The duty officer/point person/something (duty officer hereafter) is a conference volunteer on duty to do initial triage and handling of serious events at the conference, particularly complaints of discrimination, harassment or assault.
The duty officer should be available at an advertised location and should be wearing distinctive clothing (such as a specially coloured shirt) when on duty. A duty officer should be available at conference social events as well as during the daily program. For large events or for events with extended programming, multiple people may be needed to take the job in shifts.
The duty officer should always be interruptible for crises. Thus, they should not be doing routine duty at the same time if that means they aren't quickly interruptible, like conference network maintenance, or taking registrations, or selling gear.
The duty officer's role is to receive initial reports of problems and then refer them. Referrals will depend on conference policy, but might include:
- Routine queries to the registration desk
- Violations of conference policy to senior organisers
- Medical emergencies to doctors or ambulance services
- Personal emergencies to counselling
The duty officer may sometimes be involved in subsequent discussions, especially violations of conference policy.
Senior organisers should be prepared to place high priority on a referral from the duty officer. In particular, reports of discrimination, harassment or assault should take precedence over registration problems, equipment problems, or schedule problems.
Each duty officer should be given time to review any incidents that occurred in the previous duty officer's shift before coming on duty.
The duty officer should have a charged, working mobile phone with contact details to reach whatever conference organisers are needed to handle a serious complaint (eg, harassment) and with emergency numbers. These organisers should know the identity of the duty officer(s), and the phone number(s) that the current duty officer can be expected to be calling from.
The duty officer should have access to create and review a written log of any incidents, to be aware of what has already occurred.
The duty officer and the registration/queries desk should BOTH have handouts giving:
- A venue map with accessible routes, bus stops, train stations, and emergency help points (if available) marked
- The number to call a taxi and the address of the venue to call it to (ie "University Hall, city campus, James Street entrance")
- The local emergency services number and any directions for calling it
- The contact number and locations for venue security if any
- The location of the nearest hospital emergency room
- The contact number and locations for nearby doctors and counselors (check before the event that they are willing to take new patients on short notice)
- The contact number and.or locations for the local mental illness crisis hotline or centre
- The contact number and/or locations for the local sexual assault crisis hotline or centre
Some of this could also be supplied in the conference material.
The duty officer should if possible have an unadvertised supply of cash for attendees in crisis: eg, change for a phone call and notes for a taxi ride. (Replace change with phone cards or a mobile phone that they can let others use as appropriate.)
The duty officer should have access to a space that can be used for various situations requiring privacy related to an incident. It should be able to be made free from interruption, out of the public view, and out of public earshot. It could be a dedicated place for convention staff tasked with responding to incidents, or a more general use space that other convention staff could be removed from at need. Some possible uses:
- Receiving a verbal report of an incident
- Giving a warning to an offender
- Staff discussion of what should be done in response to an incident
- Advising a victim of the steps that will be taken to make them safer
Any space intended for receiving a report should have handy a copy of the checklist for receiving reports, and seating for the person taking the report, the person giving the report, and a trusted companion of that person if they have brought one.
Out of scope
The duty officer should immediately refer routine queries about, eg, talk times, scheduling, speaker facilities, social events and similar to the registration desk or other volunteers. The conference goers shouldn't be encouraged to think of them as the first place for these inquiries.
General friendship and emotional support
At geek events aimed at adults, there shouldn't be an expectation of conference personel, including the duty officer, being able or willing to provide amateur counselling on interpersonal disputes, loneliness, non-crisis mental illness and similar things. Any such inquiries should be met with an offer of help with contacting professionals, only.
Putting themself in danger
The duty officer (and other conference volunteers) must feel personally safe at all times. If they perceive threats against themselves or anyone in their vicinity, they should attempt to make themselves safe and contact security or appropriate emergency services (police, fire, medical) as a first priority (on the principle of not creating additional casualties).
Since they are needed at the conference, the duty officer does not accompany anyone to a hospital or doctor or similar, although they might find a volunteer or bystander to accompany someone who is alone or distressed.