Safety and security top of mind for businesses when planning meetings today

The April 3 shooting at YouTube headquarters in California was yet another reminder of how gun violence can strike anywhere at any time in the United States.

And as reports of active shooters become ever more commonplace, developing plans to react to such occurrences has also grown at schools, governments and businesses.

Several trade publications, including Successful Meetings, have named security and safety among the top meeting trends for 2018.

“If something bad were to happen, we need to be prepared,” said James O. Demers, director of complex security at the R.I. Convention Center and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence. “In this day and age, safety and security have to be at the top of what you plan for.”

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The convention center, with 100,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, regularly hosts some of the state’s largest meetings. Last year, the Democratic Governors Association held its annual meeting there. In addition to a plethora of top state officials, Vice President Mike Pence, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and business mogul Elon Musk were in attendance.

The Dunkin’ Donuts Center, referred to popularly as “The Dunk,” is likewise a popular meeting space. It’s home to the Providence Bruins, an affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and the Providence College men’s basketball team, which draw robust and enthusiastic crowds to home games.

Demers, a retired R.I. State Police officer, oversees security at the two connected facilities. He said security has become an ever-greater focus of planning in recent years. The effort is supported by his general manager, Lawrence J. Lepore, who is also a retired police officer, and James McCarvill, executive director of the R.I. Convention Center Authority, which oversees the facilities.

“We constantly get together to discuss better ways to make the building safe,” Demers said.

The discussion is happening throughout the country. According to a Successful Meetings survey, 55 percent of respondents said managing safety and security risks would be key in 2018, and 45 percent had specific plans for active shooters.

“With the seeming onslaught of ­disasters and man-made attacks, there is one area that has dominated the conversation when it comes to planning meetings and events: security and safety,” according to the publication.

Without getting too specific, for safety-related reasons, Demers said employees regularly have trainings for different emergencies, including active shooters. Each employee has a role, he said. Likewise, the facility has about 175 cameras covering the inside and outside of both buildings.

‘We constantly get together to discuss better ways to make the building safe.’
JAMES O. DEMERS, R.I. Convention Center and Dunkin’ Donuts Center director of complex security

About two and a half years ago, the Dunk installed metal detectors, adding an extra layer of security during events at the facility. The metal detectors are also used during high-profile meetings, such as the DGA meeting, at the convention center.

There were some initial concerns about how patrons would react to the metal detectors, said Demers, who was surprised by the reaction.

“It’s been shocking because the feedback has been very positive,” Demers said. “A few people think it’s a pain, but I’d say about 95 percent find it positive and … felt much more safe walking through the metal detectors.”

The most popular addition, however, has come in dog form. The security team recently added Kyra, a 6-year-old bomb-sniffing dog.

“She’s probably the most popular [public safety official] across the two buildings,” Demers quipped.

Kyra previously worked at the Providence Police Department, and officials said she’s been a powerful addition because beyond doing pre- and during-event sweeps of the area, she helps put employees and patrons at ease.

“People are very comfortable with her around,” Demers said.

McCarvill said the overall strategy has been to have appropriate levels of security, but also to put a good face on it.

“Safety and security is a major concern when you’re hosting people,” McCarvill said. “We’ve taken reasonable steps and we’re conscious of the need to have more vigilance.”

But the prospect of active shooters isn’t just an issue where lots of people meet.

It’s weighing equally on the minds of small-business owners, who have reached out about it to the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has responded with three trainings, including one on April 12, focused on training for an active shooter.

“It’s probably because it’s on the front of everyone’s mind,” said John Gregory, Chamber president, when asked about the interest. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more registrations based on what happened at YouTube. It’s one of those issues that becomes a conversation over coffee: ‘How would we react?’ ”

The Chamber held its first event toward the end of last year. It has partnered with the Smithfield Police and Pawtucket Police departments. The trainings, Gregory explained, have helped business owners understand how to react and what’s expected of them should such an event happen.

“Our members, especially small businesses, don’t have the time or the resources to develop policies or reaction plans to these types of situations,” Gregory said. “Certainly, until only a few years ago, it wasn’t likely in anybody’s handbook.”

­Eli Sherman is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Sherman@PBN.com, or follow him on Twitter @Eli_Sherman.