Although planning a safe event has always been part of the event industry, it’s at the forefront of event organizer’s minds now, more than ever. Around the world, tragic incidents at events like the Las Vegas shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing, and natural disasters have shown that we aren’t prepared for every type of security and safety issue in our industry. And with tech playing a larger role in event planning and production, not only do we need to be on top of physical threats, but cybersecurity concerns as well.
Regardless of the scale of your event, planning a safe event needs to be your priority. We take a look at how you can do that, with:
- A review of event safety basics
- Insight into more sophisticated measures
- Ways to implement cybersecurity best practices
Let’s start at the beginning and take a look at some standard considerations for safety and security for event organizers.
Have a risk management plan in place for each event
It’s time to refresh your practices with regards to risk assessment plans! Remember that a risk assessment plan has three main parts and serves the purpose of making your event as safe as possible for everyone involved and nearby.
- Hazard identification: Recognize any hazards associated with your event. To identify those risks, consider the different people involved and their roles in the setup, running and participating in the event. As well as human-related hazards, you should also recognize technological, natural and environmental hazards.
- Risk assessment: Use a risk assessment matrix to estimate the potential impact of a hazard to find the level of risk. Once you have done this, you can prioritize the most significant risks.
- Risk control: With the help of the event team, develop reasonable solutions, starting with the high-level risks. Those may include the elimination of hazard, substitution, engineering, administrative and use of appropriate safety gear. Above all, you should look for solutions that are logical and practical.
You should, of course, staff your event with security personnel, but it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, you need to make sure they are qualified and have experience providing security for events. If you host mega-events, please ensure the security company of your choice has proven experience in handling events of that scale. They need to know the strategies, evacuation procedures and communication methods that come from overseeing such a large volume of people. If using security scanning devices at your event, then the staff operating them must be highly-trained. But, something event planners can overlook is that in addition to security team members having the right skills and knowledge – they also need the right attitude.
Security should form a visible presence. This isn’t just to deter any unruly behavior around them, but also to provide reassurance to event goers doing the right thing. Not only will they feel safer, but attendees will turn to them with questions at an event – anything from asking for bathroom locations to following their directions in the case of a security breach or evacuation.
If you’re hosting a larger event, in addition to a security team, you will also need an emergency medical crew. They will be there for first response and for liaising with additional paramedics when they arrive on the scene, if needed.
When you’re planning a safe event, you probably think in terms of how many people you can comfortably fit in the venue. But, in terms of security, opting for expanded event parameters, beyond what you actually need can be a good idea. That’s because security issues tend to occur in densely populated and concentrated areas. Not only that, when it comes to the heavy-hitting issues like terrorism, it’s been found that even the fear of terrorist activity “can lead to crowd disasters”. Spreading out the audience, and having additional event security to cover the larger area can reduce some of that risk.
Focus on lighting for event safety and security
Planning a safe event requires lighting that:
- Defines the space’s parameters and boundary
- Provides adequate overall brightness
- Has walkways and facilities that are well-lit so they are safely walkable
- Provides well-lit and signed exits
- Has emergency lighting on standby
- Provides proper visibility for set-up and dismantling of event equipment
- Is tested to code and in date
It’s vital to engage AV professionals to arrange adequate lighting for your event. Suitable lighting prevents safety hazards and helps with security monitoring. It also aids faster response by security and medical teams in the event of an incident and facilitates safe evacuations, if it happens.
Event experts thrive in an unusual environment that requires both careful planning, but also the ability to adapt to changes at the drop of a hat. As we all know, sudden severe weather can disrupt even the best-laid plans. Some regions are more at risk of unexpected weather, like Florida for example. So, it’s important to be mindful of this in both the planning stage and right through the duration of the event.
This is particularly true for outdoor events. High winds and lightning are two of the most common weather conditions to cause safety hazards at events. Temporary structures like outdoor stages as well as the necessary rigging for AV equipment, are usually in the firing line for extreme weather. If not adequately secured, their size and weight become a scary hazard for all in the area. When this goes wrong, the implications are huge – financially, but more importantly, with regards to the safety of event team, contractors and attendees.
It’s vital you use the right vendors when planning a safe event so that you know the equipment, but also the setup is up to scratch. Excellent communication comes into play here too. Don’t leave anything to chance. Ask questions, check and check again. Decide who and how communication will take place if weather concerns do arise on the big day.
We’ll talk about how to ensure you’re using the right vendors for this shortly.
The basics of planning a safe event are important. But there are many more steps you can take to ensure your safety and security measures are the best they can be.
Improve coordination with experts
As an event planner, you can better gauge safety measures needed by turning to those in the know. There’s nothing worse than realizing after an incident has occurred that you could have taken further steps to prevent or mitigate the impact. That’s why we want to remind you of who can seek expert advice on, to ensure (as much as practicable) that you’re planning a safe event.
Firstly, consider local law enforcement. Even if you’re hiring security staff specifically for your event, think about whether your event would benefit from a police presence or having them on standby. Determine how you will be communicating with them on the day. Make sure all event staff, including the security team, are aware of this as well so that you can all follow the same procedure. A more cohesive approach will mean faster response to any security concerns.
Secondly, consider hiring an event meteorologist to consult on your event. Playing “amateur meteorologist” might sound appealing to you, but it can be dangerous because the weather can be unpredictable and fast-moving. It’s critical to reach out to the experts to forecast what could potentially be coming for outdoor events, and help you navigate through it. Meteorologists have access to specialized software and precision instruments that allow them to provide timely information to you 24/7. Did you know that these experts will predict the weather not just for the city you’re in, but for the exact GPS location of your event?
Due diligence for the safety of your attendees is the highest priority when organizing an event. But hiring experts is the way to know you’ve done everything you can. This is critical if something does happen, and you end up in court.
Proper implementation of event safety and security planning
You may think you’ve been planning a safe event – but have you been thorough? Ask your vendors the hard questions and make sure their products and practices are safety-compliant too. Ensure you:
- Obtain all relevant documentation like insurance certificates from your vendors. Contractors must also be willing to add your event to their Certificate of Insurance.
- Get only professionally certified, engineered products from your vendors.
- Use staging vendors who already have high-wind action plans, evacuation plans and fire safety plans. Or use those who are willing to a be part of plans you are putting in place.
- Hire vendors who ask lots of questions. This tip isn’t as strange as it first looks! When potential contractors ask well-considered questions about covering your event and then provide a pre-approved rigging plan to accomplish what you need, it helps to know you’re dealing with professionals.
- Ensure all staff and contractors are trained for emergency situations. Unfortunately, today, that doesn’t just mean being prepared for medical emergencies, minor assaults and lost children. According to Newsweek, it means they need training and briefing for “bomb threat, riot, and active shooter scenarios”. Without that information, staff can be left wondering what to – resulting in them doing something that contributes to the casualties or nothing at all.
- Leah Urbano of Crimson Management put it best “I think for any event, a meeting should be had with your venue and discuss preparation/plans. I walk into a venue and the first thing I look at is if there is an emergency will people know where to go, if we have full capacity is our floor plan set up to allow for people to move to safety quickly”
If contractors aren’t willing to comply, consider it a red flag. Either keep asking to get what you need, or look for more professional vendors.
New technology doesn’t just have a use for its entertainment value, but in planning a safe event too. In-app crowd trackers can help to pinpoint areas that are getting overcrowded, so you can take steps to disperse the crowd, or direct more security staff to that area. Logistics monitoring helps to ensure that attendees are being transported to and from your event safely. Use data to prompt the delivery of additional services and to make sure attendees aren’t waiting too long for their ride to arrive.
Another technology that has great potential for improving and managing safety at events is heat mapping to monitor foot traffic. This is useful for preventing overcrowding on escalators for example. But it’s also a great way to open up new traffic routes – whether that be doors or changing the flow of escalators. For instance, noticing a sudden surge of a crowd towards the exit could be a sign of a security breach. You could quickly change the escalator flow to relieve bottlenecks and facilitate attendees getting to the exit safely and efficiently.
Don’t forget about cybersecurity when planning a safe event
Safety and security don’t just come down to what’s physically happening at your event. It’s also about looking after any data that relates to the event and event-goers. Like everyone else who collects data on their customers, you must adhere to Data Protection Act. This applies to all types of information, from names and addresses of event attendees, right through to any data you collected through more sophisticated tech, like attendance trackers. Here are some tips on online event security to make sure your event and attendees are safe in cyberland.
According to Eventsforce “A new industry study has found that 84% of event planners find data management a challenge”. With so many data collection tools available, it’s no wonder we’re collecting ever-increasing amounts of data. But, that also means it’s becoming more complicated to manage and consolidate it. Event plans should include how you will be collecting data, formatting, storing and sharing it. It starts from the marketing of the event, through and beyond the event lifecycle.
Have at least basic encryption on event Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi on an open network that doesn’t have encryption leaves you wide open for security breaches. That’s because others can access records of whatever is done or accessed. Even a very simple Wi-Fi password (like medconference123456) is a step in the right direction for preventing hacks and keeping your event safe.
Gone are the days when Excel spreadsheets or notebooks were acceptable for recording and managing event data. The ever-increasing need for security means that you should turn to tech solutions designed for managing data.
For example, there needs to be wider adoption of Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) on event websites. An SSL encrypts the links between a web server and browser, meaning the data transmitted between the two remains encrypted.
When managing attendee payments, you must have PCI DSS compliance (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard). Alarmingly, in 2016, Eventsforce found that nearly half of the UK and US event planners they surveyed “didn’t know if they were PCI DSS compliant, with 84% not being able to identify compliance requirements”. Outsourcing the payment collection process to a certified gateway like Stripe or PayPal can help. Although if your website integrates with the gateways via an API, your site must also be PCI compliant.
Mobile event apps are a fantastic tool for collecting event data, but before you start using one, you need to ensure the technology provider has adequate security measures in place. Among other things, you must make sure they don’t have a right to use your data. Find out who in their company has access to your data and their authorization process for giving access. For a deeper insight, check out our awesome podcast episode on event app security.
Give more focus to purging data
Event planners can be tempted to archive and store all event data collected, thinking it might eventually be useful. However, from a security perspective, it’s important to purge data after each event you organize. You see, additional risks come from hoarding data. The more data you have, the more can be stolen during a hack. And that results in a higher cost to you if a data breach does occur.
You only need to the keep the data that will be useful for forecasting and gives you a competitive advantage. If you’re not sure what that is, it’s worth taking some time to put a plan in place and jump on board the trend for data minimization as a security tool.
Remember, after every event, to review any safety or security issues that arose, or you noticed could have occurred. How did security and your event team respond? Is there something different your team can do next time? Learning and improving is critical for effectively planning a safe event every time.
What’s your top tip for planning a safe event? Share it in the comments!