When planning a special event, either on site or off site, it is important that consideration be given to the safety and security of the attendees. As Director of Security for a large urban, convention hotel, I have had the opportunity to work with many groups and the following is some of the advice I offer.
Any time a group of likeminded people comes together for a common purpose, there is an opportunity for a person or group of people to take issue and exercise theirFirst Amendment right to free speech. That often comes in the form of hecklers inside the event or protestors outside the event.
Be mindful of how you are publicizing an event, and that when event information is posted on the Internet, for example, it is public for all to see. Posting event details may attract individuals or groups to your event outside of your intended audience.
Internet and Social Media Search:
Monitor the Internet and social media for any indications of individuals or groups planning a protest. Search the name of the venue, sponsors, and keynote speakers. Opposition groups may not take issue with the host group, but may have issues with a corporate sponsor or keynote speaker. Searching all of these using multiple search engines and social media sites is recommended.
Not all venues have a security department or point of contact for security issues. It is important to know who at the venue will be the person responsible and in charge.
This will be helpful if there is an issue with a heckler. When law enforcements arrives, someone from the venue will have to tell the responding officer that the heckler is not wanted on the property. At that time the person(s) can be removed and subsequently charged with a crime if warranted.
It is also important to know the location of the property line. If there is a protest, the property line will define how close the protesters can legally conduct their action. With urban venues, it is usually the sidewalk, which brings along a special set of issues.
As part of the planning process with a large venue, it would be helpful to know what other events are taking place at the same time within the venue. It doesn’t happen often, but it is possible that two groups with opposing views may be conducting programs simultaneously. Local Law Enforcement:
During the preparation process for a large event, notify law enforcement of the event, so they can be aware of what is going on in the community, and your event will be on their radar. If protests or disruptions are possible, let them know. If the event has a scheduled speaker who is controversial, even if there is no indication of a protest, notifying law enforcement is recommended.
It is a good practice to have attendees register for the event. Even if the event is free and open to the public, having names and contact information is helpful. Many protestors will use their real names when registering. It is also important to understand that a heckler may be someone from within your own organization. If the name is recognized, provisions can be made to stop the person at the door to avoid a confrontation. Unfamiliar names can be searched on the Internet and social media to determine if they may be a problem.
Regardless of the size or location of the venue, it is important for the organizers to be familiar with the emergency procedures. Point out the emergency egresses. Many venues will also have a gathering point for persons leaving the building. You may suggest that an alternate point be selected by the organizers and given to attendees to allow organizers to get information to the attendees quickly and without competing with other groups evacuating the building. Many venues will have an information sheet available listing the following:
Closest Fire Station and average response time;
Closest Ambulance and average response time;
Closest Police Station and average response time;
Closest hospital with trauma center;
Closest 24 hour pharmacy.
This information could be useful to determine the duration of an interruption if an emergency situation were to arise. As well, the hospital and pharmacy information may be useful to the attendees.
It is also helpful to know:
Are there personnel on duty trained in CPR?
Does venue have a defibrillator or PAD? If so, where are they located?
All the considerations above will be helpful when planning a special event, whether an offsite conference or hosted at your religious institution or house of worship.