August 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio August 2001 Current Issue
August 2001 lawandplan.gifPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner

By Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.


Well beyond locking up laptops, planners are responsible for hiring good guards

Security should be a major consideration for the meeting professional, yet it often is not given the attention it deserves. One reason might be the overwhelming nature of the task. There’s the safety of the attendees to ensure, perhaps the privacy of a high-profile speaker to protect, computers and meeting materials to guard. At a trade show, add in the valuables exhibitors must leave on the convention floor overnight.

No wonder many planners would rather leave such issues to the in-house security staff. But that’s not always the wisest course. Here are some points to consider when security is a concern.

Depending on the nature of the meeting, different levels of security will be needed. If the most expensive tool you’re bringing along is a box of training materials, the facility’s own security should suffice. But if corporate espionage is feared, it might be necessary to hire some reputable professionals who answer only to you.

For trade shows, I often recommend at least three levels of security. Level one is a team provided by the facility; level two is a staff engaged by show management, if it is a third party hired by your organization; level three is a force hired by you, the host, to watch over the first two. The most competent force, whose job it will be to coordinate the others and establish and enforce a chain of command, should be the one you hire.

A site inspection should include a private meeting with the facility’s director of security. This should be a one-on-one affair, because the fewer people who know the details, the better.

You might have VIPs who demand special treatment from a security standpoint. Controversial speakers might need to be protected; information such as where they are staying and what their schedules are should be communicated only to the guardian team and no one else.

For the same reasons, elements concerning security should not appear in the main facility contract. Instead, include a provision that security issues will be dealt with in a separate agreement, which will be kept confidential.

In that document, articulate the group’s particular concerns. For example, if you are worried about products left in exhibit halls overnight, address security’s obligations to prevent theft by having a set number of guards on duty throughout the night, patrolling the floor. The provision also should spell out the minimum number of security staff to be provided by the property, what level of qualifications the personnel is required to have, and so on.  

Additionally, you will want to address access issues, such as the type of identification needed to enter meeting rooms, the show floor and behind-the-scenes areas; which rooms will require special keys; and the level of security needed. If you have speakers or others who require special treatment, spell out how they should be handled, as well.

Last, require security to contact you if any incidents occur involving your guests, or if there are reports of situations that might compromise the safety of your attendees or the integrity of your program.

Some planners might need to protect the integrity of the information conveyed at the meeting. If so, arrange for experts to conduct a search to determine whether the room is free from electronic eavesdropping devices.

Once the meeting is over, make sure no notes or other sensitive materials remain in the room. Have a shredder in the meeting’s office to destroy any sensitive debris.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at

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