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Staying Safe

The appalling attack at London's Fishmonger's Hall has brought into sharp focus the issue of event security

 

The terrorist attack which unfolded at Fishmonger’s Hall, London, on 29 November 2019, and resulted in the deaths of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, was an appalling episode. 

Unfortunately, terrorist attacks are nothing new, but up until now they have not targeted the conference industry, although other events and venues have been targeted, such as Manchester Arena. 

With a full investigation now open, we have little knowledge of the security arrangements that were in place that day, and nor shall we speculate. The chief executive of the Fishmonger’s Hall, Toby Williamson, praised the selfless bravery of his staff in truly horrific circumstances, and we do the same.

Whether or not this was an isolated incident is a matter of opinion, but it happened at a conference event, and that means we must look at security. 

Prime Minister (at the time of press) Boris Johnson has pledged a new law, which would force venues hosting large events to prepare for terror attacks.

The new regulations would mean all venues must prepare in the same way as for a fire risk, with potential fines for those that do not comply.

Johnson said a new Tory Government would “immediately consult on the best way for venues to protect themselves against terrorism.”

Ministers would either use existing laws or pass new legislation known as “Martyn’s law” to create a legal duty for managers to have a plan to prevent and respond to attacks.

But talk is cheap, and one must ask should security be the sole responsibility of the venue, and what steps should an organiser take? Such is the diversity of our industry, there is no easy template. Some content will be higher risk than others. 

Talking to Conference News, Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the Meetings Industry Association (mia), said that the Fishmonger’s Hall incident reminds us of the importance of having a robust security plan in place for all business meetings and events. 

“Event organisers and venues have a duty of care obligation to protect anyone working on behalf of their organisation, and attending an event, so security must be an integral part of the planning process and not an afterthought,” Longhurst says. 

“As part of our work to champion best practice, we always recommend members risk assess every event booking to ensure the correct security and crisis management policies and procedures are in place to protect both staff and delegates. 

“To give these plans the best chance of working should an incident occur, it is essential event organisers and venue managers work together to share them widely and ensure that all staff know what to do in the event of an emergency. 

“Security has always been one of the criteria of the venue facilities grading within the mia’s AIM accreditation scheme. The AIM standard is currently undergoing a review and as part of that work the security measures are currently being re-evaluated.” 

 

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Security expert Lloyd Major, CEO & founder of Crest Planning, agrees. The question for all venues and event organisers is: ‘What is reasonably foreseeable?’ 

 “If it is reasonably foreseeable, there has to be a plan for it and the best, most up-to-date and broadly acceptable decision-making plan in the UK security environment would be a plan based on the National Decision Model (NDM),” says Major. 

“Organisers should gather pertinent information or intelligence, formulate both a threat and risk assessment (two distinctly different things), review what policies and legislation are in place to guide their choices, what options they have and then make the best decisions they can. All of these link to a central code of ethics or statement of mission and values.” 

Major suggests that standards must be adopted and need to be regularly tested, with the workforce trained and empowered to give feedback and shape what works best on the ground. 

“If we apply this to any event, the information would be taken from any person wanting to book a room for an event,” says Major. “Analysis and research of the event, and how it matches the organisation’s ethics, would be done and what if any other events are taking place that it may clash with. Think of an event promoting veganism taking place next door to an event selling fur clothing, for example. 

“An assessment of any event would then need to take place for many simple and legal reasons: can they fit the anticipated number of people in, do the people have any physical or mental disabilities or are they part of a vulnerable group that may impede ingress/egress? A lot of simple pro forma processes are usually applied along with how many tables, chairs, hot and cold drinks people want. It’s usually part of a booking process and there are great enhancements to these processes that can be made to embed a culture of organisational preparedness and resilience beyond what’s currently in place. 

“We’re not saying prepare for asteroids hitting, but we are saying bag thefts, personal and sexual assaults and incidents of terrorism are now things that should be planned for routinely across venues and events.”

In the aftermath of the incident, a number of organisers have voiced concerns about their own events and are seeking practical advice. Mark Blair, Cert CII divisional director at Inevexco, a specialist organisation in event and corporate insurance, tells Conference News that, following the terrorist incident, it would be prudent for event organisers to review their event management plans. “Consideration and comment should be sought from the venue and local authorities in proximity to the venue,” says Blair. “We suggest you ask what the venue’s own procedures and protocols are and whether they have changed, and then amend your plan as appropriate. 

“It may be that the police or central government restrict the numbers of people an event can have or stop your event from being held at all. This is due to the fact, in recent times, entertainment venues are undoubtedly a key target for terrorists to focus their malicious intent on. 

“If the police receive intelligence identifying the venue as a increased target or maybe the subject matter and content of the conference or exhibition increases its risk of terrorism they could give instructions for the event not to go ahead or be postponed for a period. It is likely this will naturally have a negative financial impact on the organisers.

“To adequately protect the organiser against the risk of terrorism it is essential you have sorted and arranged a bespoke event insurance policy with a terrorism extension to safeguard your revenue, expenses or cover reasonable additional costs incurred.”

Event organisers should not panic after what happened at London Bridge in November, but there is no harm in reviewing policies and security arrangements.