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Preparing for the Worst with a Risk Management Plan

Are you prepared for things to go wrong at your next event?

Risk management is often a trial-and-error process for meeting planners. Sometimes, this means preparing for events that seem unlikely or unimaginable, such as a fire or staging accident. It also entails having comprehensive plans in place for more common occurrences, such as a medical emergency.

Though it is impossible to avoid every mistake or mishap, here are a few steps you as a planner can take to mitigate risks during your next meeting or event.

Reach Out to the Local CVB

Convention and visitors bureaus often play a key role in informing planners about any local concerns or considerations, such as political unrest or conflicting citywide events. To help locals and visitors keep abreast of these reports, some destinations, like Louisville, Kentucky, offer a free regional emergency-alert system that sends out text notifications about impending weather, power outages, water contamination and other community concerns.

“Oftentimes, when people talk about crisis management, they think about the big setbacks, but it could be a cell tower went out or the water in the convention center is not drinkable,” said Zack Davis, vice president of destination services at the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Users can sign up for the service online and create a profile with any information they would want to share with emergency dispatchers and first responders in the event of an emergency. Likewise, planners may find a similar alert app or service to share with their attendees before the event.

Develop a Crisis Management Plan

A crisis management plan should be one of the first topics on the table when planners sit down with staff to hash out logistics. 

“The more people you have involved in that discussion the better, because you get more suggestions and feedback about what may or may not happen, and you put a plan together accordingly,” said Peter Pantuso, president and CEO of the American Bus Association, a tourism trade group that holds an annual convention with more than 3,000 attendees.

Additionally, when planners conduct site inspections of potential meeting venues, they should make sure to ask about the facility’s own crisis management plan and find out as much detail as possible.

“Sometimes, you see planners come in and they don’t ask or engage,” said Davis. “After connecting with the CVB, the next big thing would be asking the facility, ‘Hey, what are your crisis plans, and who can we connect with?’”

Joan Eisenstodt, a professional meetings consultant with Eisenstodt Associates, seconded this advice: “Don’t take it for granted if the hotel says, ‘Don’t worry, we have a plan.’ Ask them to explain the plan.”

Put the Plan in Writing

A big part of risk management is simply asking the right questions, which planners can often include in their request for proposal, or RFP. These can be questions like “Does the venue have CPR-trained staff?” What is the distance to the nearest hospital?” “Have there been any recent infrastructure issues in the city like power outages or water shortages?” 

“It’s all about asking the questions, digging deeper, writing the risk plan and sharing it with all the partners to the meeting,” said Eisenstodt. “A lot of people don’t want to take the time to have a written plan on risk, but even the most prepared of us have trouble thinking it through in the moment.”

She recalled a time when an experienced colleague called in a panic because a rash of pickpocketing had broken out at his event and one of the attendees was in the hospital for a heart complication.

“Once you write the plan, then you train everybody,” she said. “Who’s going to be in charge? Who’s going to be the spokesperson? Who’s going to be back at headquarters answering phone calls?”

Eisenstodt also advised planners to include their crisis plan in the venue contract.

“If the hotel tells me they have three AEDs, this is their evacuation plan, this is what they do about cross-contamination of food, and so on — those things can be attachments in the contract,” she said.