When faced with the probability that you will have to evacuate your meeting space, the thing I find most interesting is that most planners believe that the issue is complete once everyone is safely out of the building.
Although no one – not even professionals – can help you plan for every contingency that arises from an evacuation, I have come up with my top five Gotchas that can get you in trouble in an evacuation situation.
Gotcha #1 – You can't use your cell phone because everyone wants to talk to their office/loved ones/dentist, etc. You, the meeting planner or the hotel convention service manager, cannot get your team or client on the phone to ensure they have accounted for everyone from the meeting.
Gotcha #2 – Everyone is safe and you have accounted for all attendees and staff, but you notice that some of your attendees are wandering around – even wanting to go back inside, if necessary – looking for water. They have to take medication every four hours and now they're overdue.
Gotcha #3 – Everyone is accounted for and no problems have arisen yet, but you are told it will be at least an hour before you can go back in. This should not be a problem, except that some of your attendees are not able to sit on concrete and cannot stand more than 20 minutes at a time.
Gotcha #4 – Where is Waldo… or Bob… or Wilma? Turns out they partied pretty hard the night before and you were not aware that of the 75 attendees, one is missing. Where are they? Who is taking care of them? Did they oversleep and not even know there was an evacuation. Maybe they are on the beach?
Gotcha #5 – Umbrellas, galoshes and ponchos, oh my….If the weather starts to turn bad, there is trouble, which starts with T and rhymes with C, which starts a new crisis.
So let's look at strategies to get rid of the Gotchas:
1. Have a plan that does not rely solely on cell phones to communicate. In the military, we called it a phone outage tree. One person starts the information flow using a pre-determined plan, which passes to two others and so forth to ensure that communication is not impeded.
2. When it comes to medication or seating issues, your challenge is greater. I always have two bottles of water at the registration desk, which I can grab as I depart. I also have seen what is referred to as a sippy cup in the contingency kit, or even five or six paper cups can take care of the issue.
3. Seating is one of the most difficult issues for those that can't stand or sit on pavement, such as a parking lot, (the most likely evacuation destination). If you have access to a car, have them sit in the car. If not, talk to the hotel and find out about golf carts. If there is a legitimate emergency, talk to an Emergency Medical Technician. They will be your best bet in that scenario.
4. I can not stress enough the importance of a hard copy, (i.e., paper) of your attendance roster. If you have more than 20 attendees, have more copies on hand. I use the one to 25 rule for rosters. Usually you can determine within 5 minutes that all 25 are there. The quicker you can account for all of your staff and attendees, the less stress you put on first responders and your own team.
5. Weather should be on your mind for every conference, even a board meeting. If your property has a golf course, see about golf umbrellas. If not, when you do your site inspection or pre-con, look for possible shelter outside. If you believe the weather will be bad every day, then you will be thinking about your next steps. If not, then I suggest a large quantity of towels to dry off after you come back to the meeting room.
While not the kind of problems you necessarily anticipate, these Gotchas can get your meeting in trouble. Think about them, plan for them and safely improvise if worse comes to worse.
Coming next on Meet Prepared:
The Case of the Meeting Planner and the Food Gotchas