Event Planning in the Age of Terrorism, Are You Prepared?

In light of last week’s Boston bombings, I began to reflect on how the event planning industry has changed since 9/11. Unfortunately we live in an age where terrorist attacks are an ongoing threat. Emergency preparedness, it seems, is becoming a “must include” component to an event planning checklist. Any meeting or event planner that is not prepared to react to a terrorism threat is, quite frankly, leaving their group vulnerable.

The Terrorist Attacks of 9/11 Had a Huge Impact on Event Planning

Back in September of 2001 I was part of a full service Destination Management Company (DMC). Anyone involved with event planning knows that September can be a very busy month for our industry. Like everybody, I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the awful news on that fateful Tuesday morning.

We had a group that was just getting underway (they were from Chicago). Of course in those days, we all had the false security that terrorist attacks didn’t happen on North American soil. Needless to say, it became obvious to us that this group’s activities, and the meeting itself, would not be proceeding. But, as air travel was shut down for days, the task for us was to get this group back to Chicago. Because of our supplier contacts in Toronto, we were able to secure coaches to transfer the attendees home. My company kept in contact with our local CVB, Tourism Toronto, as well as Canadian and American border officials. This coordination, albeit in the middle of chaos like we’ve never seen before, enabled us to get this group home within a couple of days.

My advice to any event or meeting planner working with a DMC would be to ask, upfront, what are their emergency plans. If they don’t have one, don’t use them.

An Event Planning Checklist Must Include Emergency Preparedness

Like many businesses, my company’s revenues were devastated after 9/11. After all, that was the goal of the terrorists. According to a study group that was put together by New York City officials shortly after 9/11, some of the economic losses hit the event planning industry hard. For example:

  • over 138,000 jobs were lost in the airline industry
  • roughly 15,000 jobs in the travel industry (hotels and service companies) were lost
  • hotels, restaurants and theaters in the greater New York area lost an estimated $2.3 billion because of 9/11

Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security has issued guidelines on how to prepare for an emergency situation. On their website, The National Terror Alert Response Center, are excellent tips on how to prepare for a terrorist attack as well as many other types of emergencies.

Some of the topics on the website include:

  • creating an emergency communications plan
  • having a disaster supply kit
  • an evacuation plan
  • what to do if disaster strikes (and you are not injured)

Event Planning and Emergency Preparedness, Did the Boston Bombings Reflect a Change?

What we did see during the reaction to the Boston bombings was a city prepared. From the emergency services personnel, to the good Samaritan citizens, Boston reacted in a way that made us proud. While a tragic loss of life did occur, the citizens stood strong, the businesses pitched in where necessary, and best of all they brought the hunt for the culprits to a quick, successful close.

While there’s no doubt there was economic loss to the area, what’s nice to see is that people got back to their normal lives quickly. While we will always remember those that did lose their lives from this horrible crime, the best that we can do to honor those lost souls would be to stand up and fight the fear.

Additional resources:

Unfortunately we have not seen the last of terrorist attacks. But we have learned that the best way to deal with terrorism is to not allow the fear and therefore major economic losses that these criminals are trying to achieve. It is vital that your event planning checklist includes a contingency plan for an emergency. Plan for it and then pray that it never happens.

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