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Leigh Clemons

Preparing Your Events for Emergencies

Bad things happen to good events--you're smart to plan ahead for emergencies.

Whether it’s a hurricane, an icy winter storm or an unnatural disaster, event planners are often faced with situations beyond their control that can have serious effects on even perfectly planned events. Today, emergency preparedness needs to go beyond the typical Plan B, because disaster can strike in many forms.

We start emergency preparedness by always being ready for an unexpected change in the weather, something that happens often in Atlanta. Keeping umbrellas handy and making sure the valet has an ample supply as well can save guests from discomfort and preserve their attire.

In cooler months, we have items such as pashminas and fleece throws available for guests. Hotter weather demands having plenty of cold water available. Every event planner should know which rental providers offer air conditioning units, fans, coolers and heaters to keep the event setting pleasant in any season.

HECK, THAT’S A HURRICANE! We’ve had many weddings and outdoor events moved inside due to rain showers, but last season’s hurricane frenzy threw some new challenges our way.

For one particular event, we had to reorder all of the flowers for centerpieces because Hurricane Irma was heading for Miami, the East Coast’s largest shipping hub of fresh floral. Our team quickly switched gears and vendors and had them sent to Atlanta from California.

Last-minute cancellations in other cities can also mean last-minute planning for us here in Atlanta. As Hurricane Irma was ripping through the Caribbean and Florida, a client in Miami was relocating its conference to Atlanta, giving us only days to pull together a 400-person event. We added a “whatever product is available” clause to our contract so that we didn’t lock ourselves into a specific design that we might not be able to provide. Using local linen rentals and scouring the wholesale floral markets, we were able to produce an event design the client loved.

KEEP UP WITH THE NEWS When a large storm looms, it’s easy to follow it on the news in advance. Days before the event is the right time to take stock of where your vendors and products need to travel from and adjust if necessary. Also consider attendees and guests who might travel to the event. Could your guest count be affected? 

The overarching recommendation is to stay aware of what is happening in the world and in the weather at all times so that you can see problems coming before they arrive. During the Atlanta “Snowpocalypse” of 2014, our client was hosting a conference at a Midtown hotel. We made sure all of the guests remained onsite so that they would not get stranded.

Luckily, deliveries were able to make it to the hotel by taking already plowed roads through the city. After installing the party, our team remained at the hotel, too. It turned out to be a fun and effective event, but if we had not kept an eye on the weather and prepared accordingly, we might have a different story to tell.

GET SMART ABOUT VENDORS In the downtime between storms and disasters, put effort into casting a wider net of vendors, suppliers, entertainers and other organizations needed to put on successful events. Having more options from various regions throughout the country will give you a place to turn when any sort of disaster arrives.

Make sure you understand the force majeure clause in your event contract. The CMP Manual offers tips for implementing and assessing your risk management plan, which might include purchasing different types of event insurance to limit liability. An insurance agent can help you determine how much and what type of insurance you need. For added protection, an umbrella policy will cover any gaps in your primary policy.

You cannot always be prepared for disaster, and sometimes you have to simply react. How you learn to handle these curveballs makes you a better, more mature event planner.

As an event designer and communications specialist at Atlanta-based WM Events, Leigh Clemmons, CMP, brings her discerning eye for clean lines, precision and symmetry to every WM production. Given her taste for design blogs, street art and Christian Dior, it is no surprise to learn she graduated from Emory University with a BA in theater. What’s more, she can discuss all of these creative topics in Italian, her second major.


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