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Disaster Preparedness Q&A With Jonathan Wackrow

January 23, 2018

Jonathan Wackrow, managing director of Teneo Risk and a frequent contributor to CNN on security issues, is also regarded as a thought leader on meetings security.

We asked him the following questions about the state of crisis/disaster preparedness in the meetings industry.

Q.: You’ve been speaking about this topic for a couple of years now at various industry events. What have you noticed in the meetings industry—good or bad—regarding the way it handles disaster management and security?

A: The topic of event and meeting security has been a hot [one] for the industry broadly over the past year. In 2017, I had the opportunity to give four keynote addresses on the topic and participated in numerous smaller talks on the topic, thus highlighting the industry interest. However, I feel that industry associations have been slow to develop guidelines or policies to aid membership in navigating the sometimes-complex environment of event/meeting security risk management. In light of the ever-changing global and domestic threat environment, planners need baseline resources to mitigate vulnerabilities of their events.

Oftentimes, security issues become an afterthought in a meeting planner’s mind, because it traditionally has not been part of the event planning process. My goal is to make safety and security initiatives industrywide as common as other aspects of event planning such as banquet event orders or rooming list.

Having security initiatives incorporated into the work process of planning allows for a systematic and scalable integration of policies and practices regarding security management.

Q.: Why is it important to have a written disaster management/security plan?

A: The first time to think about a crisis is not in the middle of a crisis. A security plan is your playbook in the event of an emergency or crisis situation. [It contains] the predesignated actions that individuals will follow to limit damage, injury and potential loss of life. However, the value of the plan is not only in what it does in response to a crisis, but rather how its development allows for risk issues to be mitigated in advance of an emergency or crisis. Proactive planning allows meeting planners to identify vulnerable elements in advance and systematically introduce mitigating actions to solve a problem.

Q.: What are two of the most important security issues meeting organizers often overlook?

A: Not identifying a security budget early in the planning process and thus not placing the right value proposition to this element is overlooked or not understood. Too often, security is seen only as a cost to an event and the holistic value to the security elements is not understood by stakeholders.

By addressing security risk management development as a budgetary line item at the start of the planning process, the organization is able to fully attain the value of this element of the planning process.

The second item that I see overlooked is that planners do not fully understanding the resources they have available or where to obtain those resources. A great start for a planner is asking venues what their plan is in the event of an emergency. Additionally, FEMA and other government agencies have publicly available information that planners can use as a guideline.

Finally, the peer-to-peer resource is rapidly growing when it comes to event security. A security plan should not be a closely guarded trade secret; checklists and templates should be shared among the industry to create a more inclusive and secure environment among planners.

Q.: Beyond a planner's point of view, what concerns should building managers have and try to mitigate?

A.: Building and venue management should have plans that are more comprehensive than that of the event planner. Generally, a meeting planner focuses on their own event; venue managers have to address the security and safety of many concurrent groups all in one location, thus their security posture and means to address issues will differ from that of the planner. Venues should have a comprehensive threat assessment done on their property so the full understanding of the threat environment is understood.

A crisis management plan, to include emergency escalation procedures, crisis communications and contingency planning, is an essential part of the venue security risk management procedures.  

Q.: What questions about security do you get most from meeting organizers?

A.: The No. 1 question I receive is “Where do I start; I am unfamiliar with security issues and topics?”

To me, the answer to this question should be simple for the industry to answer through initiatives with the different professional organizations. MPI, PCMA IAEE, EIC, ESPA, etc., should all be the centralized resources for security initiatives within the planning industry.

This is about creating a culture of security awareness by which planners have clear pathways to risk solutions and [the] ability to easily provide a safe and secure event; regardless of size and scope.