As meeting planners, the recent events in Boston have us thinking smarter and harder about meeting and event security. The devastating bombings happened to occur on the first day of a large customer conference that PEC had sourced and assisted in planning. A few hours before we were to depart from our downtown hotels for one of Chicago’s most popular tourist attractions, the V.P. of Marketing asked me point blank what the hotel and evening off-site venue were doing to step up security and safety measures in light of the bombing in Boston. The country was at threat and the potential for additional threats was certainly looming in the mind of our client and his customers. In the past several years, Americans have experienced unthinkable disasters resulting from terrorist activity. Up until this point, I will admit we have not taken threats too serious and really have not changed the way we plan meetings because of increased threats.
Attendees for our client’s customer conference had just arrived from all over the United States and the media coverage was extensive. Our first concern was for the safety of all attendees and it meant that security and safety measures needed to be laid out and communicated to ensure the confidence of our attendees. The Chicago hotel and museum were quick to communicate their initiatives in stepping up security and safety which was promptly communicated to our client so that he could boost the confidence of his attendees, ensuring that extra precautions were in place to ensure their safety in case anything of similar significance were to occur. We were fortunate to have all security pieces fall into place quickly, but we learned a lesson this time around: plan ahead.
Meeting planners need to be more aware and more concerned of meeting and event security. I for one will now ask hotels and venues before any meeting or event how they are prepared for any acts of terrorism, natural disaster or violence. I want to know what the contingency plan is and how their team will handle the situation. As a result of the bombing in Boston and the potential for more high alerts, we have made a commitment to be more proactive. The questions and ‘what if’s’ will no longer just remain a glimmer of consideration but instead will be part of our emergency plan questions posed.
Both general managers and directors of security take security threat levels very seriously, and it is wise for meeting and event planners to work through security details with them ahead of time for the safety of everyone involved. The property we worked with in downtown Chicago was concerned about the protection of their guests and it was important to them that guests knew it was a safe hotel. I discovered that a wide-range of precautions were being taken such as security that was geared up a notch through limited access and check-point I.D.s – particularly if someone loses a key. Large cash transactions were watched carefully. Shipping and receiving departments, exhibitors, suppliers, and vehicles were checked extensively. Ultimately, it was important for PEC to communicate with the hotel management to determine their awareness of the bombing and gage their vulnerability and plans for dealing with a similar situation. The fact that we were in a major city with and a multitude of high profile tourist attractions were factored into the plan that might need to be enacted.
What if the national security threat level goes up and has an effect on your meeting or event? Is there a way to protect yourself in your contract if you have to cancel? While safety comes first, protecting your company’s contract is another important factor. The answer is yes, and it means adding a terrorism clause ahead of time. You reserve the right to cancel if there is the possibility of an increased terrorism alert level. If individuals are afraid to travel because of an increased level of threat, you meeting may still go on but the overall attendance could be significantly affected. As a planner, we would advise adding a clause stating that under certain circumstances due to high alert, you reserve the right to revise the room block or even cancel without liability.
Event disruptions are always a possibility. Planning is the key to surviving them. Better risk assessment and emergency management processes are tools that we can use to identify and prepare for the myriad of disruptions we might face.