Being centrally located in California, we have had to experience our fair share of natural disasters. From fatal fires and mudslides to earthquakes and flooding, we have seen it all—and have had to work through it all, too.
After all, while natural disasters can be devastating to a community, special events often play a role in picking up people’s spirits and helping to revitalize the morale in an area. Plus, in business, we often adhere to a common philosophy: “The show must go on!”
With that said, planning an event in the wake of a natural disaster comes with its challenges and should be treated with caution. You cannot change the outcome of a disaster; you can only change your response to it.
From my experience, the one thing I’ve learned from crises is that human beings are inherently kind. While we may find ourselves caught up in competition and drama at other times, disaster recovery has a way of bringing people together. Event creatives are not out to take advantage of the situation—instead, they are looking to join forces to instill a feeling of togetherness.
Still, as a business owner, your company’s response and subsequent actions fall solely on you. Here are some strategies that have helped me and my team navigate the tentative waters of post-disaster event planning:
1. Be prepared.
First and foremost, you must be prepared for anything that comes. Have an understanding of the natural disasters that are most common in your region and develop a contingency plan for each. Connect with your industry peers to share strategies and ideas—the more your market is prepared, the better you will endure together.
As a professional, you must also have disaster insurance to cover yourself, the vendors you’ve hired, and your clients. This will be extremely important in the case that you have to return or transfer deposits for canceled events. Be proactive so that you don’t find yourself missing out in a dire situation.
2. Work with your clients.
When a crisis happens, remember that it is a state of emergency. All communication lines must stay open. I’ve given my clients my home phone landline number so they can still reach me if cell towers go down. Your safety is your priority, of course, but you must also consider your commitment to your clients.
After the fact, your clients, their families and their guests will likely be experiencing a host of emotions, whether they were personally impacted or not. There’s a good chance they’ll be feeling uncertain and uncomfortable moving forward. As event professionals, it is distinctly our responsibility to be strong and prevail according to the client’s wishes.
It is always the client’s choice whether to press on or not. If they want to move forward, start contacting all your vendors immediately, and demand to meet them at once to brainstorm solutions. Have faith in your team—that’s why it’s so important to work with other event professionals that you trust. You will likely be recreating a designing a whole new event so that it will require all hands on deck.
If a client wants to postpone the event, let them know that it’s entirely acceptable and that you will work with them to make it happen. It might feel like a whole new event to them, which can feel scary, so you need to show them that it will be a success no matter what or when it is.
3. Adapt to post-disaster situations.
After a natural disaster, it will take time for the community to get back to where it was before—if it ever does. There may have been irreversible changes to the landscape, damage or destruction to buildings, roads and infrastructure, and other effects that will impact your life and your business for some time afterward.
This might impact your events in that a location might need to change, or you might need to find a new caterer or other vendors. There’s also a good chance that the guest count will drop, and you might need to consider changing power needs. Also, emergency responders and governmental agencies will be kept busy, which might mean it will be extra challenging to get permits during this time.
Remain adaptable and keep the positive energy strong for your client—they need you more than ever at the moment.
When it all boils down, remember what I said at the start: People are kind. In the wake of a natural disaster, communities come together to help one another recover and revive. Stay in contact with your clients, their families, and their guests. If your employees are able and willing to help, accept their generous offer.
Make yourself available and accessible, and never stop reassuring your clients that you’re doing everything possible to execute their event to the best of your abilities given the current situation. Most of all, stay resilient and adaptable—you, and your community, will get through this and you will be stronger for it.
Oleta Collins is the owner of Flourishing Art Design Studio, a premier florist and design studio in Bakersfield, Calif., specializing in luxury weddings and events. She is also a Certified Floral Designer and an accredited member of the American Institute of Floral Designers.