The Boston Convention & Exhibition Center was the first to earn SAFETY Act designation from DHS. (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority)
Security issues are expected to gain attention with the return of live events
Looking back from the worst days of the coronavirus pandemic, more convention centers are expected to apply for Security Act awards from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, the first convention center to obtain designation, they have a template to navigate the process.
The SECURITY acronym stands for “Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies” and the law came into force in 2007. It gives facilities the ability to limit their liability in the event of a terrorist attack, provided that specific measures are taken to risk mitigation is taken. and documented.
Officials from the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, which owns and oversees the operation of BCEC, had initially sought security law awards for the five sites under its jurisdiction, which, in addition to the MassMutual Center in Springfield, also includes John from Boston. B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, The Lawn on D outdoor event space and the Boston Common Garage, a 1,000-seat underground lot that Nate Little, director of communications and external relations at MCCA, said maintained operations afloat during the COVID shutdown.
“We settled that with DHS,” said Robert Noonan, chief information officer at MCCA. “As a rule, they only give you the designation per location. One of the reasons for this is not so much your program per se, but each location has its own kind of unique vulnerabilities or strengths that need to be considered when determining what would qualify and what would not. We therefore chose the BCEC which is truly the flagship of our five rooms. We said, look, if we can do it here, we can certainly bring it to the other places, and that’s where we started.
Regarding what prompted the MCAA to go down the security law path, Little explained that the MCCA is part of the Statewide Large Venue Security Task Force. , which was commissioned by Governor Charlie Baker in 2018.
“One of our partner venues is Gillette Stadium (in Foxboro, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots) and at the time they were also in the process of pursuing safety law designation, and we really have a front row seat of what it meant to do when they went through it, and we made the commitment then, saying it would be really good for us to do it too” , he said, “At the same time, the convention industry has started to look at the possibility that convention centers are also trying to sue him. Both things happened at the same time and that’s what started us down this path.
The process, completed just weeks before the global pandemic gripped the United States, has been extended, Little and Noonan said.
“The request for DHS was something like 110 or 112 pages of answers and questions that you had to go through and look at, submitting whatever information they were asking for,” Noonan said. “We submitted over 1,000 pages of documentation in connection with this 100-page request. Part of the reason it took us, I would say, about 18 months from start to finish to go through the process is that we were the very first convention center to go this far. Being the first, DHS had a lot of questions for us. They were curious and kind of used the reference of a stadium or an arena and how that changed in a convention space.
One of the main differences for convention centers is that with a greater variety of events, security requirements vary accordingly.
“It’s really taken a long time for DHS to figure out, how can they make sure there’s a level of security that’s appropriately matched to the level of activity that’s going on in the venue,” Noonan said. . “What we did was show them the process by which we assess events and how we arrive at the necessary level of security depending on the activity that is taking place.
Noonan said he made several trips to Washington, DC, for meetings with DHS officials to exchange information not only about BCEC, but about the convention industry as a whole.
“A lot of our events are booked six years or more, so we really start the planning process maybe several years in advance,” he said.
Noonan said the IAVM has made efforts to provide a roadmap for convention center facilities of various sizes to apply for security law designation and added that he appreciates the motivation regarding the financial liability relief and is equally grateful for what this means in terms of “setting security best practices and security standards across our industry”.
“So the more we can push for a certification or a designation, because that means the level of security experience, whether you’re in Boston or Miami, when you’re in the convention industry, that going to be the same and that’s important to protect all of us,” he said. “For me, that’s the real benefit of getting more venues involved and that’s really what the IAVM was trying to do, to get more convention centers involved so we can set a better standard of security. across our industry.”
The BCEC paved the way for others to follow, Little said of the 18-month journey to designation.
“It’s not an easy process,” he said. “It takes a tremendous amount of work internally, externally and on top of your regular work to move and manage this process,” he said. “The fact that we did it shows it can be done and now there’s a roadmap for every convention center in the country and the world, frankly.”
Anyone who needs help in the process can get it from colleagues at MCCA, Little said.
The MCCA used the expertise of the Winmill Group, a leading consultant versed in the Safety Act, to prepare its application, which Noonan likened to strong representation before a zoning board.
Noonan said with the industry weathering the worst of the pandemic, more convention centers will complete the process. He noted that he had received numerous inquiries throughout the process and that in the past month he had even met with officials from another facility that was undertaking the Law of Justice process. security.
Some of the advice he gives is to use the gap analysis tool offered on the DHS SAFETY Act website (and adopted by the IAVM), which will give an idea of what the federal government will ask for and how his facility compares, he said.
“Do you have a policy and procedure for this, do you have any statistics on this?” he said. “It was a really good resource that we could use to start the process. I will say this, as you go through the process with DHS, it’s not like you’re submitting it and it’s transactional You are going to have several conversations with DHS they will ask questions they are going to come and audit you and read your documents…so you have to be good at your stuff and if you don’t have your stuff you are going to have to find a resource to either develop or work on it.
The award represents an ongoing commitment to maintaining safety standards with three-year recertification requirements, Noonan said.
“Homeland Security will come back and do additional audits, review additional statistics and reports,” he said. “It’s really a case of, ‘It’s great that you say it, but you have to prove it every time.’ This might be a barrier for some people to move forward This is a high standard, DHS takes it extremely seriously and they want it to be like this, but it’s not impossible to do and while it doesn’t always equate to dollars and cents, it equates to practice, procedure, tracking and paperwork If you have a good workout, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing the Super Bowl or a small meeting, if you have a good workout, it’s going to be defensible.”