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; fancy guest rooms and upscale food are much more fun to consider than a bad guy with a gun or a global pandemic.
Also, the breadth of the topic can seem dauting. There’s cyber security, crisis communication, public-relations scenarios, and emergency-response planning. Considering the constant barrage of scary news on TV and the utter fiction on social media, it’s hard to want to look at 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 many of them. Starting with the site-selection process, we can begin the process of keeping our attendees safer.
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 some safety issues, for example a medical incident or a power outage. Many venues won’t release their safety or emergency plans for reasons of liability and/or confidentiality but mentioning it from the very beginning indicates your level of sincerity.
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 go along for the tour. It is a great time for the venue to point out the emergency exits, fire extinguishers, and automatic external defibrillators (AEDs); describe how the hotel meets local and state codes and regulations; and talk about the venue’s emergency-action plans
As you continue to include safety as part of your planning, ask the venue about security staffing, closed-circuit cameras, and other elements to help reduce theft, assault, and damage. These things will vary from venue to venue and might include uniformed security, non-uniformed personnel, keycard access for restricted access, video monitoring, and other safety measures. Inquire about security staff training, background checks, and how security protocols can help keep your attendees be well protected
Back of House
Although some venues might not let you view back-of-house areas, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Make sure the property agrees that, during your event, back hallways will be free of clutter and 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 local health codes or regulations, confirm that they do.
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 want outdoor function space and parking garages to have adequate lighting. Do hotel-security procedures cover outlets like restaurants, gift shops, fitness centers, and pools? Can first responders get in and out quickly and with minimal obstruction? Is the venue compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act?
It’s also a good idea to know the venue’s policy for when to dial 911, the location of the closest hospital, and the hotel’s internal contact for emergencies. After you bring these basics into your site selection process once, it will become easier and easier for future meetings to put these safety and security questions 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].