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Save your Event from Disaster with Forward Thinking

Whether planning an Olympic-level event or a conference or corporate meeting, make security an upfront component of your event plan

By Michelle Warren

When concert-goers caused a barricade to collapse during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, it looked like an event planner’s worst nightmare: With 7,000 rowdy guests, things were poised to spiral out of control.

Instead, Barry Wilding, a security consultant with twenty years of concert and corporate event experience, points to the near-tragedy as event security done right. “We had a major incident, but we followed protocols outlined in the security plan and everything was textbook,” says the head of Vancouver-based Wilding & Associates, adding that without a comprehensive plan covering ‘what-ifs’ and appropriate responses, “there would have been confusion and a potential riot.”

Whether planning an Olympic-level event or a conference or corporate meeting, the same premise applies, say the experts: Make security an upfront component of your event plan.

Safety first
“Security should be part of initial strategic planning,” says Yves Duguay, president of Montreal-based security service provider HCiWorld. Whereas security was once regarded as a necessary evil or last-minute add-on, smart planners now understand it’s a value-added investment.

“Very often the first point of contact [for guests] is security and that’s where they start evaluating the event,” says Duguay. “The security team must be part of the systemic approach of how you want to treat your customers—it’s a service.”

When searching for the right partner, contact three or four companies, advises Wilding. “Ask what events they’ve done, check references and look for a partner that has the experience and knowledge to help with your risk assessment and security plan.”

Ultimately, you want team players able to adapt services to match the tone and goals of the event.

For instance, guest entry is a priority, but much depends on event size, risks and venue—do you need visible guards, barriers and metal detectors or simply a smooth registration process with security in the background?

“The challenge is finding the balance between the need to screen based on assessment and making it as pleasant as possible for guests,” says Duguay, adding the goal is to avoid long lineups, annoyance, confusion and event crashers.

Tech tactics
Guest-list software and apps make check-in easy, while providing real-time information. Photo checkin software weeds out identity thieves, while self check-in scanners, like those in airports, put the guest in control, with the added bonus of being a source by which to use incentives to convince guests to provide valuable data and other insights. In addition, radio frequency identification wristbands are reshaping how event organizers control access and, once guests are inside, track and engage audiences.

Security doesn’t stop at the door: The human touch provides added value inside, with security personnel ensuring guests (and possessions) are safe and deriving the most out of the experience.

For optimum results, Wilding stresses events have a plan that covers everything from access to evacuation (as was the case at the Olympic concert). “Something small can go sideways and end up really big—good security folks will assess those risks and help avoid them.”

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