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Recent Incidents Highlight Need for Risk Management

A veteran security consultant says that planners should implement many of the same protocols used for executive-level events across all their meetings.

In an ironic twist, the Risk Management Society had the final evening of its 2023 Riskworld convention in Atlanta cut short last week due to an active-shooter situation that, while more than two miles away from the convention center, affected the shuttle-bus routes between the center and several hotels in the room block.

As a result, the event’s closing-night party “was canceled simply out of an abundance of caution,” said RIMS CEO Gary LaBranche late on May 3, the day the incident took place. “Everybody in the convention center and in our hotels are all safe.” The perpetrator was captured eight hours after the shootings, which killed one person and wounded four others at a medical facility in Atlanta’s midtown neighborhood.

Kevin Coffey, a former police detective and now a consultant and speaker on security and risk management for events, says that planners should prepare for risk management in the same way for all of their meetings as they do for executive-level gatherings. “The requests I’m getting lately revolve around elements such as location selection—both what to look for during a site inspection and the environment that surrounds the host property. These are things many planners have not really focused on before. Most importantly, they should look at preparing for all the what-if scenarios—and the big one now is active shooter.”

In this area, the central thing to remember, says Coffey, “is that you cannot rely on the hotel staff or security to be able to help you in these emergency situations.” Why? “Because security people are going to be focused on and moving towards the threat. So, the planning team must be able to take initiative in that moment—your entire audience is looking around going, ‘What do we do? Where do we go?’”

RiskManagementCoffey.pngIn a recent presentation to meeting planners, Coffey (in photo) asked this: How many of you check where the emergency exits from your general-session room go to? “You have to understand the evacuation process and the entire layout of the facility” in order to guide meeting participants swiftly and decisively. Then, planners must communicate that information to the audience at the start of the meeting. In addition, “you need to inform people about where the AED (automated external defibrillator) devices are.”

One area in particular where planners might want to perform risk management at a higher level for all their meetings is in vetting hotel staff. One way to do this: Ask hotel management whether they have done background checks on all employees to ensure none has a violent or extensive criminal background.

A troubling example of what can happen when hotel staffers are not vetted: A property manager at a meetings hotel in Nashville was arrested this week for copying a guest’s room key, entering the guest’s room at 5 a.m., and sucking on the guest’s toes. It turns out the manager had a violent criminal history, and a lawsuit against the hotel is pending. The manager was charged with aggravated burglary and assault.

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