Predicting the future is like forecasting the weather. You think you know what’s going to happen — then it doesn’t. There has been a lot of media attention recently concerning the safety and security of events, usually in terms of a weather-related crisis or the likelihood of personal injury. So to what extent do meeting and event planners have to pay attention to crisis planning? Quite a bit, say the experts.
Jeff O’Hara, CMP, DMCP, president of Allied PRA New Orleans, is seeing the concern of offsite safety and security fluctuating based on news reports about incidents occurring elsewhere.
“Right now, it seems to be on the list of one of the many issues planners are dealing with, rather than top of the list,” O’Hara says. “While this may seem strange given the relatively recent terrorist attacks, school shootings and cruise ship mishaps — the heightened interest seems to flow when events are unprecedented, and people may be becoming jaded on these events.”
The recent Duck Boat tragedy in Missouri is something we haven’t seen much of, so O’Hara expects this will raise awareness, and planners will request increased due diligence on aquatic events.
“We should do our best to identify threats or situations that could arise that would negatively impact our guests.” — Beth Lawrence
Of course, in the world of meeting planning, there are myriad disruptive challenges that occur.
While most of these disruptions are unpredictable and uncontrollable, evaluating and managing the inherent risk of offsite meetings and events is paramount in an age of unpredictability.
According to the Incentive Research Foundation, a study conducted in 2016 to determine what was disrupting events and how planners were coping found that almost 60 percent of planners had experienced a disruption of at least one event that affected its overall outcome or success. The report indicated that the two most frequently occurring disruptions are weather-related events and vendor failures.
For Kim Dierks, CMP, senior program manager at Brightspot Incentives & Events in Irving, Texas, risk and safety management for offsite events has become the expectation and no longer the exception.
“Safety and security are key areas we are evaluating, planning for and communicating with our vendors, partners and clients,” Dierks says. “Planners should never go into a program without having a risk management plan in place.”
At Brightspot, many of the events are international incentive trips. “When we started hearing reports of tainted alcohol in Mexico, we reached out to our hotel partners to confirm their specific processes and procedures for alcohol safety,” Dierks says. “How is it brought on property? Who takes it to the bars? Who is responsible for locking up alcohol at night? Who has a key to that locked area?
What is the process of disposing bottles? Who is responsible for the regulation and management of this process? Has that specific hotel had any reports filed against it? What is the hiring and training process for bartenders? These types of questions show our clients we are aware of the current climate, and we are doing our due diligence to ensure we are not putting them or their guests in danger.”
For Laura Craven, meeting planner and director of communications and marketing at Imperial Dade in Miami, Florida, a distributor of food service packaging, facilities maintenance supplies and equipment, safety and security have become increasingly important over the last several years.
“This has been fueled by natural disasters, such as hurricanes to tragic violence, like the shooting in Las Vegas,” Craven says. “Attendee safety has become as important as attendee experience and enjoyment. To not have an emergency plan in place is not responsible and can leave the host organization exposed to liability and reputation damage or worse.”
There are so many things that can be easily taken for granted because we pass by them every day. While the potential for risk may be low, with safety and security issues, the cost can be astronomical in the unlikely event something does occur. As O’Hara explains, it’s not just terrorist attacks and high-profile events, either.
“What if you are in the midst of a huge product launch, and one of your competitors walks into your ballroom through the back of the house?” O’Hara says. “It takes a comprehensive plan that everyone is trained on to eliminate most risks. Which leads me to another point — it is not enough to have a plan, everyone from your internal team to the venue to your suppliers must know the plan.”
So what are some key methods that planners can use to ensure the security of an off-property event? What steps can be put in place in doing so?
According to O’Hara, the first step is to understand the access that the general public has to the proximity of the location of your event.
“Many of the security hazards in this day and age are caused by individuals with bad intentions. So, where the public will be relative to your event is a primary focus,” O’Hara says. “Then, you have to analyze the event space to see where the vulnerabilities are for unwanted people to access, and secure those accordingly.”
Most places have had fire safety and evacuation plans in place for quite some time now, but corporate meeting and event planners still have to verify them.
When planning events for Imperial Dade, Craven evaluates and addresses life-safety, and action plans are discussed with everyone involved — from the venue to the event team and other vendors.
“Safety should be considered during site and activity selection,” Craven says. “A safety and emergency response plan should be documented and shared with all involved.”
For Imperial Dade’s annual trade shows, the team discusses safety and evacuation plans with the venue. They also meet with the onsite security company on protocols to discuss everything from a medical emergency to an act of violence.
“We drill into our staff ‘if you see something, say something!’ We discuss ‘what-if’ scenarios and go over the steps to address a variety of situations,” Craven says.
“We provide contact information for all those involved in responding to emergencies, and we post these phone numbers at registration and the show command center. We have email addresses for all our attendees and exhibitors, and have group lists set up if a broadcast message needs to be sent out.”
To date, Imperial Dade has only had to deal with a hurricane (Irma in 2017) that was approaching South Florida the day before one of their shows.
“We decided to postpone the show rather than risking it. It caused a great deal of extra work and expense, but it was the right thing to do,” Craven says.
Allied PRA New Orleans has a comprehensive safety and security plan for every type of program that they offer. But O’Hara stresses that it is not enough just to have a plan.
“We do regular training with our field staff and our suppliers to ensure everyone understands what to check for pre-event, what to watch for during the event and how to wrap post event,” he says. “In cases where our supplier’s procedures are not as rigorous as ours, we require them to adapt our plan.”
As part of the process, the AlliedPRA New Orleans vets the venues, restaurants and excursions safety and security plans, and one of O’Hara’s pet tricks is to quiz the line staff to see if they know their company’s plan.
“The busboy may be the first one to see a fire or encounter a criminal, and they have to know what to do just the same as the general manager,”
Dierks recommends planners should have an internal risk management SOP Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in place. The SOP should be modified and updated for each program. Planners should reach out to their key partners (hotel, DMC, vendors, etc.) to determine their risk management protocols and procedures, and planners should ensure their vendors have the appropriate insurance and should not be afraid to ask detailed questions about their safety and security processes.
“Education and communication are key methods to being prepared to plan properly for risk management issues,” Dierks says. “Talk with peers about what they have experienced, how they handled that incident and what they might do differently the next time. Share your experiences, as well. As an industry, we improve when we collaborate and learn from each other.”
Safety and security of offsite events is a huge concern for Beth Lawrence, event planner and CEO of Beth Lawrence LLC in Collingswood, New Jersey.
“When we work with a hotel or venue, we have months, and sometimes years, of site visits and relationships with the venue sales and operations teams,” Lawrence says. “We familiarize ourselves with onsite security options and even those from outside the venue that we can tap into — but at the same time, there are outside forces that we cannot control. We should do our best to identify threats or situations that could arise that would negatively impact our guests. In Philadelphia, a local organization had an active shooter training for event professionals. Things like that are, unfortunately, becoming extremely important as we move forward in the event planning world.”
When planning events for corporate clients, Lawrence ensures that she has put proper safety measures in place when transporting guests from one place to another, whether that is a shuttle service or a guided walking tour. If budget does not allow for that, giving the guests clear directions of how to move from place to place and what methods to use to do that is vital.
Matthew Struck, CPCU, ARM, MBA, partner at Treadstone Risk Management, LLC, in Morristown, New Jersey, says travel accident insurance to pay any medical expenses or accidental death should be offered or purchased and included as part of the event budget.
“This can fill a gap in personal health insurance coverage or commercial workers compensation if the event is for a group of employees,” Struck says.
It’s also important to vet ride operators or event organizers prior to signing up by checking reviews and safety records. And personal weather alerts and updates need to be provided to attendees via apps or services, such as the National Weather Service.
“Meeting and event planners need to provide basic safety training geared toward travel for any members of the party or employees if they are going to be participating in high-risk activities or in an area that is extraordinarily dangerous,” Struck says.
There are a number of ways that planners can prepare for disruptions, including tighter contractual language, more backup resources, better contingency planning, establishing more guidelines and extending planning cycles.
And while there may be hundreds of situations that are disruptive, there are really only a few paths to manage the consequence of any event. One key way is by having a destination plan identifying the names and contacts of hospitals, clinics, emergency services, supplier emergency leadership and contacts. Also the creation of a guest “status check-in” process during a disruption event creates the ability to take a census of status and location of each guest.
Having clear attrition policies, Force Majeure language, insurance coverages, data security, supplier responsibility and sponsor management contact chains identified, contracted and incorporated as part of the program are “must-haves” when it comes to crisis management for meetings and events.
One simple example of a common mistake to avoid revolves around name tags. Often clients will say their attendees “don’t want to be bothered” to wear name tags to their evening event. But lacking identification, a criminal — or worse, a terrorist — can more easily slip into the event.
Struck says the most mistakes are made based off of assumptions. “I see the biggest mistakes occurring around assuming a business that has been operating for a number of years is safe, neglecting to do due diligence on the activity providers and dynamics at the event location due to a time crunch and avoiding conversations about appropriate insurance coverage for the trip,” Struck says.
“It is extremely important to document everything. From the smallest injury to a major incident, planners need to document the details of what occurred,” Dierks says. She uses a standard incident report to collect all pertinent information regarding an incident. This allows her to follow up with all parties involved and provide the necessary documentation that may be needed post program.
“From a moral and ethical perspective, planners should focus on risk management, as we have a ‘duty of care’ responsibility in ensuring the safety of our attendees, vendors, staff and anyone who is associated with our event,” Dierks says. “Should an incident arise, we need legal evidence that we have done our due diligence in planning a smart solution for our attendees.” C&IT