Having an emergency response plan for a corporate event may seem like a no-brainer. However, a recent survey reports a shocking 70% of meeting planners fail to prepare a written emergency response plan.1  This is not only a huge risk to your company, it is also failing your to protect attendees who trust that your organization is prepared should an emergency arise.

Having a crisis plan in place will allow you to:

  • Use early warning systems that monitor social trends, media, and the weather to mitigate the risk of possible issues.
  • Establish clear procedures and roles to prepare for situations such as evacuation, medical emergencies, and security threats.
  • Identify the communication flow within both internal and external crisis management teams.
  • Determine the official spokesperson and the guidelines for preparing public information during an emergency.
  • Communicate the proper procedure with the necessary parties should the media become involved.
  • Prepare positioning statements as well as other crisis information in advance and make available.

Purpose of a Crisis Plan

A good crisis plan should be tailored to your specific event, whether a meeting, travel incentive, conference, trade show, etc..  With the help of vendor-partners and public safety departments, you should seek to identify all possible emergency situations. Take into account the size and demographics of your group along with the specific vulnerabilities of the area and venue. Once you’ve identified pertinent risks, you can plan in a smart way. This guide covers the basic elements of any response plan, as well as a course of action for specific emergencies.

PART ONE:  PEOPLE AND PLACE

Regardless of the emergency, here are the essential arrangements to make with your staff, the building, emergency services, and attendees.

STAFF

Despite the efficiency of emergency responders, it is still vital that your staff be trained concerning appropriate emergency procedure.

  • Building Layout: All staff should be familiar with the building layout and have a basic knowledge of the surrounding area. While it is important that some have a more thorough knowledge, every staff member should know the basics. For example:
    • Fire exits and exit routes
    • Doors or other items that need to be closed for protection from wind, fire, etc.
    • Underground, secure exits in case it is necessary to move people quickly
    • Medical evacuation routes
  • Communication: A reliable means of communication is a must for all staff members. Key staff should have multiple forms of communication, examples include cell phones, landlines, and radios. If cell phones are a means of communication, make sure there is a strong cell signal within the venue.
  • Emergency Plan: Provide staff with a copy of the emergency plan and a comprehensive list of everyone’s roles. This will ensure that they know who to turn to with questions and what the procedure is in certain circumstances.
  • Emergency Numbers and Script: The first to arrive on the scene of an emergency will be tasked with calling for help. Make sure your staff is trained on when to call and what to say. Provide a list of information to supply to emergency responders for highest efficiency.

In addition to supplying the necessary information and equipment, specific roles should be assigned within your staff. Assign one or more members to the following responsibilities:

  • Team Lead: They will be on the alert for any possible incidents and ready to execute the action plan if needed. If an emergency does arise they will take over communication with both internal and external crisis teams. Consider appointing a second in command to help make calls and convey information.
  • Emergency Contacts: Make sure to appoint someone to call family members and friends. Supply them with the master list of emergency contacts as well as instructions for when to start calling and how much information to give.
  • Media Communication: Have one person designated to communicate with the media. You should prepare statements ahead of time and decide what should be disclosed.
  • Transportation: Appoint someone to be in charge of emergency transportation. They should have a list of alternate airports in case an airport is shut down and transportation companies that are able to help if your group needs to evacuate.
  • Evacuation: Assemble an evacuation team to help attendees exit safely. Make sure stations are assigned ahead of time.
  • First Aid, AED, and CPR: Several staff members should be First Aid, AED, and CPR trained. Their contact information should be available to all staff.

BUILDING

Many details of your response plan will depend on your venue. Before you sign a contract make sure to ascertain the following:

  • What is the venue’s emergency plan? Does it include a backup generator as well as emergency food and water? (Ideally, food and water should be able to sustain each person for a minimum of three days.) You will likely be able to incorporate their plan into your own. Make sure to obtain a copy of the building’s blueprints and floor plan. Create a map that identifies emergency exits, fire extinguishers, evacuation routes, and water hookups.
  • Does the venue have First Aid and AED stations? These should also be added to your map. If they do not have First Aid and AED kits, make sure to bring or create your own once you arrive.
  • Does the venue have a room that could be used as an Emergency Management Room? This will be the central hub of information in the event of an emergency.

PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICERS

Calling 911 (or the country equivalent) in the midst of an emergency shouldn’t be your first communication with Public Safety Officers. They are a valuable resource in forming and carrying out your emergency response plan.

  • Provide emergency medical services, fire department, and police department with a copy of your building map so they can easily identify key assets such as emergency exits and water hookups.
  • Consider consulting public safety officers as you form your action plan. They may have some helpful advice for improvement.
  • Ask emergency departments what the typical response time is. Also, ask what situations the local departments are not equipped to deal with and would require state assistance.

ATTENDEES

No matter how thorough your emergency plan is, it is severely lacking if it does not contain a plan of communication with attendees. To ensure you have the necessary information and that your guests stay informed, check these items off your list:

  • An ounce of prevention can prevent a pound of woe. Be sure your attendees are advised of common safety and medical recommendations prior to travel.  This should cover the basics such as:
    • Not adventuring into unknown neighborhoods
    • Using the buddy system to make sure others know where you are going and when you will be back.
    • Leaving valuables at home to avoid theft or other safety issues.
    • Traveling in groups instead of alone.
    • Knowing the basic laws in the country or city where traveling to.
    • Ensuring medications, even those prescribed by a doctor, are legal in the country of destination
    • Never leaving your drink, packages, luggage unattended
    • Bring all immunizations up-to-date
    • Travel with medical alerts handy if applicable
  • Prior to the event gather emergency contacts and legal documents from each attendee.
  • Provide each guest with main contact numbers and evacuation plans.
  • To communicate during an emergency, have a mega speaker and prepare audio-visual scripts to appear on screen with instructions.

PART TWO: ACTION PLAN

After general arrangements are made it is important that you plan for specific emergencies. Possible issues will range anywhere from those that can be foreseen and planned around to those that may arise in the moment without warning.

ANTICIPATE SETBACKS

While travel delays and missing luggage are typically not life or death issues, they can certainly threaten the success of your event. If a key speaker cannot make it because of a canceled flight or cannot present because their laptop got lost with their luggage, you will be left scrambling in the moment.

  • Travel Delays: To minimize travel delays make a list of alternate transportation and keep an eye on construction in the surrounding area. Your list should include nearby airports, bus lines, and trains. In case a key speaker is unable to make it, designate someone to step up as a backup speaker.
  • Missing Luggage: Serious emergencies can arise if travelers are not being wise about what they keep on them versus what they stow in their luggage. Send out an email reminding attendees that if they are flying they should keep all medications, laptops, and important documents with them during the flight.

DEVELOP CONTINGENCY PLANS

Vendor cancellation and power outages don’t have to ruin your event. Make sure you are protected with these cautionary measures.

  • Vendor Cancellations: When preparing contracts with your vendors, clearly discuss their legal obligations should they cancel. However, even the most reliable vendor-partners may need to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances. If this happens you should have a backup in place.
  • Power Outages: An event will be severely handicapped without WiFi and nearly impossible without any electricity. As mentioned above, make sure your venue has a backup generator. If the WiFI does go out, make sure you have hard copies of all the important files. Remind your speakers that they should be prepared to present without the use of their laptop and PowerPoint.

MONITOR INCREASING RISKS

As the event draws near, keep an eye on the circumstances surrounding your event. Consult experts regarding any brewing social unrest, major storms, natural disasters, or construction at or around your venue.

  • Write out clear criteria and protocol for canceling. Some circumstances may warrant a slight change of plans, while others may cause the entire event to be canceled or postponed. For example, stormy weather may cause outdoor activities to be canceled and replaced with indoor options, whereas major flooding is grounds for canceling the event entirely.
  • Consult legal advice as you work out the cancellation policies with the venue. Have your company lawyers look over the contract before you sign anything. This will not only protect your company but your attendees as well.

PLAN FOR UNFORESEEABLE EMERGENCIES

Some of the direst emergencies are those that cannot be foreseen. The likelihood of them happening may be slim, but in case they do having a plan of action is vital.

Crime

Work with law enforcement to prevent and respond to theft, assault, and disappearances. Especially if traveling abroad, brief guests on how to avoid being a victim of crime with the following reminders:

  • Remember to use the “buddy system.” Guests should avoid going out alone and always tell someone where they are going. Make sure your attendees are aware of which areas of town to avoid as well.
  • Leave valuables at home. When exploring the surrounding area avoid wearing anything that might make you a target for tourism theft. It’s better to leave your expensive watch and jewelry at home or in a safe at the hotel.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings and keep track of your belongings. Consider wearing a money belt and getting a slash-proof bag.
  • A little healthy suspicion is a good thing. Don’t invite anyone you don’t know into your hotel room.

Acts of Terror

  • Work with law enforcement to set up a surveillance and response team.
  • Encourage attendees to report anything suspicious.
  • Don’t leave bags or packages unattended, even for a moment.

Medical Emergencies

  • Prior to the event, remind guests to bring any essential medications, as well as prescriptions.
  • If a medical emergency does arise, call 911 (or the local equivalent) and first aid trained staff. If less serious, set up a ride to urgent care or the emergency room.
  • Designate someone to accompany them to the hospital and call emergency contacts.
  • Ensure that if necessary, a translator is available and can travel with the patient and speak on the patient’s behalf as well as to hospital and medical staff.

Fire

  • As mentioned above, your map should include emergency exits and water supply hookups. The map should be shared ahead of time with the fire department and attendees.
  • Create a list prior to the event of anyone who requires assistance during an evacuation. Make sure these members have been paired with someone who can help them during a fire.
  • Once the fire alarm goes off, your evacuation team should know to take their place. Most fire alarms at large event centers will have computerized instructions over the speaker system.

Natural Disasters

Depending on your location you may need a response plan for natural disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.

  • Your venue should have a plan in place for some of these circumstances. Make sure the venue is equipped with emergency food and water. They should also be prepared for extreme heat and cold.
  • Write out the criteria for evacuation as well as a detailed plan. Do some research on possible emergency shelters that you could go to if needed.

Safety and Comfort

You may also run into issues with the technical aspects of the venue or hotel such as no running water or a backed-up sewer.

  • Immediately report any issues to the management. They should have emergency maintenance contacts that can quickly be on site.
  • If the problem persists you may need to relocate to a backup venue or hotel, or to another floor if on a cruise ship.

Code Violations

  • Code violations can result in serious injuries or food poisoning. If you notice that a vendor might be in violation of health codes or licensing regulations it should be reported immediately. Some examples:
    • Coughing or using the rest room but not washing hands before serving food
    • Cross-contamination of food such as using the same tray for raw meat then using it for fresh fruit
    • Bussing tables while serving tables, and without washing hands between.
    • Stretching across people to pour hot coffee into someone’s cup
    • A balcony’s railing is not properly secured
  • You should also make sure that code violations are covered in your contract and that the vendor will be held responsible for any delays and costs associated with them.

Conclusion

Assembling an emergency action plan can be a daunting task. However, the protection you and your guests receive will be well worth the effort. By making all the general arrangements as well as planning for specific emergencies, you will be better equipped to handle whatever comes your way, big or small.

Need help with your next corporate meeting or event? Contact Gavel International to learn more about how meeting planning can help your business.


Footnotes:

1https://www.meetingstoday.com/newsevents/industrynews/industrynewsdetails/articleid/31895/title/crisis-management-not-in-planners-plans

Sources:

https://www.ready.gov/business/implementation/emergency

https://www.meetingstoday.com/newsevents/industrynews/industrynewsdetails/articleid/31923/title/emergency-response-plan-template-for-planners

“The Essential Guide to Safety and Security: Best Practices for Meeting and Event Planning 2018” by Meeting Professionals International.

Eloisa Mendez