by Andrea Doyle and Alex Palmer | March 22, 2016
Explosions rocked Brussels Airport and the Maelbeek metro station this morning in Belgium, killing at least 34 people and injuring hundreds more. For the first time in its history, Belgium has raised the terror threat to the highest level, denoting a "serious and imminent attack." Flights into Brussels Airport have been halted and the city's public transportation shut down. 

Attacks in a city usually thought of as safe reflect the changing reality that meeting planners now face: The distinction between "safe" or "dangerous" places is not an effective way to think about risk management when planning an event. Today's attacks in Brussels, combined with recent attacks in Istanbul and Paris, are a reminder that incentive planners must ensure that they have a risk management plan in place no matter where their event is held. 

This is the theme of Incentive sister publication Successful Meetings'April cover story, which examines how planners can mitigate risks in such unpredictable times.

"When it comes to security awareness, it should be understood that essentially there is danger around every corner no matter where you are or what you are doing," said Robert Siciliano, a security expert who speaks about event and personal security at more than 50 meetings a year, in the piece. But he quickly added that while one must be aware of potential dangers, "that does not mean that you live in or function in fear." 

Should a crisis actually occur or become a significant enough threat to take action, a plan should be flexible enough to allow for a wide range of changes to the event itinerary, short of actually having to cancel the event.   

If planners conduct a feasibility study on a destination and find that there are significant risks in certain areas, they should plan their events around avoiding those areas, perhaps pulling in events closer to the headquarters hotel. It might mean being less adventurous for the evening events or other outings.

Andy Williams, vice president, quality assurance and business development of Safehotels, an independent hotel security certification company based in Sweden, and co-author of ICCA's "Crisis Management for Meetings" report, pointed to his home town of Istanbul a few years ago when there were civil demonstrations in Taksim Square (and which just days ago suffered its own terrorist attack).

"Normally you would take people out on a Bosphorus cruise, which logistically means busing them down to the harborside, but since that area was prone to public demonstrations, you say 'okay, we're going to take a more conservative approach and just have to be more creative on the event that we do,'" says Williams. "Inherently at the venue itself they well be pretty safe and transferring from the airport will be efficient."

In a statement following the Brussels attacks, U.S. Travel Association president and CEO Roger Dow emphasized the importance of travel security. "The fact that travel and transit nodes were the object of this violence naturally has our full attention. Those who would do harm to the Western world are a deranged minority and should be treated as such -- our travel security policies should work to identify and separate them from the pool of legitimate travelers so that law enforcement can focus their full resources on bad actors and prosecute them as vigorously as possible."