How many times a day do you ask yourself the question, “What if”? On a personal level, this sneaky, nagging question comes into play in everyday situations such as: “What if I can’t find a gas station and my car runs out of gas?” Or in my case it’s, “What if my Internet goes out while I’m streaming 'House of Cards'?!”
In your professional life, these questions can take a more serious tone, especially if you are an event professional. Those “what ifs” might sound something like: “What if it rains during our networking cocktail hour on the beach?” or “What if that bad weather suddenly turns into a hurricane?” or “What if the hotel’s wireless network is hacked, and our attendees’ information is stolen?” or, even more severe, “What if there’s a terrorist attack during our event?”
All of these “what if” questions, and more, are important to ask throughout the event planning process because there is always the potential for things to go wrong, and you need to be prepared with how to handle it. Just last week, the need for a crisis-management plan was tested when the 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck central Italy. We had a client program operating in Rome when this happened and, thankfully, everyone was safe and unaffected, but action steps needed to be reviewed to be sure. Having this plan in place was key, even only so that we received confirmation back here at home that the group was OK.
I’m hearing more and more questions from planners about risk management and what they can do to improve their contingency plans and preparations, and many are even asking about where they should begin. Here are a few things you must consider as you prepare for an event so you’re not asking yourself this “what if” question: “What if I had prepared a crisis-management plan--could I have avoided this?”
1.Engage the local DMCs and hotels in your contingency plans for an extra level of insurance.
They are the local experts and are connected to all critical contacts such as vendors, hospitals, pharmacies, law enforcement, embassies and governmental agencies, to name a few. DMCs will provide vital contact information to ensure that, aside from the staff on-site, you always have multiple emergency contacts to reach 24/7 when you are on-site with your program. Should anything go wrong, DMCs can use their connections to bring in resources that, if on their own, a client would not have access to. This immediate action that DMCs are able to provide is irreplaceable. Additionally, both DMCs and hotels will have standard evacuation processes, and will proactively contact their suppliers to ensure that each has a written security plan in place that is available to share.
2.Prepare well in advance to ensure the basics are in place.
Before every program, ensure that all different forms of attendee contact information and emergency contacts are collected at the very beginning during registration. Come up with a plan for how you can communicate to attendees and make sure you have multiple ways of communicating with the entire group—such as email Listserv, text, event mobile app push notifications, or Twitter. Take simple precautionary steps such as making copies of passports to keep online and in hard copy if the group is going international.
3.Ask your local DMC what private security options there are for your group.
In destinations and situations where it’s appropriate, DMCs also offer--and highly encourage--the option of private security for groups or the addition of safety officers at each event for an extra cost. These are teams of experienced security specialists, sometimes from the military and law enforcement, who manage the security of physical locations to deal with emergencies and ensure group safety. Security teams are also in close contact with law enforcement to ensure they are aware of any important closures, threats or emergencies that might affect the group or program.
4.Use the hotel pre-con meeting to review contingency plans and training processes.
Security is frequently overlooked while talking about program logistics and agenda during the pre-con, yet it’s the perfect opportunity to have everyone in one room to cover all the key items about security, and for you to identify the hotel security manager and crisis team. This will ensure that all parties--the group, hotel and DMC--are in sync.
5.Don’t assume everything you hear on the news to be accurate--ask your DMC or hotel for local reports before cancelling a meeting.
While your preferred news outlet might be your go-to source for world news, it might not always have all the facts straight. Sometimes, situations can be sensationalized in the news, and while it’s extremely important to make yourself aware of global affairs, you should always ask a local source--such as your DMC or hotel--for local reports and updates to understand what’s really happening on the ground.
Another thing to consider is that, surprisingly, active threats can actually make a destination safer than ever. For example, security and health threats before the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil resulted in extensive precautionary measures and enhanced security at the event and in public places around the city of Rio, which resulted in one of the most secure and safe events in Olympics history.
No country is totally immune from disaster, and cancelling an event at the first sign of trouble is not a good strategy. Rather, planners and suppliers must continue to work together and do their due diligence to ensure they have their plans in place. Risk cannot be avoided, but it can be managed so much better.
Catherine Chaulet is president of Washington-based DMC network Global DMC Partners, which represents 55 DMCs worldwide. It is included on the 12th annual Special Events "25 Top DMCs" list. Prior to Global DMC Partners, she worked for Fidelity Investments, where she was in charge of two of their subsidiaries. She also serves as a French trade advisor (conseiller au commerce exterieur) and is a board member of the French-American Chamber of Commerce in Boston.
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