Every conference comes with its own unique set of risks. During the 2015 United Nations Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21), those threats were especially complex.
The historic December 2015 event, in the Le Bourget district outside of Paris, drew 50,000 attendees from 196 countries — as well as 125 world leaders, including the presidents of France, the United Kingdom, South Korea, and the United States. Charged with organizing the multifaceted security for the high-profile delegates was COP21 Secretary General Pierre-Henri Guignard. “Indeed, it was an extraordinary task,” Guignard told listeners during a presentation at last summer’s PCMA Global Professionals Conference in Paris, a session that was recorded for the latest The Intersection video by PSAV.
While the UN was in charge of security inside the “blue zone” Conference Centre, Guignard and his team were responsible for everything outside — from public transport to cybersecurity to testing the water that flowed into the facility. He tackled this “huge” task by collaborating with partners early in the process, he said, and also by timing attendee access to the conference so that “we never had a line.” Even so, Guignard added, his team and third-party partners had to field attacks — specifically, virtual ones. “On the first day of the conference, our system was attacked massively by Anonymous,” Guignard said, referring to an incident in which the hacker group leaked personal details of dignitaries.
Listening to Guignard’s GloPro session in Paris was Stuart Ruff-Lyon, CMP, DES, vice president, events and education for the Risk Management Society. For Ruff-Lyon and RIMS, event security is a constant obsession, and one that Ruff-Lyon realizes is usually constrained by event budgets. (The COP21 security budget was 184 million Euros.) Even so, Ruff-Lyon is often surprised by scant security at some conferences where thousands of people are gathered under one roof. “People who think the risk isn’t there perhaps have their heads in the sand. To me, the soft targets and vulnerability [of conferences] are bound to be exploited if we don’t do what we can to step up our game and increase our security budgets,” Ruff-Lyon said. One high-profile incident could have a major impact, he added. “I don’t think people are properly recognizing this for the threat it really is to our business and our industry.”
The potential security risks at conferences are multifaceted, Ruff-Lyon pointed out, from hacked registration information to active-shooter situations to crashing drones. “It baffles me the number of event professionals that don’t employ an outside security firm,” Ruff-Lyon said, or don’t screen their attendees. “They’re screening people when they walk into public high schools, but we’re not doing it in convention centers yet.”
At RIMS events, for instance, there are usually armed undercover officers “mingling with the crowd, walking through the exhibit hall, or in the registration line,” Ruff-Lyon said — in addition to uniformed officers and, occasionally, bomb-sniffing dogs. Beyond obvious shows of force, though, Ruff-Lyon offers some advice for upping one’s security game: Budget for a third-party security firm — much as you would for technology services — and make sure you delineate the jurisdictions between the licensee (association, planner, etc.), venue, and municipality when it comes to event security. “That vagueness or ambiguity can be disconcerting,” Ruff-Lyon said, and it’s important to work out those responsibilities early.
Pierre-Henri Guinard’s Tips for Managing Event Risk
1. Start conversations early with all vendors and stakeholders, and be transparent with them.
2. Look at every venue with fresh eyes — don’t trust that one plan will work for each venue.
3. Trust your experts to offer new and proven security measures.
Want to earn CEUs? Watch the Intersection video at www.pcma.org/theintersection.