Weekly News & Insights: Trade Show Safety & Security

Graphic: Digital Juice

Graphic: Digital Juice

In the wake of all the insanity this week in Boston, it brings up a longstanding question in the trade show world — how safe are most expos and events?

It’s a given that anytime you assemble large crowds, there are opportunities for bad people to make their way into the mix. But it amazes me that after all the incidents that have happened over the past decade since 9/11, trade shows still remain one of the least-secure, least-controlled types of events.

Here’s a reprint of an article I wrote in 2006 on this topic, and interestingly things haven’t changed all that much at most shows since then.

With all the terror threats, there’s no doubt that security procedures in airports over recent years have changed. But what about convention centers?

A 2004 study conducted by Meetings & Conventions magazine showed that only 17% of trade shows had examined attendees’ bags, 6% had required picture IDs, and none had used metal detectors or wands to inspect either people or bags. And even though I’ve attended more shows than I could count over the past five years, I can’t remember any added measures of security, other than occasional picture IDs. In fact, the only location that I can remember where my bag was ever searched (outside of D.C.) was at the Mall of America right after 9/11. Okay … so are we more concerned about our shopping malls than our conventions?

While I agree with most business travelers that air travel now can be quite a pain, I do feel a fair degree of safety when I’m in the air. But perhaps because I was at a large show this year on 9/11, the lack of security made me stop and think. If I were a bad person, all I would need to do was fill out an online registration, pay my one-day-only fees, and then appear at the pre-registered check-in desk to pick up my badge. I could be carrying anything in a big tote bag and no one would think anything of it.

Now I don’t want to cause widespread panic with these thoughts, but perhaps it is time for meeting planners and show organizers to investigate some basic security measures. And perhaps the easiest way to make a change is to get tougher on exactly who is entitled to a badge. Run the list of pre-registered attendees through an FBI watch-list search; require attendees to show ID when picking up their badge; and once they have their badges, conduct random bag searches. No, we won’t like it, but perhaps it will keep trade shows from becoming the next front line for terrorists.

On a more positive note, the response to the Boston Marathon tragedy was stellar on all sides. Law enforcement and paramedics rushed in to tend to the wounded, hotels took extra precautions to protect their guests, and citizens came to the rescue of stranded runners and families. USA Today published an article on how hotels managed security of their guests in the wake of the event. PCMA also has an article detailing some of the actions taken by various venues, including the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, which evacuated everyone setting up on Monday for the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association’s Annual Meeting. The show opened on schedule Wednesday, but with several new security policies, including:

  • Access to Hynes will be limited to the Prudential Center entrance.
  • All MCCA facilities were examined by K-9 units Monday night and will be examined again at greater, albeit unannounced, frequency for the near future.
  • The photo IDs of everybody entering either Hynes or Boston Convention & Exposition Center (BCEC) will be inspected.
  • All visitors to Hynes will be subject to bag searches.
  • Vehicles entering the loading docks at either Hynes or BCEC will be subject to search.

To read a more in-depth statement of how the MCCA is handling security issues, check out this article on TSNN. The Experimental Biology 2013 Annual Meeting is set to open as scheduled on Saturday, April 20, at the BCEC.

So how do you think conventions and trade shows should be implementing security measures? Please post your comments below.

UPDATE:  The MCCA just published this statement:

“At this time, in compliance with the “shelter in place” order for the City of Boston, we have suspended operations at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center.

Activities already underway prior to the Governor’s order will be allowed to continue, including move-in activities at the BCEC for the Experimental Biology 2013 Annual Meeting as well as sessions in progress for the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association’s (ASCA) Annual Meeting at the Hynes.

Click to read the full statement on ExpoWeb.com.

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Marlys Arnold

With experiences as both an exhibitor and a show organizer, Marlys Arnold has a unique perspective on trade show exhibiting. As an exhibit marketing strategist, she travels the country consulting and training on how to create experiential exhibits that produce significantly higher numbers of qualified leads. She’s led workshops for events ranging from local consumer expos to some of the largest trade shows in the U.S. She hosts the Trade Show Insights blog/podcast, and is the author of Build a Better Trade Show Image, the Exhibitor Education Manifesto, and the ExhibitorEd Success System. Exhibit Design That Works (the first book in the YES: Your Exhibit Success series) debuted in July 2017. She’s also the founder of the Exhibit Marketers Café, an online education community.

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