26th March 2008

Security conscious: Why you need to protect your event

Security is becoming a big issue and event organisers and companies holding events need to take heed. Pete Roythorne looks at how and why companies should make sure their events are as secure as possible.

With companies facing a duty of care to look after the wellbeing of their staff, event security has never been a more important issue. But how do you assess and manage the security risks of any given event?

“All event organisers are responsible for those attending their event – delegates, speakers, suppliers, everyone,” says Danielle Pham, events manager at Lewis Media. “Whether it’s a meeting for 20 or a conference for 400, as the driving force behind that event, organisers are responsible for ensuring that delegates attend the event, enjoy it and are kept safe while they’re there.

“As a venue manager who is also an event organiser, I am doubly aware of the potential safety risks and the protective measures needed. However, I am constantly surprised by the number of event organisers who do not ask for basic information, such as insurance coverage, liability and emergency evacuation procedures.”

In today’s high-risk environment, there are many security issues that can affect events. Businesses face greater dangers than ever before from crime and even terrorism, putting event security under close scrutiny. “London, in particular, is facing unprecedented levels of threat, and businesses play a vital role in terms of providing responsible security,” says acting managing director for the Royal Horticultural Halls, Maugie Lyons. “Increased media focus on business risk management and the need for a higher commitment to protect assets, staff and customers, is also pushing the event industry to assess its attitude toward security.”

For Alan Wallace, Manchester area manager of security firm Showsec, getting the right security for an event is all about preparation. “Planning is absolutely crucial,” says Wallace. “Start by bringing together all the stakeholders in the event, including service providers, the local authority and emergency services. Devise a safety policy, covering site safety for contractors, crowd management for the public, as well as a transport control and an emergency strategy.

“Event risk assessment is a key planning tool, essential for protecting delegates. So with each event phase, identify who may be harmed, identify existing controls, evaluate the residual risk and apply further measures to reduce it to an acceptable level.”

As for what risks you face and how you assess them, Martin Litherland, event operations manager at London’s The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (QEIICC), London, believes you need to look at a number of issues. “Threat levels really depend on several factors: the event subject matter, the hirer and their public profile, the location of the venue, VIP speakers and guests, and issues such as the current political climate – but the list goes on.

“The QEIICC, for example, is a fixed venue in the heart of Westminster opposite the Houses of Parliament. Therefore, it attracts a lot of high-profile Government and international events, along with the related VIP delegates. The Centre also has many corporate clients, whose company profile may attract attention. We host international, sporting and political events, all of which have their own security issues.”

So how do you make sure you get the best people to oversee the security of your event?

“Most venues will have experience of dealing with a range of security issues, so a good place to start is with the in-house team and its security manager,” says Wallace. “Because of their experience, they are likely to have good contacts with the local police and security agencies – it’s their area of expertise, so use them

“Many companies organising annual general meetings will have their own individual security firms working for them, particularly if their business interests attract attention from various lobby groups,” Wallace continues. “These people are experts in their field, often with police or military backgrounds. But if you need to start from scratch, the Security Industry Authority (SIA) is a recognised body that oversees the registering of people working in the Industry, so it can provide help with finding the right people.”

There are many security issues that can affect events, and it would be great to be confident that they are at the forefront of organiser’s minds. After all, failure to recognise the possible risks and plan for the worst could jeopardise people’s safety and result in an event having to be cancelled because basic security issues have not been considered. However, security is far too frequently not given the weight it should, and often people don’t notice until something goes wrong. What’s more, the cost of not investing in effective security is likely to be considerably more than the outlay necessary to protect all parties involved. So are you prepared to risk it?