A 2,500-person Baltimore Summit was scheduled to kick off just as the city was predicted to be in the direct path of Hurricane Sandy. Facing possibilities of power outages, flooding and shortages of labor, food and water, as well as potential medical emergencies, Andavo Meetings and Incentives implemented a multilayered crisis management plan to ensure the program would go on. We learned several things that could be applied in any destination, including Colorado, where there can be risks of snow storms, power outages, fires, flooding, airline delays and airport closings.
With 200 attendees having already arrived in Baltimore, and an unknown number of people en route to the conference, a central command center was created to coordinate information between the event planning team, convention center and city. We needed to efficiently discuss two possible plans: A.) Move ahead with a scaled-down version of the summit or B.) Cancel all events and manage the safety and comfort of all attendees already in-house.
Most ordinary corporate conferences faced with a state of emergency would have cancelled the entire event and invoked the force majeure clause of their contracts. But the mission of this nonprofit proved to be a force much greater than a hurricane, and feedback from the attendees via the organization’s website indicated the prevailing wish was that the show would go on. And so it did.
In the initial stages, a social media messaging strategy was implemented in order to proactively inform attendees of weather updates, schedule changes, safety in hotels and the convention center, special preparations needed, affect on public transportation, refund process for cancellations and contact information for attendees, sponsors, speakers and presenters.
Communication and creativity were key to the successful restructuring of this event. Food and beverage counts were adjusted and function spaces and speakers were rearranged.
In the end, 1,500 people were still able to come together for workshops, leadership seminars, networking and an inspiring gala dinner.
This summit was a remarkable example of what leadership and strength of purpose can accomplish in the face of daunting challenges and proof that a comprehensive risk management plan is crucial to every program.
Risk Assessment Plan
This should be crafted in the early stages of planning and integrated into the event flow from site inspections to pre-con meetings. Begin with the creation of a risk matrix from "less likely to occur but greater consequences" (such as a communicable disease or food poisoning outbreak) to "more likely to occur with lesser consequences" (such as loss of Internet).
Include foreseeable risks influenced by:
» the nature of the event;
» the organization’s visibility and likelihood of any threat;
» the location and timing of the event related to local and world politics;
» controversial speakers or topics;
» disgruntled constituents;
» weather patterns for the time of the year;
» past occurrences at the organization’s other events and at the conference center or venues; and
» attendee age and general health and the number of disabled participants.
Crisis Management Plan
There should be a contingency plan for each type of risk outlined in the risk assessment matrix. Understanding that it is impossible to predict every event or catastrophe, many of the backup plans will apply to most emergency situations. Consider plans for addressing the following occurrences.
» Weather Interruptions
» Medical Emergencies
» Safety/Security Threats to Individual or Organization
» Personal Property Damage or Loss
» Financial Loss
» Damage or Disruption to Venue
» Threat to or Theft of Intellectual Property
» Improper Insurance or Process for Insurance Claims
The risk assessment and crisis management plans will be extensive documents, incorporating the emergency plans from the venue and suppliers. To make this information accessible for first responders, the last step is to distill the basic "what to do in case this happens" down to a wallet card that can be carried at all times. Consider including this information as an attachment to the attendee confirmations or inside a packet so that attendees also are aware of basic procedures. Review these procedures in the pre-con meetings and train all staff before the event begins.
Above all, remember that relationships matter! Managing crises requires trust, communication and shared values between all partners in order to find resolve and opportunity in times of uncertainty. With values-based relationships as a foundation, facing challenges will be possible regardless of your risk management plan
- Brenda Rivers
Brenda Rivers founded Andavo Meetings and Incentives in 1992. Andavo has a global client base that includes many Fortune 50 and Fortune 500 companies and is headquartered in Denver.