When a large group of people gather for a convention, the odds of some sort of mishap, illness, or injury — from scratches to serious injuries or sickness — go way up.
That’s largely because of sheer numbers, of course, but then consider all the activity that goes on at conventions. People are traveling, often far distances, so they’re likely arriving at a hotel tired. Then they start eating, drinking and socializing. Even dancing can lead to someone getting hurt.
A lot of people decide to explore the city they’re visiting. They go out on trips, either as part of official activities at the convention, or just simple sight-seeing excursions as they explore the convention’s host city.
“There is really no limit to what injuries can happen during a convention. It can be as simple as a food-related illness, mostly due to a dietary restriction, drinking too much or heart attacks. I’ve also seen speakers misstep while walking up on the stage, fall and fracture their ankle”
It’s a perfect scenario for injuries, illness and sickness related to food and drink.
“There is really no limit to what injuries can happen during a convention,” says Jana Thompson, founder of Texas-based On Point Hospitality & Site Selection. “It’s all based on the level of activity during the trip. It can be as simple as a food-related illness, mostly due to a dietary restriction, drinking too much or heart attacks. I’ve also seen speakers misstep while walking up on the stage, fall and fracture their ankle. We are all human and accidents happen.”
David Audrain, executive director for the Society of Independent Show Organizers, says while injuries to attendees are quite rare, the obvious first step is to treat them, and most events and venues have trained medics on premises during events to assist.
Coming up with a game plan to put into effect in the event of an accident is an excellent idea. And that plan should begin with discussions with local organizations and first responders.
“Before a convention, it is crucial to assess the level of risk associated with hosting your event,” says Jody-Ann Rowe, M.Ed. and founder of The Event Certificate. “This means working with the fire department and other essential safety services to provide feedback on proposed layouts, lighting and other design features that will need to be installed to facilitate the event.”
Thompson says it’s also important to develop a plan with the meeting stakeholder. Some things to discuss are to identify the person at the company who should be contacted if there’s an accident, and how the company wants to handle the incident.
“The planner should also connect with the director of security and know their emergency protocol when it comes to attendee injuries,” Thompson says. “Does the hotel or conference center have defibrillators? If so, how many and where are they located? How quickly can one be accessed? You also need to have each attendee’s emergency contact in the event of an injury before any conference so you know who to contact.”
Discuss with the management of the host hotel what steps should be taken if an accident is to occur. Find out if the hotel has a point person who should be contacted — a member of the security team, for example — then consider what attendees will be doing and think proactively about what accidents could happen and how to prevent them.
“During the pre-con with the hotel, it’s important to go through the potential obstacles,” Thompson says. “For example, is the group golfing and is it going to be really hot? You want to make sure that the golfers have plenty of water and eat during their round. Is it raining and could there be any slipping hazards? Report any potential challenges to the hotel or convention center so injuries can be prevented. “
Rachael Katkocin, director of marketing & creative services for CSI DMC, based in Falls Church, VA, regularly works with corporate events, meetings and associations nationwide and internationally, and has dealt with several injuries over the years. That’s why she shares it’s vital to be prepared.
“Prior to the start of any program, our event management team asks for the standard operating procedures of the venue or facility where their client’s meeting is taking place,” she says. “They also make sure they are aware of where the closest hospital is located, if there is an EMT present during the event and all emergency exits, etc. Having this knowledge ahead of time allows our team and the venue’s staff to work quickly and cohesively if something occurs onsite such as an attendee getting injured.”
Once the immediate needs of the emergency are tended to, the CSI event manager then updates their client so their contact is made aware of everything that occurred and the actions taken. The next step is for the event manager to update the CSI director of event management and the general manager so that leadership is in the loop. Someone fills out an accident report that day, detailing the incident, which steps were taken to mitigate the emergency and who was made aware of the situation.
Another step to consider is insurance.
“Most event insurance will cover for public liability, which includes personal injury to attendees and property damages,” Rowe says. “For events that have a larger crowd such as a convention, festival or concert, there is also event-type specific insurance that will cover for bodily injuries from others as well as protect the organizers from lawsuits.”
Joy DesMarais-Lanz is the chief operations officer for Synergos, an association management company with offices in Indianapolis, IN and Saint Paul, MN. The company executes local, statewide, national and international events for clients, and DesMarais-Lanz says planning ahead and creating an event emergency plan is a smart step.
“Meeting planners should have a written event-crisis plan,” she says. “This is a plan, carried onsite with you, that outlines your action steps in most emergency situations. In concert with that plan, find out what your venue’s plan(s) are and make sure yours is well coordinated with them.”
For example, the venue should have a severe weather emergency plan so integrate theirs into yours. At your pre-con, you should also walk the venue and ensure you know where all of the emergency sites are located — e.g. the security office, or storm shelter.
She also recommends that planners receive current training and certification in first aid, CPR, and how to use an AED.
“At least two weeks before your event, make sure you review the plan with your team including how and when to document incidents,” DesMarais-Lanz says.
Still, some planners may find themselves dealing with an accident and no plan of action.
“But, if they are in a situation without such a plan as back up, I would first ensure that the person’s (or persons’) emergency is taken care of — if that means basic first aid or calling 911,” DesMarais-Lanz says. “Their safety and well-being must be the first priority. Afterwards, document everything that occurred and communicate the situation with the venue, your client and your supervisors.”
Roberta A. Kravitz, executive director for the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM), says protocol is, depending on the severity of the injury, to notify security to ensure medical help is secured immediately.
“If this notification is not done through the director of meetings, which is preferred, then the director of meetings is immediately notified, who then notifies me,” she says. “We work closely with the medical team to ensure our attendee’s well-being, including contacting any family members, if necessary, and remain available to assist with any transportation arrangements once the situation has stabilized.”
Once at an ISMRM convention, a speaker fell off the stage and shattered his elbow.
“We were outside his home country at the time,” Kravitz says. “He was in the hospital beyond the end of our meeting, and we monitored and then worked with him and the airline to get him home.”
With incidents of domestic and international terrorism, meeting planners have put safety and security on the forefront of their meeting planning activities. It is not enough to believe the venues have trained professionals to handle a crisis; today’s planner needs to know and plan accordingly.
Today’s meeting planners must also manage risk. They need to understand the scope of their gathering and anticipate what could happen.
A good idea is to get requests in early to begin communicating with potential venues about their safety and security requirements, as well as ascertaining from the venue and perhaps even local law enforcement agencies their plans/abilities as part of the site selection process.
In addition to life-safety concerns, meeting staff and volunteers need to be trained for emergencies. Also, they should watch for unaccompanied baggage/bags/backpacks, unauthorized personnel and/or people not wearing proper identification and theft.
Chrystal Huskey, CEO of Event Integrity in Littleton, CO, says a plan should always be in place for emergency situations and injuries as part of the event planning process.
“In a nutshell, first aid and crisis response training are great tools to have, but if you have them and you’re not putting them to use in your event plan, or if you aren’t sure where to start, you’re likely putting yourself and/or your client in a position of liability,” she says. “This can be avoided with some simple procedures added to your event planning toolbox and internal processes.”
The attendees themselves also can help prevent accidents with a bit of precaution. Attendees, of course, should be aware of their own medical and physical abilities. This includes food allergies and intolerances, which the host organization should ask for and provide to those who need to know.
It’s also worth working with the host organization to provide food options safe for people with common food allergies. Dairy, eggs and nuts are among the top foods to which people are allergic, so make sure there are food options that don’t include those ingredients in the event a participant fails to mention it beforehand.
Rowe says all planners should develop a plan of action prior to a convention or any event. She refers to it as the “Find-It, Assess-It, Fix-It” rule.
For “Find-It,” she says to consider areas of potential accidents, such as lighting and backdrop installed on a stage for presenters.
“There is always the possibility that a spotlight could fall or there could be a fire from pyrotechnics if used,” Rowe says. “Think about these scenarios and make a list of them.”
The time for “Assess-It” involves listing possible incidents that could result in injuries. “The next step is to assess the likelihood of these happening,” she says. “On a scale of 1 to 10, what is the likelihood of an attendee being injured by a falling prop?”
Finally, there’s “Fix-It.”
“If you have a list of possible scenarios and the likelihood of them happening, you can now think through what you will need to prevent these from happening or planning for the moments when they occur,” Rowe says. “This could be getting a site inspection and event insurance prior to hosting the event and having emergency medical services and security on hand during the event,” she says.
This system seems to have worked for Rowe, as she has had no serious injuries take place throughout her career.
“I’ve been lucky enough to never have an attendee injured at an event beyond a paper cut,” she says. “This was quickly remedied by providing them with a Band-Aid from the on-site first aid station.”
So what should you do if an accident does happen during a convention?
Thompson notes that the hotel and convention staff should be notified immediately of an emergency, and also inform the meeting stakeholder. Then you need to be available as needed.
“Depending on the situation, the planner may need to be the liaison between the injured attendee and the attendee’s emergency contact until a plan is in place to take care of the attendee,” she says.
She adds that it’s also important to notify the hotel staff.
“If an attendee gets sick during the conference, most planners will communicate that to their hotel contacts and can assist in getting them any over-the-counter medication per the attendee’s request or soup if needed,” Thompson says. “The hotel staff is a great resource and can help quickly when needed since the planner is also probably assisting in running the meeting.”
Not every accident leads to an injury, but some do, and when someone does get hurt during a convention, effective and proper action needs to be taken.
What sort of injuries can happen to people who are attending a convention?
“There are three main types of injuries that can occur at a convention,” Rowe says. “An attendee could get injured from a fall, from being in contact with equipment used in the event setup, or from the unintentional action of another attendee.”
She adds that planners need to make sure to take care of injured parties.
“It is important that a planner not only provide an injured attendee with access to health and safety services but also be available to answer questions and follow up on the status of the attendee once they have been treated,” Rowe says.
Let’s say you had the unfortunate experience of an attendee getting injured during an event. It could be that a presenter was hurt while making a presentation, or a participant had a slip and fall while visiting an area museum, or someone got sick at an area restaurant. You handled the situation well, and the injured party received the attention and care they needed. They’re fine, and this hiccup aside, the event went swimmingly.
“After the event, review any emergencies and/or incident reports,” DesMarais-Lanz says. “You may have some additional follow up to do so make sure that is completed.”
Rowe says it’s an excellent idea to reach out to the injured individual and see how they’re doing.
“This is highly recommended,” she says. “Think of yourself as a consumer and the best and worst experiences you’ve had with companies. In most cases, even the worst ones, your perception was probably impacted by the level of customer service you received. Therefore it is important to reach out and check in on the injured party to see how they are doing, offer your sympathies and ask if there is anything else you can do as the organizer.”
There is, however, one key exception.
“The only thing that might impact this would be a lawsuit, where your legal representative might caution against this,” Rowe says.
Thompson agrees that a visit or phone call with the injured person is a nice step.
“I think that’s a nice courtesy,” Thompson says. “No specifics are needed on their condition, but a simple, ‘Hope you are feeling better’ is a nice gesture.