Security & Counter Terror Expo team talks EN through the process of securing, marketing and selling the high-profile exhibition.
The security challenges surrounding the planning and delivery of large-scale events are significant and complex.
They demand specific and unique solutions, depending on the nature, scale and location of the event and the environment in which they take place. Although a major incident is relatively unlikely, contingency planning is critical, and the team behind Security & Counter Terror Expo (SCTX) work each year to keep attendees safe through implementing a thorough safety and security strategy.
Running SCTX, the largest national security government-led exhibition in the UK, has its challenges due to the 10,000 visitors, the nature of the topic and the hundreds of international government representatives participating. SCTX deploys a specialist security team headed up by Gold Commander of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Bob Broadhurst OBE.
Organising the event requires some of the most robust, cross-functional security planning in the events industry.
Marketing has the biggest role to play, but it also faces some of the most complex challenges. It must find the balance of promoting the show and its sensitive content, while explaining the current threats and providing visitors with an education experience.
Discretion is one the of most important factors here, and it is vital that the show is marketed in such a way that does not create panic, or be disrespectful to those affected by terrorism. An additional challenge is ensuring the correct attendance demographic.
One of the primary functions of marketing is to increase visitor numbers year on year. Yet with a show like SCTX, it is vital that attendees are drawn from industries and professions with a clear interest in security, counter terrorism and the wide array of topics that will be discussed at the show.
However, if you break these challenges down they are not too different to any other event, just dressed in a different way. Those working in the events industry all have a balancing act to perform when it comes to messaging and promoting to their respective sectors. Through following a key rule of marketing – focus on educating the audience, not selling to them – SCTX has grown rapidly in the last three years.
The core of ‘educate not sell’ comes from the SCTX advisory board, which is made up of experienced security and counter terror personnel. The advisers help provide the SCTX team with industry expertise, information and best practice. But working with these leaders has its own security challenges.
Every year, SCTX hosts global leaders in national security, ranging from government ministers and royal protection details to police forces and special operations from more than 100 countries. The challenge is to create an environment that offers these leaders the safety, security and VIP experience they are used to.
The solution is a collaborative effort across the SCTX specialist security team, the operations function, the VIP function and the Met Police, working together to identify the VIPs attending and creating a detailed visiting schedule for each individual.
David Thompson, event director, comments: “National security is a subject that attracts interest from the most senior politicians around the world. We often get very little advance warning that a VIP will be attending the event. Take, for example, when Theresa May visited; we had only a matter of hours to prepare. This is when our VIP security protocols come into effect. The months of thorough security pre-planning means that such visits are handled smoothly and effectively.”
SCTX presents several unique issues for operations, and one such area is queue management. All SCTX attendees are required to show government-issued photo ID and are X-ray scanned before entry. If not managed properly, it can cause significant delays and create security risks.
Creating a secure environment, while not impacting the visitor experience, requires a serious amount of cross-functional planning. As a result of weeks of planning, the SCTX 2016 queue time was minimal and in the first hour a third more attendees had been processed than the year before.
There are strict government guidelines for what can be exhibited in the UK. Rules on items such as firearms and restraints requires the SCTX sales team to be well educated on what can be exhibited, and who to approach.
“Our sales team have to be extremely thorough in their approach. We often turn business away as they do not meet our strict exhibiting criteria. We pride ourselves on delivering the highest quality suppliers for our visitors to meet,” says Thompson.
A primary focus of SCTX this year is protecting major events. Thompson encourages those tasked with managing exhibitions to attend, saying, “Managing SCTX has highlighted just how vulnerable a lot of events are. Wherever you have a large group of people you essentially have a potential target. Protecting attendees should be the number one priority for any event organiser.”
SCTX takes place on 3-4 May 2017 at Olympia London. Online registration is free and all registrations are subject to security checks