of numerous resources to make the best security plan you can for your event.”

Alberta suggested many groups get tripped up with access points.

“Artists, vendor, and staff access points are often not included in the screening process,” he said. “We are a no weapons facility and require all artists and their team to go through wanding or metal detection.”

He pointed out the “back of house” is often neglected, and planners should be mindful of this area when planning large events. Also, after conducting a sweep of an area, Alberta noted it is imperative to then keep the area clear, as failure to maintain control of the area defeats the purpose of sweep, opening the door to potential problems.

Technology And evolving best practices

Technological advancement allows event planners and venue operators to take security to the next level.

Alberta pointed to the ReadyAlert communication systems as a great tool for concerts and the organization’s NASCAR race weekend, allowing the team to reach hundreds of people at once for text alerts ranging from impending weather, gate opening times, and security updates.

“It can be broken down into different groups so you can focus on which ones need the appropriate message,” he pointed out.

Also, the organization has doubled its CCTV (closed circuit television) measures across the property as a resource for more effectively monitoring its 1,100 acres. Biohazard detectors brought in from the military and aerial microwave downlink video are used to evaluate vehicular and crowd traffic flow and entry is restricted to certain areas by electronic card access and key fobs.

While technology is an important part of any security strategy, Dennis also emphasized it does not replace the effectiveness of the human element. Particularly, he stressed having staff in the right places to protect the access points, watching for suspicious behavior, affirming credentials, and just being a presence.

As the industry continues to evolve, develop, and share best practices, Dennis suggested meeting professionals of the Events and Meetings Safety and Security Initiative brought forward by International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE), International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM),1 Exhibition Servicews & Contractors Association (ESCA), Homeland Security, and other industry partners as they work toward continually establishing new best practices and guidelines.

“We support that program and are looking forward to more information coming in the months and years ahead of best practices for our industry,” he said.

Note

1 For more information, visit www.iavm.org/emssi.

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