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Why agencies must educate corporates on ‘common sense’ security issues

Members of SITE debate risk management best practice and how to react in a crisis

Pictured: Anthony Coyle-Dowling

A cool head and clear communications are as vital as any risk management plan in the event of a crisis, event managers heard at the latest Site debate in London.

The GB chapter of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) considered the risks posed to corporate events and incentive travel, particularly in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, Tunisia and Istanbul in recent months, at The Langham hotel.

And a panel of experts including BCD Meetings & Events’ Anthony Coyle-Dowling and Pete Cooper, International SOS and Control Risks security manager were in agreement that agencies, associations and corporates require a structured plan to cover all eventualities, from a street mugging to a terrorist attack.

MICEBOOK founder Chetan Shah, formerly operations director at Black Tomato, revealed that a crisis management meeting prior to an incentive in Paris last November laid the foundations for the safe return of more than 100 attendees.

On the night of the terror attack of 13 November last year, it emerged Black Tomato’s incentive group was dining in a restaurant 3km from the Bataclan theatre, where 89 people were killed by masked gunmen.

He said clearly defined roles and communications channels – the agency used messaging service Text Anywhere to keep attendees informed – were vital as a team in the UK kept the event managers on the ground up-to-date, by relaying information from rolling news channels.

Shah added: “It demonstrated one of the real challenges of crisis management; the really fine line between panicking your attendees and being really prudent.”

The guests were escorted back to their hotel in small groups, before heading home on Eurostar trains the next morning.

“We took precautions but I don’t think any amount of training can help prepare,” Shah said. “You can train for everything and you can go for crisis management meetings, but common sense is the number one go to.”

Shah is also keen to create a group of agencies to share security best practice, under the SITE banner.

The debate also argued that agencies have a responsibility to their clients to educate and devise contingencies, as “it’s only when something happens that you end up thinking what are you going to do”. Rob Bentley, manager at insurer Hiscox Event Assured, revealed that only around a quarter of corporates took adequate insurance cover for their events.

Coyle-Dowling said: “Devise contingency plans for corporate clients, persuade clients to think differently. As an agency our role is to think on our feet and use the common sense approach. If it has not been thought through, how can you deliver that message quickly and clearly in the moment?

“All you can do is train your clients’ security and risk teams and produce a plan with them, allowing them peace of mind that if something does go wrong you can pull out ‘a bible’ that allows them to deal with it.”

The changing landscape was also a concern: is Brussels now not as safe as was once believed because it was put into lockdown in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, for example?

Coyle-Dowling added: “There are so many places affected we do not know who is going to knock on which door.”

Cooper reminded attendees that the majority of risk management covers events such as muggings and traffic accidents. “There has not been change in risk as such, it has been a change of awareness,” he said. “Do think about the large scale events, but we should not get too focused on them.”

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