Disaster Preparedness for Meetings and Events

Sometimes even the most thoroughly planned events have unexpected incidents that are beyond anyone’s control.

In the past several years, Americans have experienced unthinkable disasters resulting from terrorist activity. We’ve just been lucky that nothing serious has happened during our meetings or conventions so far. When it comes to terrorist threats, many planners maintain a “see no evil attitude”. We don’t talk about terrorism or other factors that could disrupt our meetings because we think it won’t happen again.

Just over one year ago, a bomb shook the streets during the Boston Marathon. The notion of a terrorist attack crossed the minds of many across the country. Just what would have happened if our country was on red alert and what type of a contingency plan is in place in the case that a disaster was to occur? During a hotel and convention center site tour, how often do we ask what measures are in place to ensure the overall safety and security of their guests in the case of a disaster?

It is our job as professional planners to plan for any contingencies and find out how hotels and convention centers step up security and safety measures in light of a disaster, a health emergency, or threat of terrorism.

If for instance there is a threat or outright attack on our nation that is suspected to be an act of terrorism, our first concern must be the safety and security of all attendees. We must find out what the hotel does to respond to threats to our nation that may endanger guests. How are you going to communicate to attendees what measures are in place to ensure their safety in case anything of similar significance was to occur?

Meeting planners need to ask hotels and venues before any meeting or event how they are prepared for any acts of terrorism, natural disaster or violence. Discover what the contingency plan is and how their team will handle the situation.

It also makes sense to protect the integrity of your data. During your event, a lot of information is collected. Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados or other unforeseen events can cause power outages, interrupted travel and overall disruptions in routine activities. Are you confident that your data will not be compromised or lost in the event of power outages or other disruptions? There are technology experts who can put reliable back-up into place at every event.

Both general managers and directors of security take security threat levels very seriously. You might be surprised to learn that a wide-range of precautions can be deployed, such as ramped up security, limited access, and check-point I.D.s, (particularly if someone loses a key). Suspicion is created and flags go up if someone is paying in cash. Shipping and receiving departments, exhibitors, suppliers, and suspicious vehicles are checked. In the case of many hotels, there are automatic door locks which create limited access to the hotel.

What if the national security threat level has been communicated and may have an effect on overall attendance at your meeting or event? Is there a way to protect yourself in your contract if you have to cancel? The answer is yes, and it means adding a terrorism clause. You reserve the right to cancel if there is the possibility of an increased terrorism alert level. If people are afraid to travel because of an increased level of threat, you meeting may still go on but the overall attendance could be significantly affected which means the incidence of attrition damages that put a company at high risk. As a planner, we would advise a clause that under certain circumstances due to high alert, we reserve the right to revise the room block or even cancel without liability.

Have a reliable plan for the unpredictable. Better risk assessment and emergency management processes are tools that we can use to identify and prepare for the myriad of disruptions meeting attendees might face. Work closely with the hotel or venue to create and review a thorough disaster response plan that is specific to your attendees, hotel/venue, and the city.

Consider outlining some specific steps to follow for ensuring the safety and comfort for meeting attendees.

• Create a thorough disaster plan for each event & venue to ensure the safety of attendees
• Establish backup systems for reliable on-site data security
• Identify venue staff certified in CPR and get the hotel outline for disaster preparedness

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