Rob’s Rules: Safe Space

I am not my clients’ friend.  I am their Event Success Advocate.  And a huge part of that success – one that is never mentioned but is crucial – is keeping your clients, guests, and staff SAFE.  No one walks away from an event saying that they felt safe and secure.  But I assure you it will be the first thing they say if they did not.  It is our obligation to plan for the best…and then plan for the worst.

Two hundred years ago, society thought nothing about someone carrying a firearm or having a shootout in a common space.  Western movies and period pieces delight us as we see characters like Matt Dillon or Dances with Wolves shoot to kill.  We have all heard the term “The barbarians are at the gate”.  I hate to inform you, but the barbarians are tearing the gate down.  We are no longer safe in our homes, schools, churches, synagogues, concerts or public attractions…thinking your events are immune from danger is a thing of the past.  And beyond the recent epidemic of shooters, we still face the possibility of fire, flood, storms, and theft at all our events. 

Events such as weddings, trade shows, conferences and fundraisers are soft targets.  They have little security and are easy pickings for theft, abduction and violence.  Recently, The International Association of Exhibitions and Events interviewed security specialist Ken Grandy regarding event safety.  Grandy gave the following tips to create a safe space:

-When securing a venue, ask to view their active shooters response plan.  If the venue does not have security or you want to supplement the security with some of your own, ask to see their policy on that.

-Ask to see the access points for emergency responders and the venue protocol for contacting 911 and notifying you of what is going on.

-Walk through the venue and view the emergency exits and evacuation routes.  DO NOT PUBLISH THESE ONLINE.  Only provide the information to the guests.  We do not want the crazy person knowing where our guests are.  

-There is no harm in asking every guest attending an event for a secondary contact or an emergency call number.  In a crisis, this information could be critical.

-If the speaker, topic, organization, or the event occurs in a time of civil unrest, add additional security and crack down on who has access to the event including venue staff and catering.

-FULL TRANSPARENCY.  Every vendor, guest, security member, and planner should be fully aware of any risks or challenges for the event.  Knowledge is POWER.

-Don’t make it easy for someone intending harm.  Place highly visible security in high-visibility places.  And unless you have the secret service, put these people in outfits which distinguish them as security or “event eyes”.  Off-duty police officers in uniform, vibrant neon t-shirts on team members or even bright baseball caps or visors create a visible presence throughout the event space.

-Private security guards may not be armed so adding off-duty officers can give you a stronger security message and get a faster result when calling for law enforcement back up.

-Hire individuals that are present and aware and put them in charge.  The Millennial staring at his or her phone can be out of touch with what is strange and unusual…usually it is themselves.  Mature individuals with common sense notice things like unusually dressed, out of place guests, doors propped open or odd packages laying in public spaces.

-If a stranger seems unusually interested in the building, group, speaker, security or staff or is taking pictures, have security pull them aside and let them call law enforcement or investigate.  This is why they are there.

-Value your life and the life of your guests!  If a shooter is present, you have the choice to flee, hide or fight.  Accept that.  Run as far as you can away from the area.  Hide in a place where you can block or barricade yourself in.  And finally, find something you can arm yourself with such as a chair, a table, a lamp, a plant pot.  Focus on protecting yourself and try to incapacitate the shooter if you can.

-If 911 is called, keep calm and carefully give the location, the shooter’s location, how many shooters and the weapon being used.  AND PUT YOUR CELL ON SILENT!  They will find you if they hear your phone ringing or beeping.

When I talk to my staff about event safety, I use a lifeguard as an example.  If the lifeguard takes his eyes off the swimmers and decides to scroll through Facebook for 10 minutes, someone can easily die.  This holds true for events today as well.  How many times have I walked out of an event into an empty lobby leading to public access doors…  How many times have I watched the service staff come in and out of a back door that is propped open so they can come and go or smoke at the dock.  Anyone can enter your event and cause harm in seconds!  Controlling your perimeter is critical for the safety of your guests.

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The most important security protocol when having an event – indoor or outdoor – is to establish a perimeter.  The nature of a perimeter might be stationary such as fencing, outside walls, metal detectors or barriers.  Or it might just be interior walls or curtains with personnel positioned around the space.  Establishing a perimeter determines who comes in and who stays out of your event.  And it allows you to staff effectively.

To create an effective perimeter, the planner must know the interior of the space.  Determine Area A, B, and C.  A is your most concentrated event space.  Security is positioned at A entrance spots.  You want 99% control of perimeter A.  I say 99% because we cannot control our guests.  Sometimes they get ill, they have a crisis at home, they get in a fight, they DRINK TOO MUCH.
B is your public perimeter space.  This could be the hotel lobby or shared restroom spaces or another level of the space.  These should be monitored with restricted access to A entrances.
C is the property or parking lot/street space around the event.  VISIBLE and UNIFORMED SECURITY, Valet, Greeters and lots of light can be your strongest deterrent to violence.  

Do these rooms lock, do these rooms have windows, and do these rooms have any service entrances?

For many years I have used my team members, vendors, catering staff and event volunteers to create perimeter security.  I divided them into  ALPHAS, TEAM LEADERS and SOLDIERS.
Alphas  are experienced Leaders with good judgement, common sense and stay calm under pressure.  Every area of the perimeter should have an Alpha.  Alphas are pack leaders and act as a leader in crisis.  They notice anything unusual.  Alphas report to security and behave in a discreet and subtle manner to contact police.  Imagine a room full of people and Alphas in royal blue shirts in the middle of the room.

Team Leaders are functioning doers who act as life guards at the event.  They are immediate problem solvers that answer most of the guest concerns or needs.  They are spotters who notice anything unusual or suspicious.  Example – Team Leader spots a guest in jeans at a cocktail attire event…alert security.  A Team Leader sees an abandoned package…alert security.  Imagine a room full of people and Team Leaders in neon lime shirts circling the Alphas.

Soldiers are very visible staff that greet and engage the guests.  They smile and are charming and most guests run to them with minor issues such as “the air is too cold” or “I can’t see because of the centerpiece”.  These are your happy tattle tales who love to help someone find their seat.  Imagine a room full of people and Soldiers in neon orange shirts.

In the perimeter, Alphas are in the core, Team Leaders form a circle around the Alphas and Soldiers haunt the entrances and perimeter edge.  And your Security Officers are stationed outside the entrance points.  In a crisis, Alphas remain in the room directing guests to the entrances, Team Leaders guide guests out the main perimeter doors into Perimeter B and Soldiers direct guests outside the emergency exits into Perimeter C.  Security deals with the suspect or occurring issue.

Every planner should survey the male and female restrooms at a site visit. 

Establish a safe room for guests and staff that cannot get out quickly –  the elderly, disabled and residual staff who stays to the end helping others.  This room should have the ability to be locked from the inside with no other access and no glass windows.

I always ask to see the venue emergency evacuation plan and ask if they have a active shooters plan, many may not.  But I feel my questions and suggestions might help them in developing one.  I select venues that prioritize attendee safety.  This includes onsite security, lobby attendants, and mandatory event management attendance during the event.

Always view all fire exits.  And wedding planners, please stop asking us to put tables in front of these or block exit paths so your event can be prettier or “fun”.  A crispy fried guest is not going to get you a glowing KNOT review.  I always find out where the fire extinguishers are located.  If there is a fire, drop everything and get the guests out quickly.  The Life Safety Code requires 1 exit for 50 people, 2 exits for up to 500 people, 3 exits for up to 1,000 people and 4 exits for more than 1,000.  And it is a general policy with safety experts that the evacuation of an entire building should be 4 minutes or less.  Have they seen some of our historic buildings in the Midwest?

As a rule I always get to know my security team and make them feel welcome.  This includes giving them food and beverage service and reinforcing that we are part of a team.  They don’t need to open the doors; gone are the days when security blended in and was invisible.

With the abductions and lack of parenting going on today, I feel that it should be mandatory that all children wear a bracelet with their PARENT’S NAME AND CELL NUMBER on it.  This may save their lives.

I have no problem asking my client to require photo ID at events if they cannot require sophisticated ticket ID systems.  Simple and effective.

There are 26,000 severe storms in the United States.  You will inevitably have an event during one.  Tornadoes, lightening, flooding, and ice are the most likely culprits in the Midwest.  If there is lightening, guests cannot be outside.  Hail can damage cars at an event.  Be sure you are aware of what your liability insurance covers.  Always know the tornado shelter space in a venue.  And have a stop word with vendors.  If you say stop, the band needs to stop immediately and take shelter.

Ice has to be my least favorite natural crisis.  It is my responsibility to make sure all vendor contracts allow me to move my event without penalty should an ice storm hit…IF I CANCEL EARLY ENOUGH.  My best advice is to not risk it.  If there is the threat of ice, most guests will not come anyway.  Cancel early and reschedule at a better date.  But if you cancel last minute, don’t expect your vendors to refund or have the flexibility of a redo.  If the centerpieces are made, you have to pay for them.  If the food is prepared, you have to pay for it.

And last, but my least favorite crisis of all: If there is a shooter and you have to hide, think.  A room that you cannot barricade is a room you may die in.  If a door has the typical hydraulic door closer, a woman’s boot, purse or shoe can be slipped over the V preventing the door from opening.  A belt, bra, socks or shirt can be tied around the V preventing the door from opening.  Drop a table between a wall and a door to create a wedge to prevent the door from opening,  Use the classic chair under the door knob or break the door handle off the outside of the door.  A flatware rollup can be wedged under a door to prevent it from opening.  Barricade the door with tables, furniture, mops or brooms.    Get up on a table and crawl in the air space above the tile ceiling.  Use the toilet tank lid as a weapon if you are trapped inside a washroom.  A wine or liquor bottle can become a weapon in a restaurant.  Put up as much resistance as you can so in the shooter’s frantic state, they may decide it’s not worth the struggle to get to you.  And they move on.
I lost a coworker to senseless violence.  We live in a violent world.  Find your safe space.


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