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Keeping events safe: the importance of proactive security

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A priority in event planning is creating a memorable experience for your attendees where locale is key. But before the final host location selection is made, the necessity for event security has taken on added importance in recent years. We’re not just talking about safety – although ensuring your guests aren’t falling on slippery floors or tumbling off of unsafe balconies is a necessity. We’re talking about the higher-level element of security for your event as a whole – ensuring a proactive anticipation of possible threats is in place before your first attendee even arrives.

We spoke with Maryse Phaneuf, head of security for the Palais de congrès de Montréal, about what event planners are expecting – and what the Palais is doing in turn – when it comes to event security in 2018.

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Form a solid plan

Initial research in search of a safe host city is easily done. The U.S. State department offers easily searchable reports on cities worldwide, for example listing Montréal as a low-risk destination given its record-low crime rates and Canadian welcome spirit. But once you’ve selected your city, it’s time to make a plan.

“Often people are somewhat aware of security issues and they will have information for us like, ‘we are going to have ministers at our event so we need you to propose a security plan,” says Phaneuf. “The security will be different if we are expecting 100 people or 5000 people [and] when we make the security plan there are areas [of the Palais] that are more difficult than others, as with any other building. Knowing that there may be a security situation, we will control the environment. We will make sure to keep a certain structure around the event – a ‘buffer.’ Basically, we will ask what are your security needs and what are your expectations.”

And locations like the Palais put years of practice to use, formulating expert foolproof plans to keep your attendees and guests safe. “The police department is always very impressed by the security plans they receive from the Palais,” she says. “I can tell you that the Palais de congrès has made a name for itself in the last year, having hosted very prestigious guests. People feel safe when they come to our events. People see that security is taken seriously. Security is visible and accessible. When they arrive at the Palais they have peace of mind, and they already know all the information they need to know.”

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Teamwork is key

Phaneuf acknowledges the savvy meeting planner as one who identifies security teamwork as a primary concern from the outset. “Event organizers are becoming more sensitized about the need for security from the beginning, when the contract is being drafted,” she says. “They will ask if we have a good relationship with the Montréal police services, with the fire department, with the Sureté du Québec. They are already going to challenge us as to whether there are already existing plans if there are, for example, politicians or VIPs at their event.”

Working with a well-connected and practiced security team will ensure a stress-free event, and it’s in the planning stages wherein the team is built that the biggest strides in preparation are made. Let’s take a look at a unique example – Montréal’s large-scale multi-day Comiccon, which packs out the Palais annually.

“I make sure to always contact the police to inform them about it. ‘This is Comiccon, this is the nature of the event, here is what we can expect around the convention center, or even see in the metro,’” Phaneuf explains. “Because the people who come to Comiccon are often disguised and there are people who come with fake weapons that are very realistic, and we might think it’s a real weapon. But everything is in Styrofoam and really well done. These people are really artists. So we inform the transportation agency of the city of Montréal, and we inform the police to say that, if you have emergency calls saying there is an armed person around the Palais or someone strange in the metro, take the call seriously but take into consideration this ongoing event.”

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Big league names, big league security

While we like to make every attendee feel like a VIP, there are different security requirements for actual VIP guests, and the Palais de congrès has been responsible for welcoming – and protecting – some of the world’s most recognizable names. A unique opportunity to host former President Obama in 2017 was one not taken lightly by Phaneuf and her team.

She recalls, “before he arrived at the Palais, there were many weeks of work to prepare for his visit involving the secret service, Montréal police and the RCMP, who are responsible for keeping these types of high-profile people safe in Canada. So, we have to communicate with all these stakeholders and get all of their individual requirements. The secret service will have specific requirements as will the RCMP and the municipal police – who are more concerned with managing security outside of the building. The police must be informed of the requirements of the secret service and the RCMP so they will know when to not interfere. It’s really a big job that requires teamwork from the beginning to the end of the event.”

Crowd management also came into play, with the Palais responding with a well-oiled method already perfected. ”Before the event, people come to the Palais des congrès and wait in the main floor, so we have to do crowd management there to make sure that people will get their seats on time and ensure that people know where to go, that signage is adequate and manage traffic. In the example of Mr. Obama, we asked people to arrive at 3:30 pm and be seated by 5:30 pm. That gave us just two hours to move about seven to eight thousand people into the room. We have metal detectors, searches, ticket checks and we manage the crowd, so yes, there is both the security aspect for the VIPs but also the question of managing the crowd of attendees” Phaneuf explains.

But while event security is undoubtedly a primary concern of the event planner, taking these thorough steps early in the process guarantee a seamless experience for your VIPs and attendees. And thankfully host centres like the Palais de congrès have experienced security teams and plans in place to keep you covered from all angles.

About Maryse Phaneuf

Maryse Phaneuf has worked in security since 2000, becoming the head of security at the Palais de congrès in August 2016. She works in coordination with both her team and outside security forces in preparing – and proactively protecting – a multitude of events both big and small at the Palais.

Read this next: 5 technological innovations you didn’t know came from Montréal

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