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of respondents are increasing their 2017
budgets to include virtual experiences.
Heightened screening now extends to vendors, in some
cases. Richard O’Malley, an event producer based near New
York in Ridge;ield Park, N.J., does destination and event
management, as well as weddings and bar mitzvahs. On
big shows or meetings, he always asks vendors for a list of
employees such as waiters or riggers.
“What a lot of people forget to do is really do security
on the vendors,” O’Malley says. “Who are your AV people?
Are those the AV people that are supposed to be here? Just
because a guy has a shirt on that says he’s from the catering
company, that doesn’t mean he’s with the catering compa-
To make sure unknown individuals are not slipping
into the events he produces, O’Malley often turns to the
lead individual a vendor has sent to run the team. “If there
are 10 waiters we’ll make sure there are 10 waiters—not
11, not 15,” he says. When someone unexpected turns up
on the list, he’ll check with the captain of the group. “The
captain of that group will know who his people are.”
The rising concern about security is keeping some ven-
dors busy. Charles Patterson is president of Exec Security
TSCM Services, a ;irm in the Greater New York area that
performs security sweeps for corporate clients in situa-
tions such as corporate board meetings and shareholder
meetings or union negotiations. Although he says business
is not up dramatically, “there has been an increase in gener-
al security concerns.”
Often among Patterson’s clients, the impetus for secu-
rity sweeps is a sensitive subject matter. “It’s usually when
there is a discussion going on where they are talking about
things that are con;idential, usually ;inancially related or
related to new products,” he says.
One challenge he faces in keeping such meetings secure
is the proliferation of digital devices that can be used for
eavesdropping or spying.
Sometimes, technological problems are leading to potential breaches, even when there is no ill intent. At one
meeting his company swept, Patterson says, “a defective
piece of equipment turned out to be transmitting a radio
signal of all of the conversations in the room. It was part of
the AV system. It was not supposed to be transmitting like
this. You could receive the transmission out in the parking
lot.” If it hadn’t been removed, the client would never have
known about the transmission, he adds.
In another meeting room with a high-level AV system,
his team came across a very inexpensive wireless micro-
phone—“not what you would expect to ;ind in a more
advanced AV system.” Concerned about why it was there,
he says, “We had to remove it and make sure it wasn’t put
there by the wrong person.”
Despite the rising concern about security, many meet-
ing organizers and planners are still leaving glaring gaps,
according to Robert Siciliano, who speaks to corporations
and associations about security.
One big oversight he often sees is attendees leaving
Zika on the Radar Screen
their computers and personal devices on meeting room ta-
bles when they leave for breaks. “When they don’t simply take
their device with them to lunch, they’re saying, ‘We’re not
concerned about our devices being stolen. It’s really not going
to happen here,’” he says. “It’s a complete showing of denial
that these things are going to happen around here.”
Zika is another fast-emerging concern—and one that requires
a different approach to risk management. Tyra Hilliard, CMP,
PhD, JD (MPI North Florida Chapter), is a St. Simons Island,
Ga.-based attorney who serves the meeting industry, as well
as a professor who teaches courses in business and hospitality, meetings and events for the College of Coastal Georgia. She
is hearing from meeting professionals worried that fears of
the virus will disrupt their events—particularly association
“I get about a call a week from someone who says, ‘We
booked a meeting in Mexico two
years ago. It’s getting close. Now
our attendees don’t want to go
because of Zika. Can we cancel?’”
Unfortunately, the answer is often no, according to Hilliard. “I’m
having to break the not-so-great
news that technically, you can’t
call that force majeure and get
out of it without penalty,” she says. The exception would be
a meeting that is speci;ically focused on, for instance, pregnancy health, where most of the attendees are expected to
be pregnant women, she says. Many contracts de;ine force
majeure as something that prevents 25 percent or more of
attendees from attending.
In some cases, the groups that call her have already put
down a US$100,000 deposit. “No one saw Zika coming two
years ago,” Hilliard says. Given that Zika is now a reality, she
recommends that organizers invest in a legal review of their
“Legal review is a lot like insurance,” she says. “You don’t
want to pay the money for it but then when you need it, you’re
really glad you’ve done it.” The same holds true for putting
other security plans in place, as well. ■
Among U.S. states and territories,
Puerto Rico has the most reported
cases of Zika.