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IBTM World 2018 Q&A: VOBE's Steff Berger Discusses Anti-Terror Strategies for Events

Meetings Today Content Engagement Director Christoph Trappe spoke with VOBE Managing Director—and Conference Consultant, Crisis Manager and Event Manager—Steff Berger following her session on "Practical Anti-Terror Strategies for Conferences and Events" at IBTM World 2018 in Barcelona.

Watch the interview with Steff Berger in the embedded, 360-degree video below:

Editor's Note: Click or press and hold your mouse or finger on the 360 video to move the camera around.

Or keep scrolling to read a full transcript of the conversation.

Christoph Trappe (CT): All right. Hi everyone. Christoph Trappe here again, Meetings Today and Stamats Business Media at IBTM in Barcelona. And I’m joined by Steff Berger. Thanks for joining us.

And you gave a talk yesterday on how to prepare for terrorist attacks.

Steff Berger (SB): Yes. For conferences and events.

CT: For conferences and events. Talk about some of the details from the talk.

SB: I talked about the 7-15 minutes before the police arrived and that we try to get into a delay time. Everything that we do to delay action of a terrorist.

CT: 7-15 minutes.That is a lifetime.

SB: Yes. And this is the general time around the world in cities.

CT: So, we actually at Meetings Today and our sister publications did an active shooter training. And they walked us through some scenarios. And what happened is, they said, “How long do you think that took? And I just shot everybody?” And it took – can you guess?

SB: One minute? Half a minute?

CT: Like one minute, two seconds.

SB: Yes.

CT: Something like that. So, we’re not even … close to the 7 minutes. So, what other tips that event planners should know about?

SB: Okay, I mean of course this is always an unforeseen, unexpected situation. Talking about events and conferences, we talk about large numbers. So, in case of an active shooter situation, we try to see the big picture, like say. And therefore, of course, there are different ways to react.

And one way in session rooms would be to lock the doors to the main corridors. But then try to get people – the backstage doors out.

CT: Yeah.

SB: So, that would be an option. But this is again, saying this especially in Europe, we talk about that we don’t have armed security. That we don’t – the security is more to check badges. And what we have to do is that most time in front of session rooms, we have hostesses. We have different stuff.

We have techs inside the room.

So, for me, we need to open a wider range of awareness for the entire staff about this.

CT: Yeah. So, training for staff … is an important thing.

SB: Yes.

CT: And how do you do that? How do you go about the training?

SB: We just started that. So, for me, most of the topic is one-year-old, since I have my attended the ATO course, so the Anti-terror Officer course. And so, I’m working on the strategies, how we can do that. Because it’s also the way if you start training people, you don’t want to make them afraid, yeah?

CT: Right.

SB: So, you need to be very sensible in how to implement that. And also to look into cultures. So, my job is we work with European associations. So, we go, every year with the association in a different country.

So, you have different cultural aspects as well.

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CT: Yeah. Very interesting. And that’s very different from what staff does today. As you mentioned, they do your badges, right? They scan them and… answer questions.

SB: Yes. But we need to be more sensible. I mean luckily not so many things happened. And I hope we stay safe for the future.

CT: And how do you get people to even think about it? Because I mean it’s a very unlikely event to even happen. Right?

SB: Yes.

CT: How do you get people to think about it?

SB: Because I think you need to integrate that in crisis management. And it’s also something if you don’t talk about this topic, I mean this is a general common thing that this happen in the world.

CT: Yeah.

SB: And what happened also as an example… if we know that for example when the threats happened in Paris, that there was a conference just a week after. So, what happened to this conference? They might be safe in the way to be safe, but they need to communicate. If they run the event or not. The police, the government, the city, they will add measurements, and this will be an impact on your budget. Yeah?

So, we have to think and to talk about before [something happens]. And the advice I give talking the year before, set up a different level of risk management because to say, OK. We have a low level, it can hire through the year. And if we run events in this size with 20,000 [participants], it’s booked for ages.

Yeah? So, there it’s very important. And you can’t cancel an event just five days before.

CT: Right.

SB: And I think you need to talk about this and also how you work together. Not only the venue and the cities and police are good together, but we bring in the people. And I want the venues also include us in their discussions. Because we are responsible for our participants.

CT: Right. Very interesting. So, how did you get involved in this topic?

SB: For me, it started in 2010 with the eruption of the volcano. And this is a disaster, it’s not a crisis situation. But we could not really help. And for me, I promised myself, I had to do something. And it took me a really long time, but during this time, I always got into critical situations.

Again, we tried to fix – since last year, I’m a certified crisis manager. And I can tell you since I’m a crisis manager, we had a few little critical situations. Not about counter-terrorism, but about crisis.

And I’m much more relaxed.

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I have an understanding and I have an idea what we can do because we created plans. And I believe also for counter-terrorism, we are specialized, we are organizers, we are event planners, we work with all those planning, why we cannot adapt and do something for counter-terrorism or for crises.

And so, it’s my topic I want to bring in the world and the point of awareness, I mean if we talk about suitcases here at IBTM, you see a lot around. And yesterday, I brought my own and it’s hand-luggage. And if we would say it’s 11.5-kilogram TNT inside, what is the range? What is the impact?

And most of the people don’t know how to react if there is unattended luggage. You don’t call in that area. You don’t use your walkie-talkie. You try to get your people out maybe, yeah?

And then again, we talk about 7-15 minutes until the police arrive.

But this we can do. We don’t need to wait for the police. We can take action.

CT: So, at IBTM, we have the police standing right outside, right?

So, that’s another solution for big events, have on-site police presence, I guess.

SB: Yes.

CT: However, if something were to happen where we were sitting right here, we are probably, I mean I don’t know, but we’re probably half-a-mile to a mile from where the officers are. So, that’s a long way still to go.

SB: But it’s also again this culture kind of thing. I think, you know, they establish to show their presence because we are in a country where there were threats.

But for example, if you would have the police in Switzerland where there’s nothing at the moment, people would be quite irritated if they’re docked in front.

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So, for me it’s a cultural aspect. You need to double check – for example, when we talk about Christmas markets in Berlin 2016, there were no measurements for security, there were no barriers. In 2017, we talk about barriers, police station and about entrance with security.

And it gets us a delay time, no delay time because there is a police barrier for trucks. And we have security also for visitors to feel more comfortable, but you have a better overview of everything. But in the world with Christmas markets, there was a discussion, “Should we do this or not?”

And many conferences said, “No. We are not in a threat situation.

We are not on a risk level, so we don’t put this measurement on.”

And I think they’re right. Because what are the mission of the terrorists? They want to hit our value. They – symbolic values, like Christian culture, Christmas market, yeah? So, and we can fight against if we don’t let them in, in our heart and our thoughts. Yeah? So, it’s very important.

CT: So, it’s a fine line. So, great. Whatever final tips do you have for – so, should event organizers, should they give tips to attendees? Or what’s that communication look like?

SB: I think yes and no. There’s some kind of moment that people say, “Yes, we should do that.” I think it’s very difficult to do. Because we want to feel that they are safe. And at the moment, we don’t have the level at least in Europe let’s say. I mean if you talk about Paris, if you talk about London, Barcelona, of course you have a different level. But in the other ones, you don’t maybe have this level.

And I think we should keep it down. For my mission is actually not to implement things that are on a level we don’t need them.

CT: Okay. Sounds great. Good. Anything else?

SB: Anything else? Oh, there are so many things to tell.

CT: There are so many things. We could be here for hours.

SB: Yeah. But the most thing is really that people should work together, like police, venues and organizers. That you really train not only security staff.

I think that’s really for me, an important thing and that you think about this topic. Also, if it’s a not nice topic to have, like crisis management or crises. And yeah. I hope it will be safe for the future.

CT: Great. Fantastic. Thanks for making the time.

SB: Thank you.

Video transcription provided by Katie Downing and edited by Eric Andersen (Digital Content Specialists).

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Christoph Trappe | Former Chief Content Officer