Planning a safe event is by no means something that is new in the world of event planners, but it has definitely gained new meaning in the last 18 months. When we think of staying safe and sound at events these days, our minds first go to COVID-compliance officers, screening procedures, and hand sanitizers. And since the #EventIcons podcast is all about talking about the hottest topics in the events industry, we brought on a special guest who specializes in all things event safety and security.
With over 25 years of experience in meeting planning as well as public safety, Alan Kleinfeld from Arrive Management Group is the perfect person to talk to about the vast world of event safety. Not only does he comment on the state of the pandemic and the importance of COVID-19 compliance, but he also elaborates on other security issues that the events industry and the world at large are facing, such as the effects of climate change and the importance of cybersecurity.
A Marriage Of Meeting Planning & Law Enforcement
Let’s meet today’s guest! How did Alan end up in the event space? “I’ve been doing meeting planning forever. It was one of those things where I just kind of fell into in the nineties,” he says. “It was with this state college where I helped them put together these events where students and professors could meet and talk about different courses; a sales pitch for the professors to get their offerings out there, and that led to other meeting planning opportunities.”
” I did meeting planning full time until September 11th, 2001,” he adds. Then, Alan decided to sign up as a reserve police officer. “I’ve been doing something in law enforcement ever since,” he explains. A decade ago, he started combining the two callings.
“I was doing event planning and it was like: ‘While we’re doing this, we should probably make a note of the fire exits in our meeting space. Maybe when we look at food and beverage, we should make sure the kitchen is clean and that the food allergies are considered’. These days, safety has become important for a lot of reasons. Event safety’s become a thing that event planners have to deal with, especially at in-person events.”
“We’ve known for a really long time, well before COVID, how to prevent certain diseases and illnesses from spreading,” Alan explains. “We, as a country, just didn’t come together and do it fast enough. Now, some people think that COVID is eventually going to disappear. But it’s not going to go anywhere if we don’t do a couple of big things, such as get vaccinated, wear a mask when we’re in public spaces, and wash our hands.”
Alan reminds us again that we need to stick with a COVID-compliant lifestyle. “We’re in this together. If we don’t do cover our mouth or get vaccinated, this thing’s not going anywhere. Not only that but the virus, as all other viruses, will mutate and change. They’ve already discovered the Delta-plus and the Mu variant, for example.”
But it’s not just the new variants that can drag this pandemic out indefinitely. “Some experts are predicting that because we’ve taken the masks off so fast and have changed our cleaning habits to pre-COVID again, the flu is also going to come back. Therefore, society as a whole is in for an exponentially more challenging thing to deal with,” he explains.
“People can die from both COVID-19 and the flu, and it’s gonna be hard to tell which is which. It will overtax hospitals and doctors. Essentially, it will be the same kind of thing we’ve been seeing for the last 18 months, just more complicated because then we’ll be dealing with more than just COVID.”
Remember: Intelligence > Information!
“Don’t look just for information, you need to get intelligence. If you just watched the local news, you’re just getting a part of the story,” says Alan. “Even with COVID, you hear the news about the cases rising and things getting worse. All that may be part of the story.”
“But if I’m holding my meeting in some town, and they’re in the news, I’m going to go to sources there and say: ‘We’re supposed to be there next month and bring 200 people. What is the situation? Is it really as bad as the news says?’ I’m talking to the local health department, my venue there, my convention bureau. And if they say: ‘What you’re seeing on the news is real’, then I know I’ve got to make an action plan. Do we go back to virtual? Postpone the meeting? And if they say that it’s not as bad, then we can go and plan a COVID-compliant event.
COVID-19 Compliance Is Not All That New
Next up, Alan brings up another important fact. “Most people don’t realize this because it’s been normalized; anywhere from 20 to 40,000 people a year die from the flu. And it never seems to make the news because it’s just the flu. But think how much the flu dipped since March 2020 just because we were wearing masks and washing our hands. We could’ve done so much to prevent those deaths in the past already.”
So, let’s talk about the past and the history of safety and security. “So about 25 years ago, I was in London for the first time in the late nineties. One day, I was getting ready to leave the hotel and they stopped me because there’s been a bomb threat. London police had that city shut down so fast when that happened. Those officers just knew their reaction when it came to shutting down the city. They stopped the buses. Somehow, they got word to all the hotels. They made a network of officers around certain intersections where they thought this thing might be.” Luckily, it was a false alarm. “And then, all of a sudden, life was back to normal.”
“Things like that had been around for a long time; physical safety and security, fire extinguishers, security cameras, elevator certificates, and food compliance with local health codes. Hotels and venues have to comply with those same policies and regulations that the local restaurants have to do. There’s already a lot of safety and security. We just take it for granted.”
“Even the mRNA vaccine research has been going on for 20 or 30 years already,” he adds. “The fact that they’re able to do it so quickly is new, but otherwise, it has existed for a long time. A lot of this stuff isn’t new or groundbreaking. It’s just part of the media cycle and what gets played the most and what makes things controversial.”
Let’s Talk About Mental Health
Safety doesn’t only have to do with external factors, such as food and elevators – it’s also heavily impacted by our mental health. “Over the last 18 months, where do you think you have been affected by the pandemic? There’s been something emotional or mental going on in all of our heads. The lockdowns, the masks, the quarantines.”
“I don’t want to say that the whole country is suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress because of COVID-19, but we all very well could be one. The last 18 months have been very stressful and very traumatic for some.”
And this has ramifications for event safety, too, Alan thinks. “I saw a report where fines for misbehaving on airplanes have gone from $1,400 a year to over a million dollars a year. There are people so upset on planes since we started traveling again. Before, we didn’t have so many of these incidents.”
He says that the active shooter trends have changed since the pandemic started as well. “It was one of those things that just didn’t make the news over the pandemic in 2020, but active shooter numbers in 2020 were higher than they were the previous year. You could speculate or extrapolate that some of those people were probably having some kind of traumatic episode that made them less than stable. We’ve all lost so much control because of COVID-19.”
For similar reasons, someone could fly off the handle in your office or at your event as well. “I don’t think we see a lot of it right now because our offices are still not fully staffed and we aren’t fully attending our meetings,” says Alan. “The numbers for 2021 are still a lot lower than they were pre-COVID. As far as gatherings and events go, we’re not at the same numbers where we could see those kinds of outbursts, but it could be right around the corner.”
“Our industry is always changing. We’re know how to pivot. For some of us that gets really tiring, but that’s also what makes it so exciting. As we work our way through COVID-19 compliance at events, there are other event safety trends to consider; keeping our attendees safe from active shooters or irate attendees who could be violent at our events. That’ll become more apparent when those incidents start making the news, especially as our events return to pre-COVID sizes.”
Event Safety: From Cyber Security To Climate Change!
Alan mentions a few other things to consider when planning a safe event these days. “Climate change will also affect event safety. We’re going to start seeing more flooding, hurricanes, and wildfires, and they are going to last longer and do more damage. That’s going to have to be part of your event planning process.”
“And then you’ve got the technology, you know, there’s always going to be cyber security. As soon as we come up with a great cyber firewall, someone’s going to find out a way to get through it. Drone technology is going to become something that’s used for both the good guys and the bad guys.”
COVID-19 Compliance & Event Safety: Lean On Your Partners
“We all have this strong yearning to get back to pre-COVID numbers when it comes to events. We want the big crowds again and the suppliers want it really badly as well,” says Alan. “As we start to return or try to work our way through this or ignore whatever common sense we may end up ignoring, we’re going to get to this place where it will become a seller’s market and meeting planners will be so desperate to get meeting space and put things like COVID-19 compliance for events and event safety in the backseat when it’s one of those things that should always remain a priority,” he says.
So, what would his final advice to an event planner be? “I would tell a planner that if planning a safe event gets overwhelming, you need to find help. Even if it’s getting an extra staff person or outsourcing it.”
“That is the beautiful thing about events: those partnerships and relationships,” concludes Sarah. “We do have this awesome community where people want to come in and be able to lean on each other. If any industry could do it, it is this one.”