The nature of event security has changed dramatically in recent years. A wave of bombings and shootings, and the growing impact of cybercrime, have led to a different perception of the threats. What can you do today to properly secure your event while ensuring that visitors still have the best possible time?
Put safety first
Where safety often used to be little more than an afterthought in the budget, today the topic gets a lot of attention, even at boardroom level. And rightly so: risks now come from many directions and can be extremely disruptive. We see an unfortunate confirmation of this in the news almost every week. And that says nothing about the things that remain invisible to us – the averted calamities and foiled cyberattacks. We are vulnerable, but there is much we can do together to keep events safe. So make sure safety is an integral part of your plan from day one.
Start with a risk analysis
Everything starts with identifying the risks. To do this, we use a simple list of seven questions for each event. The answers give an indication of the risk factors affecting the event. For example: How many people will attend? What is the background of the organisation? Are there any controversial speakers or guests? Is the topic politically sensitive? If any of these questions raises a red flag, we make sure to pay extra attention. This check is important to ensure that nothing is overlooked. For instance, we recently analysed a fun event with 400 children – simple and straightforward, at first sight. But when we took into account that the children shared a specific religious background, we knew that additional issues would need to be kept in mind.
Work with your IT department
The threat of attacks has increased markedly over recent years. Less visible, but equally important, is the threat of cybercrime or cyberattacks.
A security event in RAI Amsterdam recently explored this subject. A particular risk factor today is the way that the physical and digital worlds are so intertwined. Because a cyberattack can have enormous consequences in the real world, security is not just a matter for the safety & security manager. This is why I work closely with our IT manager Bret Baas. The main principle of our IT approach to safety is to not give intruders a chance in the first place. Make sure your IT system is not in open communication with procedures affecting visitors or exhibitors, preventing contagion of an event should a hack or attack occur.
Safety is everyone's business. It is vitally important that we all be vigilant at all times – not only the security guard at the door, but other professionals too. So involve suppliers, staff and temporary employees. Point out the things they should look out for in their briefing and make sure they know how to report suspicious people, behaviour or objects. Make it easy for them by creating an approachable reporting point. But remember to do it in a way that won’t bother visitors – ideally, they should notice none of the efforts made to keep the event safe.
Organise crisis management
If you only start thinking about a problem once it’s happened, you're already too late. That’s why we make sure we are prepared on a range of levels: business as usual, manageable emergencies, and crises. Each level has its own set of protocols and responsibilities. A crisis is defined as a serious threat, attack or disaster and calls into action the policy team: our CEO, our communications manager and me. Each of us has lines of communication with a number of counterparts, including the municipality, emergency services and various specialists. We’ve established in advance who is responsible for what, allowing us to act quickly if trouble strikes. There are scenarios ready for the most important risks and, starting in 2018, we’ll even have a permanent ‘crisis room’ in which all the relevant means of communication and tools will be directly available. Make sure you think about the risks in advance, and prepare for them together with your venue. Because if something does happen, you may have to act very quickly.
Together we know more. RAI Amsterdam participates in discussions on security matters both locally and internationally. At the local level, we keep in touch with the municipality and the Zuidas security group. Country-wide, we are in contact with agencies such as the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (Nationaal Coördinator Terrorismebestrijding en Veiligheid, NCTV). I also chair the Security Working Group of EMECA (European Major Exhibition Centres Association), where we have clear and honest discussions with our fellow European venues (after all, safety is not a tool for competition). We look at things we can learn from recent events, the current threats, the different venues’ strategies, and the techniques they deploy. By learning from each other we make all our events safer.
Keep up the smiles
Guests come to events to have a fun and interesting time. You don’t want to bother them with security issues. Where RAI Amsterdam used to have broad-shouldered men in clear security uniforms standing at the entrance, it now uses hosts and hostesses: just as professional, just as well (or perhaps even better) trained, just as strict – but with a more welcoming appearance. They have received training in identifying suspected cases and the work they do is the same – they look closely at every guest who enters – but all that guests see is a friendly person greeting them. And that, incidentally, is one of the best ways to expose dangerous people.
It may not be a whole lot of fun to think about security risks, but it is important. So start working on this with the venue at an early stage. Check for risk factors, get IT on board, involve all the relevant professionals, and make sure you're prepared for any of a number of major risks. It’s the only way to go into your event with genuine peace of mind.