IT'S ONE THING to provide security for exclusive events, such as weddings and high-ticket galas. But what about security for big events where broad attendance is encouraged, such as trade shows and festivals? Here, safety expert Chris Rogers, Los Angeles-based director of risk control for the Entertainment Practices Group of insurance giant Aon, offers tips on large-scale security.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: In the wake of 9/11, are you seeing more sophistication on the part of your clients about security for their large public events?
CHRIS ROGERS: Absolutely. Not only are public assembly facilities looking at what is going on in the world, but many of them are required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to do risk assessments. Not to mention, their insurance carriers are insisting that risk assessments be done.
Q: Are show managers making changes in the way they operate to keep attendees safer?
A: Yes, in fact, more are meeting regularly with local law enforcement agencies to discuss upcoming events. Also, show management is doing more networking, contacting facilities that have previously hosted an event and inquiring about issues relating to it.
Q: What are convention centers doing to upgrade security?
A: We've started to see that, more and more, fire marshals who had not visited a facility in several years suddenly are showing up every six months or so now, insisting that exits be kept clear, that everything is in proper working order, that sort of thing. There is also a concept that has been gathering steam called CPTED — Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. That's basically where you go around and look to make sure you're not building in potential problems for yourself — in the layout, the landscaping and so on.
One issue that I have pushed is backstage tours. For some facilities, depending on the historical significance of the property, that's become an actual revenue stream. But I think that, given the issues of today, if you're doing this, make sure you keep tour guests away from critical or sensitive areas. And never allow videos or photos.
The other thing that we've been doing is encouraging public assembly groups and convention centers to do good risk assessments not only of their facility, but of events that they hold there. Are there issues you should be aware of that might draw attention to a particular group or gathering? They should treat even events they have held for many years as if they were a first-time event.
Q: What can event hosts do to make their attendees feel safe?
A: Train your employees — and not just security and guest relations personnel, but all employees — in “aggressive hospitality.” You train employees to observe patrons and guests, and if they are in inappropriate areas or if they appear to be lost or confused or display suspicious behavior, that you confront them. And you do it very politely and very professionally, but you definitely want them to know that you are aware that they are a stranger in your facility.
This technique does a couple of things. If you have patrons who are genuinely lost or confused, they will appreciate someone approaching them to help. And if they are people intent on doing you harm — and this could be anyone from a terrorist to a pickpocket — it will bother the heck out of them! They realize that people here are alert, so they can't just blend in, and that they have been noticed and might be recognized later on. And so it discourages them from staying in your facility.
In the past, facilities were somewhat reluctant to talk about security issues because they didn't want attendees to feel afraid. But I say, take exactly the opposite approach now. Tell people what you have done — added surveillance systems, electronic access control, background checks on all employees and vendors — to make sure that their attendance at your event is going to be enjoyable and run smoothly.
Q: What is the biggest mistake you see event planners make?
A: They become complacent. They think that because they are not holding their event in a major metro area or in a large venue, they are not a target. They don't feel that they have to update and refine their security plans.
Q: What is the most important security step that an event planner can take?
A: Put security into your plans. Don't ask just what amenities are in the area and how much floor space is available, but ask what has the venue done from a security standpoint, so when your people come here, they will feel welcome. Failure to plan is to plan for failure.
Chris Rogers can be reached at 310/234-6829; [email protected].