by Martha Cooke | December 01, 2003

The nature of convention center security has undergone dramatic change over the past two years. Whereas protecting property and deterring theft used to be the primary goal of facility security, the specter of terrorism has created new and critical priorities.
    “Convention and exhibit centers are public-assembly venues and high-profile targets of opportunity,” says Fred Costello, director at New York City-based security firm Kroll Worldwide. “Centers have special requirements, and that’s what we have to consider first.”
    In January, the Coppell, Texas-based International Association of Assembly Managers released Convention Center Best Practices guidelines to address the new realities of keeping facilities safe.
    It’s about time, says Greg Forehand, security director at the newly expanded Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. “Everything has changed, and now the focus is more on security,” he notes.
    In response to mounting demands for safety, a bevy of technological and mechanical devices are being used in increasingly creative ways.

Smile: You’re on camera
Advances in digital camera and recording technology represent a big step up from the analog devices of earlier years.
    “After 9/11, I put in digital color cameras,” says Greg Forehand in reference to his Orlando facility’s newer North/South Hall, with its one million square feet of exhibit space. “Before, we just had regular VCR cameras, but now we can zoom in on meeting room doors, and we have motion detectors in the hallways.”
    The Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu also has undertaken a major upgrade. “We’ve gone from black-and-white analog to color digital, and all of the cameras have VCR recording,” says general manager Joe Davis. The system also includes motion sensors. “If the camera sees something in a corridor and there’s motion, it’ll record it,” Davis explains.
     Increasing the number of cameras helps keep track of who enters what parts of the building, agree security managers. “In the past, we mainly would have cameras on a ramp, a loading dock or maybe the front doors,” says Lewis Dawley, senior vice president, convention center operations and business development for SMG, a Philadelphia-based facility management firm. But now, he adds, centers are studded with electronic “eyes” watching areas ranging from doorways to electrical and water systems. The equipment is very expensive, he notes, and for maximum effectiveness, security staff need to keep tabs on the camera feed on a regular basis.

Loud and clear
In the event of an emergency, being able to communicate with others both inside and outside a facility is paramount, says Craig Park, vice president, professional products group, for Northridge, Calif.-based Harman International. Park works on developing and installing high-tech sound systems that let staff and emergency workers be heard.
    “Our major concern is high-quality articulation and intelligibility,” Park says, explaining that although the typical fire alarm systems are very loud, they generally produce poor sound quality. “They aren’t good for relaying directions. Centers need a component that gives fire marshals and authorities the ability to direct people and be understood.”
    At San Francisco’s Moscone Center, Park worked with contractors, consultants and others to develop the audio system in the new West Building. He used high-grade loudspeakers and designed the layout to ensure clear sound quality throughout the hall.