The recent tragedies in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH, were another wake-up call to the meetings industry. In light of a news cycle filled with active shooters, worldwide acts of terrorism, as well as a rise in natural disasters, risk assessment, and duty of care need to be top-of-mind for meeting and event planners.
“The world has changed dramatically where uncertainty and disruption are the norm,” Brenda Rivers, founder of Andavo Meetings, Incentives and Consulting, said in an interview with Prevue. Rivers and her team have developed a risk management strategy that aims to prepare event management teams for potential major event crises.
“The hospitality industry has developed a heightened sense of safety and security,” Rivers says. “However, there have been no industry best practices on how to meet the duty of care that meeting organizers and planners owe to their attendees. Even now, most do not know where to begin.”
Rivers has authored white papers including “Mitigating Meeting and Event Disasters” as well as “The Meeting and Event Risk Management Guide,” a book from a planner’s point of view that focuses on the four standards of duty of care for the industry and how to meet them, as well as six critical elements planners must include in their company’s risk management playbook. She says the responsibility can be summarized, “Research, Inform, Prepare, Rehearse.”
“My team and I handled many kinds of event crises with our clients over the past 20 years,” explains Rivers. “Like most planners, we did not have a risk management strategy as part of our planning process. We operated with an emergency checklist but no pre-event risk mitigation plan. My legal background coupled with my experience as a meeting management company drove my passion to use these firsthand experiences to develop a planner’s guidebook that would be practical and replicable for any kind of event in any location.”
Her list includes the following duty of care and critical elements.
- Assess your current state of preparedness. How ready are you and your team to respond to a crisis or disruption? Where are the gaps? Do you have executive support for extra security/EMT? Conduct crisis simulations to gauge panic and fear. If you don’t know what to do in the first 10 minutes of a crisis, you are not prepared.
- Begin with a vulnerability study. Determine foreseeable risks for the event based on the location, type of event, weather patterns, known threats or criminal activities, history of civil disturbances, protests, natural and man-made disaster patterns, controversial topics or participants.
- Identify and contact your first responders. Who will oversee handling the crisis and saving the event? Write a safety and security clause into vendor/hotel contracts, which requires sharing of emergency protocol and participating in a pre-event rehearsal.
- Meet with your responders and primary venues before the event to review their crisis response plans. List all your primary responders and main contacts who will be your support network. Reduce the contact list to a wallet card.
- Create a Crisis Response Plan. Using the emergency procedures from your support network, create a crisis response plan for each of the foreseeable crises in your study. Make sure you know what to do, who to contact, how to contact, and how to care for attendees until help comes. Rehearse each potential crisis with your team before the event.
- Analyze your hotel/venue contracts. Update clauses for safety and security rehearsals, force majeure, indemnification, limitation of liability, pre-event security walkthrough, event cancellation, and liability insurance. Budget for extra security and EMT.
- Plan for alternative outcomes. Know the circumstances for canceling the event entirely or reducing the event in size or program scope, or delaying the event. Know the financial consequences of each outcome before the event.
- Create a written crisis communication plan. Who will send messaging? Identify channels of communication and a hub. Know who is in charge. Have a single channel for attendees for two-way check-in. Keep an emergency contact list safe. Document all disruptions and incidents.
- Condense the crisis response plan on an index card. Rehearse each type of crisis and pack an emergency kit.
- Document the above steps. Include risk management in your meeting management process. Include each step in your meeting and event design notebook and your after-action review.
Rivers poses that planners today have more responsibility because of the increase in foreseeable crises that can pose a threat to any event. For more information about Rivers and her company, click here, and about attendee security, click here.