Contingency planning seems to be gaining acceptance as a needed practice among corporate and association meeting planners. But it is not only the responsibility of the planners to make contingency planning a standard practice. It is also imperative that the supply side of our industry be just as engaged.
What creates the best all-round meeting contingency plan is to make venue staff conscious of their responsibilities. In this week's post, I am not going to discuss how a hotel protects itself from liability. For that, I would recommend contacting Jim Goldberg, Tyra Hilliard, Barbara Dunn, Jonathon Howe or one of the other top attorneys who specialize in our industry.
No, today we examine what a venue should prepare in advance, and how to deal with the issues that arise during an event. Again, I will stipulate that most meetings proceed with few, if any, major issues. What a venue needs to be aware of are the potential dilemmas that can arise when a less experienced planner, (or someone without training in this field), is organizing and managing the meeting. Let's take a look at some of questions that you, the venue pro, can ask the client to reduce the likelihood of an avoidable situation arising.
Question #1: Are you aware of our evacuation procedures, hurricane plan, tornado shelter, closest medical facility, etc.?
Rationale: Most meeting planners only think of these questions once an emergency occurs or is imminent, (e.g., forecast predicts major storm in the area three days in advance). Venues can ease the concern that these questions may evoke by informing clients that asking is standard operating procedure within their contingency planning process. If the planner answers 'no' to any of the questions above, help them by providing documentation and, where applicable, pointing out storm shelters, evacuation routes, fire exits and extinguishers, etc. during a tour. Provide a map in your pre-con packet showing the closest 24-hour walk-in clinic and also the closest emergency room.
Question #2: Is there anyone on your staff trained in CPR, the Heimlich maneuver and basic first aid? Does everyone on your staff know how to use a fire extinguisher?
Rationale: While most venues will have staff members trained in these areas, the problem sometimes can occur when there is no venue staff in the room. If the planner doesn't have any team members on site to meet these potential needs, the venue can assist by ensuring there is a trained staff member either in the room or close by at all times. Once you tell your meeting planner that you want to help them with this issue if need be, then you may see a huge sigh of relief if they realize that they are not adequately prepared. Make sure that if you have a defibulator at the venue, that your meeting planner is aware of its location relative to his or her meeting rooms.
Question #3: Do you have a plan in place should there be an injury?
Rationale: The answer to this question is likely to generate a verbal response along these lines: "Yes, we know what to do." While that may be the case in theory, I can tell you from frequent observation that many people react too slowly or without recollection of these plans in a real live crisis. By gauging a planner's too-hasty or overly-hesitant reaction to this question, or lack of a written plan, venues can determine the level of situational awareness that their staffs will need to maintain at all times.
If the meeting planner can show you a plan or an incident report sample from past meetings, then you know you're dealing with a professional who is well-prepared for potential injuries. In any case, you want to ensure that planners notify you of an injury or illness on your property, so that you can take appropriate actions as determined by your standard operation procedures.
Question #4: Are you aware of all of your attendees' emergency contact information, allergies or food sensitivities?
Rationale: Once again, by determining the answer to this question, you know that there will be a reduced likelihood that the menu you hammered out after weeks of negotiation will be less impacted by strange food requests or a food allergy/sensitivity issue requiring medical attention.
By ensuring that the planner has the needed information, the venue will also reduce its involvement in notification to families should there be an incident.
Question #5: Do you expect any situations to arise because of your speaker, attendees or subject matter?
Rationale: I call this my Harrison Ford question. For those who have taken my class at the University of South Florida's Meeting and Event Planning certificate program, you know that I'm referring to a scene in the Fugitive where Ford's character strolls casually into a pharmaceutical meeting, assaults one of the speakers and disrupts the entire event. While most meetings and events rarely have such a problem in real life, a venue can be better prepared for a 911 call to the police or a call to its security team if they know that either a speaker or the subject matter may be well-publicized and controversial. (Even knowing in advance that a meeting - e.g., global trade conference - may be picketed would be helpful in planning extra staff.) Asking the question also ensures that the meeting planner is also considering these issues and preparing for potential incidents. Security is never a problem if the venue and the meeting planner are prepared.
These are just my brief thoughts on how a venue pro could work with a meeting planner to limit risks arising from a meeting on their property. It is very likely that this list is going to grow. I welcome all additions, comments and criticisms from the supply side of our profession.
Coming next on Meet Prepared:
Trains, Planes and Meeting Planner Travel Crises