by Morton D. Rosenbaum | October 01, 2004
More than three years after 9/11, security remains a major issue for the industry. Yet, claim some industry insiders, a majority of meeting planners remain largely unconcerned.
    “Right after 9/11, attitudes about security changed dramatically,” said Peter Alexen, owner and president of RA Consulting, a Santana, Calif.-based security management company that advises conventions and trade shows worldwide. “Soon after that, though, people already started forgetting, and the priority of security faded away.”
    “This industry has become complacent again,” echoed Bradley D. Weaber, CMP, vice president, mid-Atlantic region, for Cleveland-based Conferon Inc. Weaber cited a recent conference he conducted with more than 200 meeting planners, at which he asked attendees to name the top three present concerns in the industry; security did not even figure in the top tier, appearing at number five.
    “Absolutely, our industry has been dangerously lax,” said Steven Hacker, president of the Dallas-based International Association for Exhibition Management. “Of course there are planners out there who are just as vigilant as they should be, but too many of our members have not moved security issues to the priority level they deserve.”
    According to Dr. Jack Harrald, director of the Washington, D.C.-based George Washington University Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management, while hotels and convention centers have become increasingly attentive to security concerns, planners have failed to take the lead. “I don’t think planners are unconcerned, but I think there’s not a lot of knowledge about what the next step should be,” said Harrald, who suggested that in the absence of a clear industry standard, meeting planners are waiting for security guidance from the government, leaving attendees at risk in the interim. “What the industry needs is a set of practices that it creates for itself,” he added.
    For its part, IAEM established the Center for Exhibition Security & Safety, which published several white papers on the issue. The Chicago-based Professional Convention Management Association, which ran an online forum in May called “Security Door to Door: A Comprehensive Approach for the Meetings Industry,” said it plans to distribute its own white paper on the topic in the near future. 
    “Any planner who feels unsure on how best to proceed with security should invest two hours in reading up,” said Hacker. “It’s their responsibility to gather information and develop a plan.”