For event planners, it goes without saying that creating a memorable guest experience is a critical aspect of the job. But what about those “behind-the-scenes” components delegates can’t see or taste? While crisp acoustics and scrumptious cuisine, prominent guest speakers and dazzling party venues, are all part and parcel to what make an event successful, seamless security and risk preparedness are every bit as important—if not, more so.
Gone are the days when a slippery floor or a loose guardrail posed the greatest safety risk. In today’s politically-charged world, seamless event security involves looking beyond the venue walls with painstaking attention to detail. A good security team will be thorough, flexible and strategic. It will know precisely who will be in attendance and what other events are happening concurrently. It will identify all possible security risks associated with the subject, and collaborate closely with the police. A good security team will anticipate, strategize and plan for the worst in order to safeguard the best.
VIPs bring heightened security needs
Maryse Phaneuf has been overseeing security at the Palais de congrès de Montréal since 2016. In her two-year tenure, the modern facility has played host to countless large-scale functions and events, attracting visitors and dignitaries from far and wide. From Commicon and the Aga Khan, to Barack and Michelle Obama, Phaneuf says no two events are alike—and nor do they present the same set of risks. But what they do have in common, regardless of size or prestige, are the steps required to create an effective security plan.
“Right away, gathering as much information as we can get about an event is critical,” Phaneuf says. “For instance, we need to know if there will be dignitaries or other high-profile guests present. How big will the event be? What is the subject and what risks are associated with it? Once we have all the bases covered, then it’s time to plan for the event in and around the city. This might entail coordinating with the police, or in special cases, working with the secret service.”
With each step being essential to the outcome, Phaneuf says her team’s work begins as soon as the event is confirmed. “In some cases, we may need to start even earlier—say, if there are uncertainties about whether the venue is the right fit. But typically security planning starts at the time of booking, then risk assessment takes place in the months leading up to the start-date.”
Assessing the threats: a step-by-step process
At the onset, Phaneuf says she generally meets several times with event planners in order to garner as much in-depth knowledge about the subject and attendees as she can. This allows her to establish a risk assessment based on that subject and the size and scope of the event. From there, she and her team will organize emergency response and crowd management, cross-referencing the event against others booked at the facility—or even elsewhere in the vicinity.
During the event itself, Phaneuf is always on-site until the last participant leaves the building, ensuring everything unfolds according to plan. Her security team might range from 10 to 110 depending on the necessities of the event.
The main attraction: choosing your destination
When it comes to choosing a locale, Phaneuf says typically it’s the area’s attractions that first capture the interest of event planners. With searchable city reports available online, planners can easily find data on crime rates and other pertinent statistics. “The advantages we have in Montreal is that it is an accessible city, the people are very welcoming, and even though the Palais is located right downtown, you can still walk around, day and night, feeling safe.”
Of course, in extremely high-profile cases, like the Obamas and Bill Clinton, Phaneuf says security might be a determining factor in where an event takes place. “Sometimes the secret service will contact me with questions prior to booking our venue in order to establish whether our security team is able to handle the challenges. They’ll want to know about our process; about our track-record and our relationship with the Montréal police services. Fortunately, our record speaks for itself. We are a seasoned team with world-class facilities. Our capabilities have never prevented us hosting an event. ”
Underscoring that point, Phaneuf reveals that when former First Lady, Michelle Obama, came to speak at the Palais des congrès in February of this year, a record was set. “More than 10,000 people in a single room. It takes serious security planning and crowd management.”
Safety and security at the Palais des congrès
At the Palais des congrès, the safety and security of its facilities and occupants are a top priority from the moment an event is booked, to the time the last participant leaves the premises. The facilities and surroundings are constantly monitored through security patrols, surveillance cameras, and an automated access control system linked to the building’s Security Operations Centre.
All site personnel are trained in first aid and certified to use cardiac defibrillators. Qualified staff members are also trained in fire prevention; however, the Palais building houses a Montréal fire station on-site with first responders ready to intervene if necessary.
“At the Palais, we are well-equipped to handle any type of event—from large-scale conventions to smaller, more intimate groups,” says Phaneuf. “But regardless of size, we always take safety and security seriously. The best advice I can give to event planners is to start planning the security aspects early. Don’t wait until the last minute to consider your security needs, particularly if it involves VIPs.”
To learn more about the Palais des congrès de Montreal and its robust security services, visit http://congresmtl.com/en/.