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Conference security: tales of the unexpected in Brussels

What does a ‘proportionate response’ to the terror threat look like?

It’s a question that must nag at the conscience of international meeting planners.

While the chances of, say, an international medical conference being singled out by terrorists might appear remote, the impact of such an attack could be utterly devastating.

The expectations of delegates will no doubt inform planning.

A visible security presence might be expected at a meeting of world leaders, celebrities, or business leaders, but could easily cause alarm and confusion at a gathering of plant biologists.

And yet most acts of terrorism don’t discriminate.

There might be something ‘symbolic’ in blowing up a pop concert or mowing down pedestrians outside parliament – but the victims could be anyone. Hotels, beaches, shopping malls – the common denominator is a large number of people gathered in one place, caught entirely unawares.

My hunch tells me that most meeting planners are ill-prepared for such an outrage. Security experts, notwithstanding their obvious commercial interests, have told me my hunch is correct.

Most of the conferences I attend have no visible security arrangements, except a registration desk where you’re given a badge once your name is found on a list. When your name isn’t on the list, you’re often given a badge anyway; less embarrassing than turning someone away, I suppose.

Our next cover-story provides more evidence that, even where sabotage is more likely (in this case a meeting of high-level bankers), meeting planners are still leaving an awful lot to chance.

We are grateful to the European Banking Federation for sharing exclusively their humbling experiences with this magazine and hope you can take something from their words of advice.