It is a horrific thing that happened in Japan last week. Hundreds dead and missing, cities destroyed, and nuclear power plants in peril. Hopefully, none of us will ever encounter something so massive and unfortunate in our lives. However, this got me thinking about the meeting industry. We hold events all over the world and without a crisis plan for our events, many of us could be in a "micro peril" situation of Japan. So, here are some tips and thoughts on crisis management that can help meeting and event planners, suppliers (such as your conference equipment rental company), and your many hundreds or thousands of attendees.
- Know the climate, vulnerabilities, and customs of the city your event is in. Make certain you know all about the city and region. Is it susceptible to earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes? If so, what is your plan if one of those things happens? How safe is the city? Can attendees walk around freely or should they be in groups? In the U.S., most franchised venues should have a crisis plan. Ask for it. Find out if the city has one. If your event is going to be taking place internationally, find out what the customs are within that country to handle natural disasters. If there are no plans written, within the venue, city, or country, I would highly recommend you hire someone to write it OR go to another location.
- Form a crisis team. This team should consist of members of the event meeting company, all the partners and suppliers, and some attendee volunteers. This team should "go into action" during an emergency and should have the crisis plan on them at all times.
- Have a communication plan that has many back ups. If the lights go out, make certain you know if the hotel or conference center has an on site generator with tracking lights. What is the plan if the hotel goes completely dark? What about communications — have a plan with cell phones, land lines, and walkie-talkies. Make certain your team knows where all the exits of the venue are so you can get attendees to safety in a quick and efficient manner. It is important that this plan is documented with step-by-step actions. If possible, use interactive technology tool rentals, such as computer kiosks, to keep everyone up-to-date on what is going on.
- Determine who will speak to the media. In times of an emergency, it may be tempting to allow anyone who has a microphone positioned in front of them to speak. Although you cannot control everyone, try and get in front of the media by selecting 1 or 2 persons from your team to speak on the event’s behalf. Choose someone who is great under pressure and can be factual about the situation.
- Know of alternate ways to get your attendees home. Many times the first thing to close in a natural or man-made crisis is the airport. Have a listing of train, bus, rental car agencies, and charter organizations that you can call and/or distribute quickly to your attendees. This is another great thing to project on a kiosk rental, send via Twitter, or run on a plasma display in the venue.