Putting Safety and Security First at Your Event/Meeting

Reggie Harris, America’s Center VP of Public Safety shares best practices from his participation in the International Convention Center Conference (ICCC) held in October, 2016.

While safety and security are vital components of every event plan, they have often taken a backseat to other items on meeting planners’ quite long to-do lists. Budgetary concerns can also drive down security considerations especially as costs increase for other necessities. This dichotomy isn’t new. What has changed is the frequency and unpredictability of potential threats including terrorism, severe weather, changes to weapons laws and civil unrest. The world has changed; event and meeting planners and their clients are challenged to change with it.

Rob Knight, Director of Strategic Partnership for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students outlined the process of organizing a Crisis Management Team that can be called to action in the event of an incident.

As both the destination marketing organization and the operator of the America’s Center and The Dome, Explore St. Louis is leading the way by implementing proactive discussions regarding the safety and security needs within the meetings and convention industry by partnering with its National Customer Advisory Board. Consisting of meeting and event professionals from across the country, the members bring a broad range of experiences and knowledge based on their unique perspectives. Safety and security issues are not only the responsibility of venues or planners. The success of every event hinges on strong communication and collaboration between the venue and the event planner to deliver attendee experiences that are as rewarding as they are safe and secure. To uncover best practices and offer practical advice to meeting industry professionals, Explore St.Louis conducted a half-day safety and security workshop.

Kay Granath, Director of Meetings & Conventions at the Association Management Center stresses the need to address safety and security early on in the planning process.

Explore St. Louis operational leaders facilitating and contributing to the four-hour workshop were Marty Brooks, General Manager of America’s Center, Reggie Harris, Vice President of Public Safety and Paige Millard, Vice President Events Services. Each provided insight into their area of expertise as it pertains to the safety and security of everyone attending events in venues and surrounding areas.

The latter part of the workshop moved into creative mode. Planners broke into smaller groups and were tasked with devising a set of guidelines which could be utilized when contemplating the various components of safety and security at events. While there were many takeaways from the workshop, the one most often repeated was: “It’s not only the venue that’s responsible for security; it’s everyone’s responsibility.”

The result of these spirited conversations is the checklist that follows.

Safety and Security Checklist

One cannot plan too early or too often for the safety and security needs of their events. Engaging the venues under consideration early in the process will provide not only the breadth of security needed, but will also provide a better understanding of how a venue manages security. Once a planner selects a venue, ongoing dialogue between the planner and venue is critical to ensuring a positive experience for everyone.

Andrea Streat, Director, Meeting and Events for the American Alliance of Museums advises planners that providing a list of questions on security during the RFP process helps differentiate facilities under consideration.

Risks – Every venue is different; every group is different; every event is different. Be thorough!

  1. Discuss security needs with venue or provide a list of questions during RFP stage. Venue input is critical in determining the final safety and security plan as there is no “one-size-fits-all” option. Request information from the venue regarding:
    • When/how often security meetings are held with nearby hotel staffs and owners/operators of parking facilities/lots to inform them of updates and changes in security measures?
    • What type of frontline employee training is conducted? Do they use realistic situations and is it done in real-time so they know what to do in the event of an emergency?
    • What relationship, if any, does the venue have with local/state/federal authorities?
  2. Coordinate with the venue if a formal threat assessment is necessary.
  3. Determine appropriate insurance needs and be certain all policies are in place prior to the event.
  4. Evaluate the potential risks in/around the event including demonstrations inside/outside the venue, potential weather-related problems, and controversial speakers/attendees/entertainers.

Pre-Event Planning – Incorporate safety and security considerations in all aspects of your event.

  1. Calculate the overall security needs and related costs based on the risk assessment.  Remember to include these costs in the overall budget.
  2. Assess current security protocols provided by the venue.
    • Determine if extra security personnel are warranted and define responsible party for hiring/managing extra security.
    • Review added security protocols to understand if they create added security risks.
  3. Working with the venue, create an internal plan of action to account for a variety of potential threats including:
    • Theft
    • Personal/medical injury/emergency
    • Terrorism/active shooter
    • Civil disobedience
    • Unexpected weather conditions
    • Fire
    • Unauthorized access to venue/event
  4. Provide detailed information about attendees to the venues staff, including demographics and any potential concerns.
  5. Is credentialing needed for attendees, vendors, staff, etc.?
    • If so, who is responsible for providing credentials.
    • Identify a process to determine authenticity of credential for event.
    • Position attendee registration strategically to ensure only registered attendees gain access.
Keith Kershaw, Director, Office of Convention Planning for Church of God in Christ discusses how COGIC integrates its security team into events while still respecting the roles and rules of the facility’s in-house security

Communications – Open lines of communication make for a successful event.

  1. Inform all staff of event plans to create a level playing field of communications as information silos can hinder safety and security considerations.
  2. Provide thorough security information to all attendees before the event.
    • Present relevant safety/security information to attendees on first day and include venue requirements/recommendations.
    • Be sure this information is available at all times.
  3. Create a framework for external communications via PR/social media to guide communications in the event something unexpected does happen.
    • Predetermine the kind/type of messaging that is most appropriate.
    • Identify and empower team members to make decisions.
  4. Determine if local/state/federal authorities are on board and aware of event. The venue may do this but check to be certain.


Special thanks to the members of the Explore St. Louis National Customer Advisory Board who contributed their time, energy and advice concerning this important topic.

Deb Davis, CMP
Manager, Meeting Services
Office Of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church
Keith Kershaw
Director of Convention Planning
Church of God in Christ, Inc
Dale Shuter, CMP
Meetings & Expositions Manager
Electrical Apparatus Service Association
Ron Falcone
Director of Strategic Sourcing and Services
US First
Rob Knight
West Coast Director of Strategic Partnership
IFES | International Fellowship of Evangical Students
Song Scott
Director of Global Events
Dale Gibbons, CAE
Director, Education
Academy of General Dentistry
Tanya Lowery, CMP
Senior Manager, Meetings, & Conventions
American Academy of Family Physicians
Andrea Streat, CMP
Director of Meetings and Events
American Alliance of Museums
Kay Granath, CMP, CAE
Director of Meetings & Conventions
Association Management Center
Margaret McKeon
Vice President – Conference and Events
Insurance Accounting & Systems Association, Inc.
Ushma J. Suvarnakar, MTA,CMP
Director, Meetings and Conferences
American Anthropological Association
Nicole Guy, CMP
Conference Director
Conference Managers
Wes Meixelsperger, CPA
Chief Financial Officer/Director of Meetings
Alliance of Crop. Soil and Environmental Science Societies (ACSESS)