Do We Need a Safety Standard for Meetings?

It's can be a dangerous world out there. What does that mean for association meetings? In an #ASAE17 Learning Lab, two presenters made the case that a security standard is needed for venues and that it would benefit the industry as a whole.

Vicki Hawarden, current COO of Excellence Squared, was a meeting planner for much of her career. And while she always had what she calls “a standard safety and security plan” for her events, she says 9/11—and the anthrax attacks that followed a week later—changed everything.

At the time, she was director of meetings for the American Association of Blood Banks. “It was the first time that I went into a venue and thought to ask them about how they control their air intake,” she said.

The response: blank looks and questions from venue managers are about why she was asking such a question.

“That was my first call from a meeting planner side that made me say, ‘Gosh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of the venues had a shared understanding of how safe they should be or a standard to measure against?’’ she said.

During Tuesday morning’s “Take Charge of Meeting Security” Learning Lab at ASAE’s Annual Meeting & Exposition, Hawarden, along with copresenter—Excellence Squared’s CEO Paul Bridle—discussed the need for venues to adopt a universal set of international standards for safety and security.

The idea for the Secure Venue Standard first emerged after the 2015 Paris attacks. Bridle was approached by corporate meeting planners looking for a standard that would tell them what level of security venues had. “Clients started asking, ‘What do we do? How do we respond to this? Because it’s becoming an issue,’” he said.

Meanwhile, Hawarden, who was then CEO of the International Association of Venue Managers, was receiving calls from members—from performing arts complexes to convention centers—asking what they could do to better protect their venues and their visitors.

“We need to give the planner side and the venue side the tools they need to keep attendees and everyone else involved in the meeting safe,” she said.

The Secure Venue Standard—still a work in progress—is composed of 12 elements, including customer security, health and safety, risk management, and event security. Each element has a number of criteria to evaluate, some of them required by law. Hawarden added that the standard is being developed in coordination with the Events Industry Council and one of its committees.

Attendees in the audience, which included both meeting planners and venue managers, had the chance to read the proposed standard and give their input on what was missing or what other concerns they had. While most agreed that such a standard could be beneficial to venues, planners, and attendees, there were some concerns around cost, staff training, and getting buy-in from leadership.

“Nobody thinks it’s fun to talk about safety and security, but it matters,” Hawarden said. “If you’re prepared and you’re focused on it before something like that happens, you’re so much better off than being behind the eight ball, something does happen, and now you’re trying to catch up to it.”

How do you think a universal safety standard would benefit the meetings industry? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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