When asked recently why more planners don’t take safety and security more seriously, one planner responded, “it’s so big and boring.” Granted, it is not the sexiest of meeting-planning topics; cool event-space design and great local F&B offerings are much more fun to consider than protesters or thieves trying to infiltrate your property—or a person with a gun.
Also, the breadth of the topic can seem dauting. There’s crisis communication, emergency-response planning, and even cyber security plans to consider. And with the constant barrage of scary news on TV and the craziness on social media, it’s hard to want to deal with event safety.
There’s good news, however. Planners can prepare for the possibility of bad things happening, and even have the power to prevent or mitigate any negative effects if something occurs. Starting with the site-selection process, planners can begin the process of keeping attendees as well as physical and intellectual property safe.
Here are a few simple things to do during your next hotel- or venue-selection process.
Start with the RFP
Let the hotel or venue know that you take safety seriously. In your RFP, ask how the hotel handles certain safety issues, for example a medical incident or a power outage. Many venues won’t release their full safety or emergency plans for reasons of liability and/or confidentiality, but mentioning it at the very beginning indicates your level of concern about it.
Site Visit: Focus on Safety
Planners are used to being guided around a property by sales staff, banquet personnel, and conference service managers. Next time, request that someone from hotel security also go along for the tour. It is a great time for them to point out the emergency exits, fire extinguishers, and automatic external defibrillators (AEDs); describe how the hotel addresses safety- and security-related laws and regulations; and talk about the venue’s emergency-action plans.
As you continue the process, ask the venue about security-staff personnel numbers, closed-circuit camera monitoring, and other property elements that help reduce theft, assault, and damage. These things will vary from venue to venue and might include uniformed security, non-uniformed personnel, keycards for restricted-access areas, video monitoring, and other measures. Inquire about security-staff training and background checks, and how security protocols are designed to keep your spaces and attendees buffered from negative actions.
Back of House
Although some venues might not want to show you the back-of-house areas, you should ask to see them. Make sure the property agrees that, during your event, back hallways will be free of clutter and of any items that might hinder an emergency exit or provide a hiding place for unauthorized people. If the kitchens or other food-service operations need to meet certain health and safety regulations, confirm that they do during a tour of those areas.
More than Meeting Space
If your meeting will use space other than general-session and breakout rooms, explore it on your site visit. For instance, you'll want outdoor function spaces and parking garages to have adequate lighting. How does the security staff cover outlets like restaurants, gift shops, fitness centers, pools, and parking areas? Can first responders get in and out of each area of the property quickly? Is the venue fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act?
It’s also smart to know the hotel’s primary and backup contact people for emergencies, the venue’s policy for when staferrs will dial 911, and the location of the closest police station and hospital.
After you bring these basics into your site selection process once, it will become easier during future meetings to put these safety and security concerns in the spotlight from the start.
Alan Kleinfeld, has more years in meeting management than he wants to admit, combined with nearly two decades of law enforcement experience. He’s a sought-after consultant, speaker, and author. He’s also the director of the Lowcountry Graduate Center in Charleston, S.C. Contact him at [email protected].