Meetings & Guns: How to Ensure Attendee Safety

Dave Wiggins, former security director for Starwood Hotels, offers tips on attendee security in an age of proliferating firearms.

GUNS-David-Wiggins-inerview

The latest cover story of Meetings & Conventions tackled the complex topic of guns and meetings. The top concern for any meeting planner is to ensure the safety and security of their attendees and to that end, we spoke with Dave Wiggins, past president of the California Tourism Safety & Security Association and a former security director for Starwood Hotels to glean his take on meetings and gun policy. (Be sure to also read our summary of the legal considerations related to guns and meetings.)

How should meeting planners communicate with attendees about rules on firearms?

As with any rule, the further in advance the notice is given to attendees, the better. Pushing out rules on weapons is best done as part of registration, as well as online, via email and as part of collateral materials. For events open to the general public, rules regarding firearms should be included on web pages and social media posts.

Different states have different rules on signage that can be posted to communicate to guests in a hotel or other private setting. Is the patchwork of different policies a problem for meeting planners?

Were there a single national norm on signage prohibiting weapons at a particular property, this would be a simple matter for event planners, but it's true that requirements for proper signage do vary by state. Meeting planners can check out an individual state government's web portal.

Or, for a more comprehensive resource, they can check all the various state rules at safetysign.com. In practice, signage is really the responsibility of the host venue. So, my advice to event planners in those scenarios where weapons are a concern is to add this topic to their site-selection questions and inspection. Simply ensure that the venue is in compliance with their own jurisdiction's laws.

Should planners consider additional security, such as metal detectors, or more security guards at larger events?

"As an event grows in size, the operational impact and cost of enhanced security measures also grows," says Wiggins.
"As an event grows in size, the operational impact and cost of enhanced security measures also grows," says Wiggins.

As much as boilerplate solutions to complex issues seem attractive, the concept of one size fits all truly doesn't work when it comes to event security. The most effective and cost-efficient security starts with a risk analysis specific to that meeting. There are a couple of different relevant considerations here -- operational and liability.

The larger, more public or more problematic an event is, the more that enhanced security measures like guest screening are recommended. Obviously, as an event grows in size, the operational impact and cost of enhanced security also grows. Screening takes time, slows ingress and egress, and the equipment and manpower are costly. In terms of liability, the bigger the gig, the more planners will be held accountable to current norms.

How can meeting professionals educate themselves on the concealed-carry laws of the state where the event is being held?

In many states, the various laws related to different types of weapons are scattered throughout respective penal codes. Even in the online era, it's not always easy to locate and interpret all of the relevant codes. If concerns over weapons at a particular event merit this level of research and attention, it's probably worthwhile to consult a security professional experienced in the management of conventions and special events. Law enforcement can be another resource, but local agencies are not always as engaged with their meeting venues and clients as they should be.