How to Protect Information and Attendees

As you planned your last board meeting or training seminar and considered things like room configurations and food and beverage needs, did the safety of attendees make the checklist of contingencies and considerations?

If the answer is no, you're not alone.

Some planners consider risk assessment and security measures only for controversial meetings or those with a high-profile guest list or speaker. However, in today's world of wireless communications and cybertheft, every conferee who travels is at risk.

Meeting planners have a fundamental responsibility to assess vulnerable points and plan for issues that might never arise. Online sabotage of corporate materials and safety of late-night check-ins are just the beginning. With this in mind, partnering with an experienced conference property that can help you assess vulnerability is the first step to a good event. Following are some important issues to consider when meeting with a hotel and assessing risk for your next meeting.

Evaluate your group's risk factors

Make a list of vulnerable areas for your group and address them. Consider factors such as:

• Could there be demonstrators?

• How much high-tech equipment is being exhibited and how will it be secured?

• Are there evening functions that would cause conferees to walk back to their guest rooms late at night? Is there additional outdoor lighting?

• Is there a chance attendees will use public spaces to share potentially sensitive corporate information on their laptops?

• How will the meeting space be monitored to prevent uninvited guests from entering?

• Is there a possibility of identity theft through the hotel reservation system?

Focus on the most likely areas of vulnerability where precautionary measures are feasible: physical safety of attendees, access meeting space, and protection of materials. Consider keeping a low profile at the venue. Use minimal signage, and limit the use of the organization's name on badges, luggage tags, etc.

Assess the venue's security

Regardless of whether the meeting is held in a downtown convention hotel or at a resort, planners must be aware of what the hotel offers by way of security and loss prevention. Find out where hotel security patrols, how often, and if there are regular patrols of the outer facilities by marked police units. Some properties can even offer planners specific security coverage of their meeting—plain-clothes or uniformed—which can be very helpful when there is a heavy conferee traffic (such as at an exhibit show).

Find out how the hotel handles arrivals and check-ins. This can be a vulnerable access point for your guests. A good property will use unmarked electromagnetic key cards, and always issue a map marking the guest room location for easy access. Most importantly, when guests check in, the room number is written and handed over by the front desk staff—no personal information should be verbally disclosed.

enlist the basic rules of thumb

With the ever-increasing wireless environment, the threat of cyberthieves, hackers, and corporate sabotage is growing. During downtime, conferees are likely to sit in the lobby and check e-mail on a laptop, or information might be shared in groups poolside.

Planners should be aware of the layout of facilities and meeting areas whenever proprietary information is to be accessed by attendees. For example, consider a meeting room configuration that allows chairs and tables to face away from the wall, discouraging straying eyes and wanderers from peering over shoulders at laptops. And during downtime, attendees should be aware of their proximity to others who are not associated with their group.

Most laptops provide their own firewalls and have built-in protection, but it never hurts to encourage attendees to use a current web browser, since newer ones have more security nets. Have them activate pop-up blockers, use anti-spyware, and enact automatic software upgrades. When the computer is not in use, shut it down or disconnect it from the Internet.

Making all of the above tactics work to your advantage requires ongoing communication with conferees. Kick off the meeting by offering conferees a brief overview of safety measures for their personal protection and that of their computers. Encourage them to be aware of protecting themselves during the conference, and you lay the foundation for a crisis-free event.

Corinne Dever is director of group sales for The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center, just north of Houston. She can be reached at [email protected]