Linda M. Lindamood, president and CEO of First Watch Strategies and Events, has decades of experience preparing organizations for security risks at large-scale events, including the Special Olympics. But even her clients will push back sometimes.
“The thing that keeps me up at night is the client who says, ‘We’ve been doing this for 25 years and nothing has ever happened,’” she said. “Just because it’s never happened doesn’t mean that it’s not going to.”
Conferences—and the threats to them—are more complicated than ever, thanks to extreme weather, concerns about active shooters, and controversial speakers in a divisive time politically. Associations needn’t panic, or put their attendees on edge. But Lindamood says the need to create, share, and prepare to implement an emergency response plan is more pronounced than ever.
As a first step, Lindamood consults directly with an organization’s leaders. “We want to understand the audience, and also if there’s a threat to that audience,” she said. “We also want to understand what the client feels the risks are. We’ll just ask them to throw out one word that comes to the top of their mind for their audience about what exactly could go wrong.”
Conference venues have also developed their own safety plans around events. Mary Klida, senior marketing and communications manager at Detroit’s Huntington Place convention center, says that its staff conducts active shooter training annually, and conducts tabletop exercises around scenarios with area law-enforcement agencies.
“We realize that if [an active shooter incident] happens, it would be unexpected, so training is key,” Klida said. “In our pre-planning meetings with a show client, we now distribute some basic safety protocols so they can forward information to their attendees.”
Once that plan is developed, an association may wish to bring in law enforcement to develop their own tabletop exercises that address elements unique to their event. Those can involve a variety of issues, Lindamood says. Will lots of attendees be outside in warm weather for an extended period? Are there other events happening simultaneously that will create traffic issues? Are you in an area that’s at an elevated risk of an earthquake?