Phelps R. Hope, CMP, is senior vice president of meetings and expositions for Kellen, an association management company with offices and representation in the United States, Europe, China, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-303-2962.
Virtually every region of the globe knows its share of threats and potential disruptions — as has been evidenced multiple times in the last year alone. Threats of terrorism, actual attacks, destabilized governments or natural disasters — if the dangers themselves aren’t on the rise, then the public awareness certainly is.
Regardless, business must get done. You’ve planned meetings years in advance, and your attendees are banking on their annual gathering to reel in a year’s worth of deals, education and networking. They are counting on you to assure that they are safe and that unexpected disruptions will have a minimal impact on their event. It’s crucial to be informed and have the right emergency response plans in place to keep your conferences safe.
A meeting organizer must be able to take a step back and view the whole scope of threats for a destination. The most high-profile threat of late is terrorism, but you must also consider natural disasters (hurricanes), disease (Zika, influenza), wildlife (animal attacks) and personal danger (active shooter, muggings, ID theft).
The pressure on a professional meeting planner has evolved in recent years. A successful planner has needed to adapt and take actions specific to these new challenges. Here are several planning steps you can take to better plan for an onsite emergency.
Know the region. Many incidents are tough to anticipate because they can happen anywhere; but if you understand regional nuances, you can make informed decisions and reduce the risk to your attendees. For example, countries that rank higher in terrorism rates will have drastically different security measures — both required and optional for your attendees. If mosquito-borne illnesses are an issue in another region, alert your attendees to plan accordingly and take additional precautions such as having plenty of bug repellent on hand. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is an excellent resource for information on local outbreaks. The Central Intelligence Agency’s website (CIA.gov) provides a general overview of a country’s government and cultural mores. State.gov, the website of the U.S. Department of State, offers a “traveler’s checklist” of safety and security information on worldwide destinations and updates on potential and existing health conditions in a specific destination.
Build the right relationships. Develop relationships with key resources at your destination. Conduct a site assessment as part of your planning and become acquainted with local CVBs and tourism offices. These groups will provide you the right information to mitigate regional threats. Conduct a joint meeting with the venue and local authorities to hammer out a clear emergency plan. Paris, for example, has a detailed “Vigipirate” plan in place to detect terror threats and alert the public as to next steps. The local tourism office can help guide you so that you can develop an effective communication plan for your attendees.
Collect attendee information. Attendee emergency contacts and cell phone numbers are mandatory. They allow you to better communicate with attendees or their family members in case of an emergency. As association and event management software has become more advanced, you can add more fields to your registration form, including asking for social media profile information such as Twitter handles. Additional communication avenues provide you options in an emergency. International event managers can make attendees aware of security resources they can pursue on their own, such as STEP (The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). Provide the link to the STEP website as part of registration. This free service through the U.S. Department of State enables U.S. citizens traveling internationally to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate and receive information on safety conditions in the destination country. Make sure you and your staff are enrolled as well.
Pay Attention. Global political situations are constantly evolving (think Istanbul or Brussels). Monitor signs of instability and advise clients to avoid complications related to rescheduling, relocating or actually responding to an emergency onsite. Set up Google alerts so that even obscure global outlets are on your radar. As part of your site inspection, walk the areas where your attendees are most likely to go and evaluate potential risks personally.
Consider evacuation insurance. Increasingly a popular option, personal evacuation insurance can be a lifesaver in the event of a medical emergency in a remote region. Costs vary by company, but attendees can find reasonable rates for a year’s worth of protection or pay even less for a single trip. Product offerings vary based on personal needs. Research the options and advise attendees that added protection is available to them.
Budget accordingly. Budget for extra security onsite with a company that is fully licensed to provide complete security services. Make sure to bring the security company into the planning process at the beginning.
Develop your plan. Whether it’s a fire, an active shooter or an incoming storm, have your messaging for attendees prepared and ready to send out. Advance preparation is key to proactively managing an onsite emergency. Plan elements should include immediate communications, such as text alerts describing what’s happening and what to do and also a way for attendees to check in as safe with you and your team. In some cases, a reactive plan should include event cancellation procedures.
Know your venues and suppliers. Know the emergency procedures already in place with your meeting venues and suppliers — hotels, transportation providers, convention centers and offsite properties — with contact information for each at your fingertips. Ensure that your staff has this information as well and keeps it with them at all times. Know the location(s) of the nearest medical facilities.
Create a sense of safe haven. Your attendees should feel safe at your event, so let them know that safety measures are in place. A transparent security plan will accomplish this goal. Pre-event communications should outline the precautions you’ve taken, including some from this list. Remind attendees of the obvious — don’t wear their name tags outside of the meeting venues, make sure that their families at home know exactly where they are staying, etc. If you can demonstrate that you’ve done your homework and put in place every possible measure, your attendees will breathe a little easier and enjoy a more successful event.
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