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Planning a Company Gathering.

A MID THE CRUSH OF Borden Food Corporation (BFC) employees arriving in Cincinnati from all over the world for a special company retreat, one 30-year-old woman showed signs of stress. At first her colleagues thought she was homesick. But then the symptoms became more acute. She looked exhausted, hardly able to sleep. She was fearful of being alone, and she frequently broke down into tears. It became clear to coworkers that she was delusional and needed help. Fortunately, security had set up a central command center to help with any problem.

When coworkers reported the situation to their site's human resource manager, the manager immediately reported the problem to the command center, a group of offices set up at the Cincinnati Convention Center where the security director and other headquarters management were well equipped to deal with emergencies.

Command center personnel went into action, phoning a forensic psychiatrist with whom the company had established a relationship. Apprised of the situation, the psychiatrist recommended that the woman be encouraged, but not forced (unless she became suicidal), to go to a Cincinnati hospital. The doctor further recommended a hospital that would have the appropriate specialists. The woman was accompanied to the hospital by colleagues, but left without getting treatment after waiting more than an hour. Colleagues stayed with her the rest of the day, however.

In the meantime, the command center team referred to an emergency contact list it had compiled for all 3,000 worldwide employees and called the woman's designated contact to tell that person of her situation. A family member flew to Cincinnati and picked her up before the woman could do any physical damage to herself or others.

The employee's emotional breakdown was just one of the issues that cropped up during the week of BFC company meetings that were part of this one-time retreat. Addressing those issues was the challenge faced by a team composed of myself and about 15 headquarters employees charged with putting on the event. Working in tandem with event organizers beforehand, we laid the foundation necessary to ensure a safe and secure environment for all attendees during the week of the conference.

Think fast. The call to me as the then-director of Borden Services Company's one-person corporate security function came barely two weeks before the planned event. (At the time, Borden Services Company provided corporate support services, including corporate security, to the Borden family of companies, including BFC.) I was informed that the company was going to gather its 3,000 employees worldwide for a week of conferences and events. All production facilities were to be closed so that everyone could attend.

A site had been found in the Cincinnati Convention Center, about 100 miles from BFC's corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio. Contracts had been obtained with translation services. Space had been booked at about 22 hotels in the greater Cincinnati area. After-hours entertainment had been planned, to include a large banquet the night before the meetings and a major off-site event one evening during the week. The company had contracted for liability and medical insurance coverage for the event and those in attendance.

The question posed to security was: What safety and security issues need to be addressed?

Risk analysis. With so little time to prepare, my first step was a quick, informal risk analysis of the event, which served as the basis for my recommendations to the World Wide Associates Meeting (WWAM) team--the previously mentioned ad hoc group of about 15 associates from throughout the company tasked with the assignment of putting on the event. I considered concerns that might arise from the city where the meeting would be held, the security at individual hotels, and the need for special executive protection, among other concerns.

In general, the company's threat profile was low. BFC had not been doing anything controversial, and there was no reason to believe that there would be protests tied to the meetings, nor was there any intelligence indicating threats against management personnel.

Security was, however, aware that problems might arise in connection with plant closings that were to be discussed at the meetings. It also recognized that, given the number of people who would be in attendance, medical and family emergencies were likely to arise during the course of the week-long conference.

Action plan. After reviewing the situation, the team agreed that the low-threat profile did not warrant a special executive-protection detail for corporate managers. The main focus for the week would be on ensuring that on-site security would be ready to respond to any emergencies that might arise with regard to the health and safety of attendees. To meet that objective, security would prepare emergency contact lists, establish a control center, arrange staffing, and make the appropriate contacts with hotels in the area.

Emergency contacts. In the days before the event, the immediate goal was to create a comprehensive roster of attendees and their emergency contacts. To that end, each site manager was instructed to obtain from every associate at their facility an emergency contact person and phone number. This information was collected in a printout for use by the WWAM team. A standard form was designed for this purpose.

We had several copies of this list by the time the associates arrived for the meeting. The list included the associate's work location, the manager of that facility, the emergency contact information, and any special needs.

The contact list was organized in name order and location order, with a separate listing of those with identified special needs. Also included were the hotel assignments for all associates attending the event. The list was instrumental in helping us contact family members and other persons in several emergencies that occurred during the event.

Command center. The biggest challenge was setting up an on-site command center. A group of rooms adjacent to the convention meeting and exhibit spaces, designed as a tenant support area, were configured as the command center.

BSC was able to key its own locks, which ensured that the command center space was secure. To ensure adequate communications, the telephone company was asked to reserve for the command center a block of telephone lines with established phone numbers, which could be used by convention center tenants. The command center space at the convention center, staffed by the WWAM team, was clearly identified by signs and in handouts given to people as they registered.

For after-hours issues, a second command center was set up in a large, comfortable suite in the hotel where the largest percentage of associates, including the WWAM team and I, were staying. This hotel-based command center served as an informal meeting room for unwinding after a hectic day and as a location for impromptu problem solving. It also provided a secure site from which managers could respond to problems that developed during the hours after the main command center had shut down for the day.

We were able to program the phones to forward after-hours incoming calls from the convention center command center to the hotel housing the after-hours command center. The hotel agreed to have its switchboard respond to calls forwarded from the convention center command center phone and connect any callers to the hotel command center.

Each site manager was instructed to give employees at that site who would be attending the meeting the command center phone number. The number was distributed in writing--on a two-part form--so that workers could provide one copy to an emergency contact person at home and retain a second copy in their own possession during the trip. The line was manned 24 hours a day.

To make it easy for attendees to call family, the WWAM team had provided prepaid calling cards to every associate prior to departure. Some of the cards did not work as expected, however, so the WWAM team members either provided new or reactivated cards or let the staff member call from a command center phone.

Staffing. A combination of off-duty police officers and private security guards was used to handle the various on-site officer duties involved in the event's security operation.

Police. Off-duty police officers were selected for some posts because of their familiarity with emergency services in the city and their ability to maintain order. I knew that Procter and Gamble (P&G) had contracted for the use of off-duty police officers for its annual shareholder meetings in Cincinnati, so I contacted P&G's director of corporate security. He put me in touch with the company's Cincinnati Police Division liaison officer, Specialist Charles L. Beaver.

Beaver advised that Cincinnati Police officers are permitted to work off-duty on security assignments, and he said that he could provide as many officers as needed. The BFC risk management manager signed a contract with the Cincinnati Police Division for the outside employment work. It addressed the anticipated assignment and workers' compensation responsibility. We projected the approximate cost for the service, which turned out to slightly exceed the actual cost.

Beaver handled the selection, scheduling, and time keeping of officers. At the end of the assignment he produced the number of hours and the names and the Social Security numbers of the officers who worked. This enabled BFC to issue checks to each officer individually without delay.

Three police officers were on site during meeting sessions. They maintained an unobtrusive presence in the rear of the meeting room. They also helped to staff the command center during the day. One officer was posted to the hotel command center after hours as well.

During three medical emergencies, the officers were able to provide BFC managers with critical information that helped us to establish communication with the involved hospitals without frustrating delays. Specifically, the officers knew how to reach particular personnel in specific departments, rather than having to go through a series of telephone prompts or dealing with the hospital's general reception department. Thus, having officers with local experience made a considerable.

Private security. The convention center had an ongoing arrangement with a private security service company to provide security officers if needed. Their services were used during our meeting to protect valuable electronic equipment after hours, including projection screens, microphones, speakers, lighting, and cameras. Fortunately, there were no cases of attempted theft or vandalism.

Nonsecurity staff. Since all of the company's human resource personnel were also at the meeting, they were able to help security by assisting with some of the logistics during emergencies. They were able, for example, to reassure family members of the stricken employees and to help these family members plan travel to Cincinnati to visit or pick up their loved ones.

Hotels. The WWAM team had worked with the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau during the planning for the meeting. The bureau had been able to identify hotels that had available rooms and to assist in arranging for bus transportation to and from the more distant hotel locations.

The major downtown hotels were able to accommodate the majority of the attendees. It was necessary, however, to place some people in outlying hotels, a few of which were located in nearby Kentucky. To simplify the housing process and to make staff more comfortable away from home, employees who worked together were housed in the same or nearby hotels.

Each of the major downtown hotels was contacted and their security capabilities were reviewed. After doing a quick walk-through, I found that the hotels were well staffed and had reasonable security procedures in place, including after-hours patrols and emergency response capability. Thus, there was no need to supplement their security services. We did, however, exchange information with the hotels to ensure that the command center and corporate security would be notified immediately by hotel management in the event of an emergency or critical event involving one of our attendees.

Evening reception. To host a reception scheduled for one evening, BFC rented the rehabilitated Union Station several blocks from the convention center. Although this attraction was within a reasonable walking distance of the convention center and the downtown hotels, walking was discouraged because some of the neighborhoods had high crime rates. Bus transportation was offered, and off-duty police coverage was provided both inside and outside where reception activity was taking place. Thanks to these precautions, there were no incidents.

Results. The meeting went well. BFC management accomplished its goal of informing every associate of the plans for the company's future operations and of providing a forum for their input.

The security team accomplished its goals as well. The command center proved indispensable in making that happen. There was an endless flow of logistical, housing, relocation, and lost and found problems to resolve. The command center gave people a clear central contact for assistance with any of those problems. It also served as a refuge for persons feeling anxious or in need of reassurance and as a sanctuary for nursing mothers and persons with medical needs.

Circulating the phone number in advance and opening the command center as the first employees began to arrive paid dividends right away. Travel crises began immediately, because the airports in Chicago were shutting down due to severe storms just as conference attendees were trying to get to the event. Charter planes were marooned on the tarmac until their flights were finally cancelled.

Since associates aboard those planes were more than a day late arriving, some of the hotels began releasing their rooms despite pleas and contracts to hold the rooms. The WWAM team members were able to coordinate rebooking and to make adjustments to the shuttle bus schedules to accommodate the changes. Alerted to the airport problems by the command center, Chicago-based site managers switched their remaining staff to chartered buses.

The command center was also able to calm and inform family members when they called in to inquire about relatives who, stranded on planes at the airport, failed to call home in a timely manner.

In addition, there were four significant medical incidents. One associate broke several ribs in a fall. Two suffered life-threatening strokes, and, as mentioned in the opening of this story, one experienced a major emotional breakdown. The support system in place performed as planned in each situation.

Other incidents were minor but were handled equally well. For example, in two cases associates took beer into the meeting hall. We quietly confiscated the beer and held it in the command center until after meeting hours. We also had a meeting speaker remind everyone that time spent in the sessions was considered as time at work and that no alcohol was permitted. No one was singled out, and we had no further problems.

As BFC's experience shows, when business managers gather employees together, they are looking to the future. It is security's job to see that no emergencies will be present.

Joseph D. Powell is the owner of Corporate Security Services, Worthington, Ohio, a private investigative service specializing in business and corporate matters. He was formerly the director of security for Borden, Inc., Columbus, Ohio. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 2001 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:security issues
Publication:Security Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
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