No one wants to think that their event or conference will be disrupted by an active shooter, act of god, or terrorist attack. Unfortunately, there are clear precedents from the last few years that show event planners must be prepared regardless.
Even though an active-shooter or terrorist event is still very unlikely at your event, we've gathered recommendations from 6 studies and experts to help you prepare, just in case.
Assess Your Risks and Have a Plan
In a recent MeetingsNet interview series on preparing for a safe conference, Carol Cambridge, CEO of the Stay Safe Project, says your conference planning team needs to ask the right questions: "Have there been any threats made, is there bad press about your products or CEO, is there anything controversial going on with your speakers?"
If you think there might be a safety issue of any kind for your upcoming event, it's worth the investment to hire an outside security expert and have them walk through your event plan (maybe even take them on a site visit) to ensure your risk management plan is up to par.
Gather Emergency Contact For Your Attendees
Idea Group Atlanta says that about 60% of event organizers don't even gather emergency contact information from their attendees. Be proactive and bake this question into your registration process. It's a part of nearly every other form we fill out nowadays.
Invest In Your Infrastructure
Make the case to allocate part of your event budget to technology and safety infrastructure. Maybe it's by coordinating an emergency response system through your mobile event app to provide alerts, notifications, and response to and address recovery issues. Perhaps it's by simply ensuring more visible or invisible security support onsite at your conference.
Work with your venue and local law enforcement to understand protocols currently in place to maximize and ensure the effectiveness of your investments.
Ensure Your Staff Know What to Do
According to an article on police response to active shooters by J. Pete Blair, a professor at Texas State University, “On average, it takes police three minutes to arrive on the scene, and another few minutes to locate and stop the shooters. So for at least the first few minutes of an attack, the potential victims are on their own.”
Train your staff against your emergency action plan. Mary Ward-Callan on an IEEE Panel of Conference Organizers outlines some wonderfully thorough conference contingency/emergency planning templates you can borrow from.
Ensure Your Attendees Know What to Do: Contact, Run, Hide, and Fight?
Just as we do for announcements about other housekeeping items important to your attendees, place a clear blurb about expectations of what attendees should do in case things go really wrong.
After the UK London Bridge attack, we heard that Europeans were told to alert authorities during a mass shooting or terrorist attack. In the US, the Department of Homeland Security advises people to "run, hide, and fight." And only if you can't run or hide, then you fight or throw things at the attacked.
So what's an event planner to recommend to their attendees? It's really up to you and your team. Since there is conflicting information, it is up to your conference planning team and security recommendations to help your attendees proactively react.
Have a Plan for Immediately After the Incident
Who takes over? Who needs to be available? Who and how will you address the media? What decisions need to be made? How are you keeping people updated? What will you need to move forward?
Thomas Kasza, a former Secret Service specialist, shared what he calls the three "A"s of risk management at a session at the 2016 Financial and Insurance Conference Planner Annual Conference. One of the A's is focused on the post-event priorities.
"How you will communicate and inform in the case of an issue. “It’s not just security’s job,” he said. Adapt the government’s “See something, say something” campaign for your event—tell people what to look for and who to say something to.
Determine when recovery would and would not be possible. Sometimes an incident is so disruptive that the meeting can’t continue—have a plan for how and where it can continue if possible, and for how you would handle it if something shuts your meeting down entirely.
You don’t need to have a full Secret Service-level security plan, but you should have a basic outline of how you can keep people safe in place that is appropriate to that specific event, said Kasza. “If you know the risks and have a mitigation plan that keeps damage to a minimum, you will be on the right side of litigation.”"