Simple Strategies for Event Risk Assessment

Planners must be proactive and prepared to handle crises at meetings and conventions.

Risk management is a crucial consideration in event planning. Potential threats to an event's safety are everywhere, be they terrorist attacks, data breaches, natural disasters or any one of many other dangers. Failing to recognize potential problems can have a huge impact across both the event and the wider organization, and cause additional damage to corporate reputation and financial stability. 

So what considerations should a planner keep in mind when developing a risk-assessment plan? There are several points to consider.

Identify the risks

Threatening situations don't materialize out of nowhere. It's important to track potential threats as they develop in order to anticipate problems. Meeting and event planners should ensure they're aware of potential risks, identify what the threats are and then assess them. Planning and preparation are key.

Planners would be wise to "think outside the box" when it comes to risk, and not just consider the inside or perimeter of the building itself. It's also crucial to consider all scales of potential incidents, whether large or small. While many risk-management policies may concentrate on "big-ticket" items such as terrorism or active shooters, people are more likely to be affected by smaller security concerns that go unchecked. For example, an individual is more likely to have something happen to them during the drive to and from a venue, rather than fall victim to a terrorist attack itself. 

Other safety issues faced by event professionals can include opportunistic crime, border/immigration issues (such as improper visas or documentation), technology risks (cyber attacks, malware, hackers, security vulnerabilities) and natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, snowstorms, earthquakes, wildfires), as well as health risks.

The key to navigating these risks lies in accessing and assessing the most current, accurate information. Items that can help with this are country and city risk-assessment reports and maps, as well as mass-notification or alert messaging systems that keep planners and attendees up to date with what's happening around them. 

Take the next steps

Create a contingency plan that can be implemented during a crisis situation or significant threat. Typically, such a plan would be based on "triggers" — certain factors that determine when a contingency plan should be activated. These triggers need to be agreed upon before the crisis situation occurs, rather than in the heat of the moment; defining real risk during a crisis can significantly slow the decision-making process. 

Female-focused risks

Event professionals don't just need to consider the type of risk; they need to consider the type of person that may be affected. With 90 percent of female travelers stating that safety concerns affected what they did in their personal time when traveling for work (according to a 2018 GBTA/AIG Travel survey), there's a real need to address the requirements of female business travelers. 

Not all travelers are the same, and female travelers face unique safety risks. Women can be perceived as an "easier target" for criminals and are more likely than men to be victims of sexual assault or harassment. It's therefore essential for event professionals to have access to information on relevant local customs and laws as well as details of cultural nuances and bias in business settings. 

Future risks

We need to think of extreme weather or climate events — like super typhoons, hurricanes, drought and polar vortexes — as very real security risks. These serious weather phenomena, and the secondary impacts they have (especially on travel), are unfortunately expected to become more frequent in the years to come. 

Our growing reliance on technology may also become more of a threat. When most people think of risk, they're often considering the physical danger; but we're all reliant on technology in our professional and personal lives, and we need to wise up to cybersecurity issues. It pays to be aware of country-specific regulations on technology availability and usage, surveillance and device searches at borders, and laws regarding specific social media content. 

The types of risk event planners face vary from one country to another, and from one delegate type to another. What's more, these risks evolve over time -- staying up to date with developments can be challenging. But executing a successful event requires that risk management be a part of event planning from the beginning of the process.

Suzanne Sangiovese is operations manager, Americas, at Riskline, which offers travel risk assessment and management. An expert in global security and safety issues, particularly those affecting women, she is a regular speaker at numerous industry events, including the recent Global Business Travel Association Convention 2019.