Oh yes, crisis management. For a meeting planner it’s become part of the job. Or has it? Many planners think that by covering disasters on an insurance disclaimer they’ve covered crisis management. While that may be true from a financial aspect, many would fail big time if an actual crisis occurred during their business meeting.
My, and my company’s, crisis management experience was put to the test on 9/11. We were operating a business meeting that was just getting underway when those horrible events occurred. However thanks to a very experienced operations manager, and a preplanned crisis management strategy, we were able to get over 300 delegates back to Chicago (from Toronto) while no airlines were operating. No small feat, might I add.
It paid to have a crisis management strategy in place.
Developing a crisis management strategy during an emergency can be, pardon the pun here, a disaster. The best planner in the world will tell you that it’s always best to plan for the worst and then hope it never occurs.
3 Tips for a Meeting Planner on Handling a Crisis during an Event
Have a crisis team. That doesn’t mean just have your event coordinator call 911 if there’s an emergency. Rather it means that real people are assigned real tasks. And make sure that their task are reviewed in any and all pre-con meetings. You need to assign; someone that will communicate and update your delegates, an individual to communicate with local emergency tasks forces, a backup plan that covers all of the what-ifs (i.e. delegate deaths, transportation issues, accommodation issues, food and beverage, overall delegate safety). Schedule meeting times at regular intervals so that each person can review their responsibilities where decisions can be made as a result. Remember you will be operating in a very fluid situation. Your team must be able to react accordingly.
Local suppliers. It’s imperative that a meeting planner receives supplier contingency plans. Now I don’t mean what to do if the food is cold or if there is none of your favorite scotch available. A planner will require their local suppliers to provide scenarios for any situations that would interrupt, or jeopardize safety of, the event itself. That’s why important that local suppliers are part of a pre-con meeting (in addition to the regular contribution that these suppliers will make to the overall meeting).
Communication. This is where social media can be helpful. However, in order for communication to be effective during a crisis, it’s important that relevant information is collected ahead of time. Starting with the meeting’s delegates: collect all of their contact information, including next of kin. Have someone on your crisis team establish, and communicate, social media accounts that will be utilized during the meeting. There needs to be regular communication with delegates during a crisis. Even if you do not have important updates to report, regular communication will assure your delegates that you are on top of the situation. It’s also crucial to have alternative meeting points, should the hotel or event venue be part of the crisis. The last thing you want is for your delegates to be scattered around an unfamiliar city with no way of meeting up communicated.
Additional crisis management resources:
- US Department of State, crisis management services
- Public Safety Canada, emergency management
- EU, crisis response information
- Australian Government, crisis information