by Steven Hacker | February 01, 2017

Event planners are excellent at making and following lists. They must be if they hope to stay on top of the numerous details, duties and deadlines over which they routinely preside. But, for the most part, meeting checklists have focused primarily on logistics and not on safety and security—at least nothing overly specific. Typically attention has focused on issues such as if rooms contain smoke detectors and sprinkler systems, whether there are fire extinguishers in hallways and the proximity of the on-site first-aid station. And while these matters remain very important, an entirely new and more ominous set of issues has arisen as the result of recent world terrorism events, which is why planners should create a new and far more comprehensive type of safety and security checklist. Fundamentally, it should be a risk assessment designed to focus on foreseeable hazards and then address the ways to eliminate or reduce those risks. Also important is defining how an emergency should be properly handled and, finally, having senior management approve the checklist so it becomes official policy.

So, you agree that the time has come to adopt a comprehensive safety and security checklist. Great! Now, the first question you probably have is: Just how do we start the process? To answer that, I turned to Jeff McKissack, president of Defense By Design, a company that specializes in providing individuals and organizations with customized safety training and support. McKissack shared what he considers to be the 10 most important things an event planner should contemplate when creating a safety checklist.

1. Require photo IDs for exhibitors at your events. You have control over who enters your show as exhibitors and attendees. Exhibitors have priority because they have pre-show access to your event facilities, yet that can be a risk if there is any insidious intent. Requiring photo IDs as a condition of admission is one way of ensuring they are who they say they are. Alternately, seek out a venue that is already using the Worker Identification System (WIS), a badge program recently developed by the Exhibition Services & Contractors Association and used at an increasing number of dedicated event facilities across the nation.

2. Create specialty badges for outside guests. Some members of the public may wish to attend or “scout” your event for various reasons. For these individuals, create unique and very visual badges that make them easy to identify; that way, if such individuals are found in questionable areas or exhibiting unusual behaviors, you’ll quickly be able to recognize that they are not an exhibitor or member attendee.

3. Question anyone who wishes to bring anything of size into your event. The local media plans to cover your event—great! The first thing you must do, however, is verify the identities of reporters, photographers or camera operators with their employers, both by name and physical description, prior to granting them admission. Then check their gear and equipment bags to make sure they are not bringing anything else into your event. Imposters have and can slip through security checks appearing to be legitimate members of the media. The same ruse can be used by those posing as service providers (such as HVAC, plumbing or even security guards).

4. Pay particular attention to individuals paying a little too much attention. This is especially relevant at events involving audiences that are predominantly elderly, female or youth. Such behavior may be seen and questioned on the show-room floor or brought to your attention by professionals taught to look for such behavior. Also be aware that individuals might be displaying predatory intent immediately outside of your event, such as in parking lots, garages, around ATMs and in surrounding bars and restaurants.

5. Post or print suggested best practices. You can’t expect others to be as adept at considering risk management or security as you are unless you have first instructed them on such concerns. Simply advising attendees or exhibitors to watch for suspicious people by admonishing, “If you see something, say something,” is not enough. Instruct people on what exactly to look for so that they can become effective sentries and how to react or whom to contact at your venue.

6. Partner with your host hotel to boost security. Host hotels have a vested interest in keeping your attendees safe, so partner with them and create video tutorials that can be viewed on in-room TV channels to help your guests feel more secure and better enjoy the event experience and the host city.

7. Present pre-event safety education. Just like the instructional points delivered today on mass transit, in airplanes and even in some movie theaters, you can offer short, informational briefings from meeting rooms equipped with projection screens for audiovisual support. This can be done in the form of tips, trivia or games created to help educate, inform and empower your attendees without causing undue fear or paranoia. Likewise, consider providing vendors/exhibitors with pre-show education.

8. Offer safety sessions throughout the event. Enhance your due diligence efforts by repeating the same presentation throughout the day (or event if it lasts several days). Sign-in sheets can document who participated.

9. Reward participation efforts. To further engage attendees in activities that will enhance their own safety, consider offering rewards such as door prizes (supplied by exhibitors), cash prizes (supplied by sponsors) or even passes for future events (supplied by your organization or your clients) to those who “play along.” As the word spreads, more will participate. Make safety and security a big deal by making it fun and rewarding.

10. Pitch exhibitors or sponsors to help pay for safety enhancements. Depending upon the event, the price of exhibit space can be increased nominally or sponsors can be approached to help cover costs. Using creativity to provide the necessary underwriting can enhance safety thresholds.

While preparing for new security and safety concerns will undoubtedly require more time and preparation, events today require planners who are ready and willing to address these concerns. Given the number of precautions available—and the number of negative consequences that could befall your group if you don’t practice due diligence—there’s really little reason not to jump on this bandwagon and shore up your event’s safety and security practices as soon as possible.