Three Keys to Handling Risk for your Next Meeting/Event

For every event or meeting, you have a plan. In fact, you may have several plans - fire safety plans, evacuation plans, and other types of emergency procedures in place. You also may have plans to deal with threats and acts of terrorism. You’ve carefully identified, evaluated and planned for the most likely risks. But, as much as you have a comprehensive, integrated plan in place to protect people and property, there always are things you can’t even anticipate, never mind plan for. This doesn’t mean they won’t happen. In the immortal words of Murphy, anything that can go wrong will. So, even when you’ve identified all the known risks, there still may be surprises.

“First ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen?
Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.”
- Dale Carnegie


1. You can’t plan for every unknown, but you can be prepared to respond.

You should plan on having a crisis response team that can respond to whatever situations arise, even if they are totally unexpected. Who’s on this team? Somebody once said that in a crisis everyone’s IQ goes to zero. While this may not be true, you want people on your team who can keep their heads, make good decisions based on available information, are resourceful and can move quickly (and not toward the door). Many if not most of your existing plans can be translated to deal with the current crisis or disruption, but your team must stay calm and be able to assess the situation and determine the best way(s) to respond.

In order to do so, they should be briefed on the crisis management plan and its contents to familiarize them with everything. This should include a review of the plan contents, especially emergency response activities. Everyone should understand who’s in charge of what and get an explanation of what each of their roles would be in any crisis. It could be especially helpful to hold drills or exercises that enable the team to practice working together under pressure.

2. Once you have identified the most likely risks you may be able to mitigate them.

Meeting Crisis Management Team

Mitigation is the area with the highest potential return, but one on which people seem to spend the least time and effort. Mitigation is everything you do to prevent a disruption from occurring or to minimize its impact. It's keeping your registration software updated, for example, to prevent crashes that could cause serious registration problems onsite. Or having a backup plan in case the system does crash. It's planning early and carefully for security at your event. It's having a complete updated list of contact phone numbers so you can reach anyone on the event staff or anyone else necessary at any time of the day or night if something comes up.

A lot of mitigation is accomplished through communication. If a situation in a given area is threatening to reduce event attendance – weather or potential terror activities, for example -- it's communicating to attendees that the area is safe and why - or that the event will be moved if things deteriorate to a specific state. If attendees know you have their health and safety in mind, they are less likely to back out of attending. Communicating with convention center personnel and event staff is just as important.

Mitigation activities can be identified by reviewing the list of vulnerabilities and/or the plans to determine what can be done NOW as opposed to waiting for disruption. This kind of planning is one of the best ways to help ensure your "event continuity."


3. Response

Meeting Crisis Emergency Response

When a disrupting event occurs, you usually have no more than 24 to 72 hours to handle it, depending on the nature of the disruption. For example, if your residence hotel has a serious fire while the guests are attending the keynote address, you’ll only have until that evening to find new accommodations, replace personal items, provide information on how to file a claim with the hotel’s insurance, and whatever other things are needed to keep them safe and comfortable. You may not have planned on the hotel burning down, but now you have to deal with it.

If, as we mentioned previously, despite your planning and mitigation efforts, your registration system crashes and people standing in line are getting irritated (or worse), you need to find a way to deal with the situation. Maybe you get catering to bring in beverages and snacks to make the wait more comfortable… or even chairs if necessary. This is an example of the crisis response team assessing the situation and taking some actions to ease the situation and possibly prevent damage to the organization’s reputation.

Your job is an overwhelming one when viewed from the perspective of planning to survive the threats and hazards that can impact events. Planning, mitigation, and response are the keys to making it through. Risk assessment and emergency management processes are tools that you can use to identify and prepare for the myriad of disruptions you might face.

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