Meeting Safety Goes Deeper Than You Realize

Whether they’re planning the event or making a last-minute decision because something goes wrong, association meeting professionals need to build strong security partnerships—and understand who’s making the call when something goes wrong.

Event planners want to organize a meeting experience that gets people engaged, learning, and excited.

But for any of that to happen, security has to be top of mind—and there needs to be room for advance planning and decisive action, when necessary. Building an organizational culture around security can help make this happen.

Steve Lemon, a live event producer and a founding director of the Event Safety Alliance, says that safety planning can actually be fairly basic for many organizations.

“There’s what I call the peer process, where you plan an event, you implement that plan, you evaluate after the event how the plan went, and then you revise the plan,” Lemon explained. “It’s a very simple four-step process.”

However, there are complicating factors, including budgets. Lemon noted that in a time of tight budgets and additional health protocols, meeting planners face challenges with getting the right level of staffing and investment to meet the real-world safety needs of their events.

“The first thing I think that event planners need to do if they haven’t already is embrace the fact that we’re no longer in the golden age of event planning and management,” Lemon said. “There’s a few things going against us. And one of those—not the least of which—is the availability of staffing today.”

Understand the Shifts in the Market

The challenges with staffing mean that planners have to account for personnel from the start. With other events competing for labor, if you hire security teams, you may struggle to reach the level of security you’re after. And given that market demands are pushing up costs for event security, meeting planners may be paying more for less security than they were getting in the past.

“In a dream scenario, you would hire a planning firm that knows what they’re doing—that you have a relationship with, that you know you can trust. But even those are having the same staffing problem that the client is,” Lemon said.

“If you can’t afford to read about your event in tomorrow’s newspaper because something went wrong, then you probably shouldn’t cut this corner.”

Steve Lemon, founding director of the Event Safety Alliance

One way to work around the challenge of paying more and getting less is for event planners to develop good relationships with the security teams they hire. He emphasized the importance of building strong contracts and considering priorities.

“If you can’t afford to read about your event in tomorrow’s newspaper because something went wrong, then you probably shouldn’t cut this corner,” he said.

Put Together a “Tabletop Meeting”

Some recent situations in the entertainment industry highlight the importance of that process—and consequences of security breakdowns.

One happened at this year’s Oscars when actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that hosts the Oscars, was criticized for letting Smith stay and receive an award after the incident. The other incident involved the actress Olivia Wilde, who was served legal papers from her ex-fiance, Jason Sudeikis, while presenting on stage at CinemaCon—a moment that raised questions about safety and privacy for high-profile figures. (Sudeikis, for his part, did not agree with the process server’s decision to serve papers at the event.)

Lemon argued that these incidents highlight the importance of a “tabletop meeting,” a role-playing meeting designed to help organizers determine what might happen in the case of a curveball—whether a disaster, a gaffe, an outbreak, or a medical incident.

“We’re all accustomed to having meetings upon meetings upon meetings, but this is one of the most important meetings that rarely takes place,” Lemon said.

These meetings can last hours, depending on the event’s complexity, Lemon said. But the result can help solve known problems—as well as things planners may not have thought of.

“When something that you didn’t plan for arises, the relationships are already there in terms of communications because they sat around the table and they all met one another and they all know whose job is doing what, and there’s limited guesswork,” Lemon added.

Decide Who Makes a Show-Stopping Call

If something that puts cancellation on the table does happen, you don’t want to be left scrambling, Lemon said.

“The team of people who are authorized to call a show stop to deal with a situation needs to be worked out in advance,” he said. “People need to know who those people are—it’s an awesome responsibility when you consider it.”

Lemon noted that while event organizers often want to make this decision, hired security officials, as well as the venue, may need to have a role too.

“Everyone has to know that because that person said it, they respect what it means in terms of reputational damage, perhaps physical damage, reaction, and risk tolerance,” he said. “You have to be careful with who’s given that responsibility, but it needs to be the people who have the most to lose.”

(somboon kaeoboonsong/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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