In recent surveys, 75 percent of meeting organizers said they had not prepared a crisis communication strategy or a contingency option for their event.
Being unprepared for potential threats — terrorism, weather disruptions and pandemics, among them — is a big mistake, according to Brenda Rivers, an attorney and founder/CEO of Andavo Meetings, Incentives and Consulting.
Rivers, who does a great deal of training and consulting concerning crisis strategy, says it is imperative that meeting planners take steps to protect attendees and safeguard their organization’s reputation and financial integrity.
“It doesn’t matter if it is a large meeting, a complex meeting or a smaller meeting; what it has to do with is the location, foreseeable risks and the potential impact of a disruption or crisis,” said Rivers. “Every meeting should have some type of a risk management plan.”
A four-hour training program she and her staff have developed helps meeting planners create a thorough crisis plan. The training is based on her book, “The Meeting and Event Risk Management Guide: How to Develop Your Risk Management Playbook,” published by Meetings Today. Here, Rivers outlines five steps meeting planners should take in planning for a crisis.
Record actions taken to ensure safety.
Event planners have a duty to take all reasonably necessary steps to ensure safety and security: to anticipate and plan for guests who drink too much, bring a firearm or have a medical emergency, for example. When an event is open to the public, vulnerability to an active shooter, a bomb threat or terrorism must be considered. Large events always present crowd management challenges. When planners record the actions they have taken to prepare for these and other potential crises, they show they have fulfilled their duty of care. By including a risk management strategy in their event planning, planners demonstrate they have taken active steps to plan for a crisis. If a crisis does occur, that record will be strong evidence that the planner did everything reasonable and prudent under the circumstances to keep attendees safe.
Writing a contract? Include a safety and security clause.
Every major contract with a hotel, off-site venue or destination management company should include a safety and security clause. The clause stipulates that the supplier will help develop a plan to mitigate safety and security risks before the event and will provide its nonconfidential emergency response plan. The clause should also include who the planner should call in an emergency and the best ways to reach those responders. The clauses must also cover actions the responder is expected to take to ensure attendees’ safety.
Sit down for a safety and security pre-con.
Planners should convene an on-site pre-conference meeting to discuss safety and security with their staff, on-site security, audiovisual and production staffs, the DMC and other partners who would be mobilized during a crisis. Rivers advises rehearsing the roles team members will play during a crisis, an evacuation for a fire, a bomb threat or an active shooter. If the meeting is a large one, rehearse crowd control best practices. For large meetings, planners might consider hiring private security and EMT services to ensure quick response.
Identify foreseeable crises.
Create a section for risk management that identifies foreseeable crises such as medical emergencies, weather disruptions, power outages, fires and alcohol-related issues, then write a crisis response plan for each. The plan should be based on vulnerabilities specific to an event, such as jellyfish season at a beach resort. The plan should identify first responders and detail how to reach them, what to do until help arrives and how first responders can be expected to handle the crisis. Rivers’ mantra is “If the planner does not know what to do in the first 10 minutes of any of these foreseeable crises, they are not prepared.”
Decide who will disseminate information.
Planners, their staff and their organization’s communication team should create a basic crisis communication plan that designates who, in a crisis, communicates news and updates to those affected, as well as who decides when, what and how to communicate. Communication tools also should be determined. Include the event website, mobile app, social media and hashtag push notifications, as well as old-fashioned media like verbal announcements, flyers, bulletins or voicemail in hotel rooms for those who aren’t tech savvy. Write sample messages for the most likely crises; they can serve as guidelines during a crisis. Designate an on-site spokesperson, and plan for a centralized information area where attendees can ask questions of qualified staff.