Although you may have already taken out some event insurance, do you really have a plan in place for emergency preparedness? A moment of crisis can define just how adept your company is at event planning. Not only should you have a Plan B, but a Plan C and knowledge of everything from evacuation plans to what to do if the venue is on lock down.
The IEEE Panel of Conference Organizers recommends that you start by gathering a conference emergency management team to handle things such as creating a contact list that includes emails, contact phone numbers, and cell phone numbers.
Next, you should locate an area that can serve as a command center. A good choice would be the same area you used for registration.
Consult with the venue staff about what emergency preparedness plans they already have in place. You may be able to piggy back on top of what they are doing in cases where your attendees are staying a conference hotel. Especially in times of major natural disasters, it is important to have enough staff to handle the number of people present. Most hotels think about this well in advance and have plans in place.
Planning for Pre-Disaster
Is your next event held in an area that is prone to hurricanes, earthquakes, or flooding? Plan ahead in case a disaster strikes mere days before your event is to be held. Similar to planning for an emergency during the event, you’ll need a complete contact list.
You can either plan for a backup place to move the event should a disaster strike (this might not be feasible if people are flying in from all over the country), or have a plan in place for distributing the news that the event is canceled.
If the event will be rescheduled, communicate that as well. If you have event insurance, let the attendees know what that does and doesn’t cover. You should be encouraging your attendees to secure their own travel insurance for things purchased outside the event such as airfare.
Preparing for Specific Contingencies
The way you handle a hurricane versus a radioactive event is going to be quite different. Fortunately, FEMA offers a planning guide that covers all the different scenarios you could possibly encounter as an event planner.
You will also want to look at what things might be likely. For example, you might prepare for:
- Emergency at the venue that forces you to evacuate. Where will you go? How will you communicate that to your attendees? How is everyone getting to the new location?
- Major illness that creates a disruption. Who will take charge? How can you make the catastrophe the least disruptive to attendees?
- Natural disaster warning that forces you to evacuate. Do you end the conference early? Refund part of attendees money? What does your insurance cover and what does it not cover?
Take the time to do a risk assessment. Ask yourself questions like:
- What types of disasters are most likely at this venue?
- What time of year is the event? Will bad weather impact attendance in any way?
- What are the issues most likely to happen at the venue the event is being held at?
- What illnesses are most likely to strike?
- What is the absolute worst thing that could happen?
Once you have a clear answer about the most likely things that could happen, it will be easier to prepare for those possible emergency situations.
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