by Loren G. Edelstein | November 08, 2017
When meeting planners are asked about their emergency plans, they often say, "I never thought of that," detective Kevin Coffey told participants of Northstar Meetings Group's Destination Caribbean event, taking place this week at the Westin Grand Cayman. But given the tragic events of the past couple of years, he said, "more have realized they need to take an in-depth look at this."

In his 35 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, Coffey was a pioneer in travel-crime investigations and founded the LAPD's Airport Crimes Investigations Detail. He is now one of the country's leading experts on travel and meetings risk, conducting training and consulting for global organizations. 

In his keynote address on Tuesday, "Minimizing Risk at Meetings and Events: A Police Detective's Eye-Opening Advice," Coffey asked the audience of nearly 100 buyers and suppliers, "Who in the room has emergency action plans?" About 10 of the audience members raised their hands. Coffey went on to cite recent research by Meeting Professionals International that found fewer than half of meeting planners have emergency plans.

"Planners sometimes ask me where to find 'the magic emergency plan.' And I tell them, 'You're not going to get one.'" Such plans need to be specific to a group's needs, he said, although articles on the topic can provide helpful guidance, such as M&C's recent checklist on emergency preparedness.

Fear is one reason, in many instances, for the lack of preparedness. "A lot of organizations don't want to give out an emergency action plan, because they don't want to be responsible should something go wrong," said Coffey. However, failure to have a plan does not absolve liability. The host organization has an obligation to meet the basic requirements of "duty of care." (Click here for more on that topic.)

When choosing a destination, hotel or other meeting supplier, meeting planners should be asking specific questions about security and risk, he said. The answers should be a deciding factor - or at least an important element - in the planner's decision. 

Among details that should be important to a meeting's decision-makers:

• Ask to see the emergency action plan for the hotel or venue. When was it last updated? What is the process of training staff to enact the plan?

• One of the most common causes of accidental death is choking. How many on your planning staff are trained to administer the Heimlich maneuver? How many on the venue's staff are trained? How many of those who will be working your event are trained?

• Similarly, is there an AED device on-site, where is it, and how many staff members who will be working your event are trained to use it? How many staff members who are CPR-certified will be on-site during your event?

• Convention centers use alert systems delivered through a public-address system. Do you know what a "code black" is? Or a "code red"? Take the time to learn what those mean and what the appropriate action would be for you and your group under each circumstance.

• Does your registration process ask for emergency-contact information? This is essential information that you should be able to access at all times.

• Have you been trained to handle an active shooter scenario? If not, you can view an online training video produced by the government.

• Are you prepared to handle protests, labor disputes or civil unrest? In a venue that uses union labor, ask about upcoming or current union proceedings. This is a question you need to ask at intervals leading up to the time your meeting takes place, not just during the RFP process.

• Take a look at the terrorism alert level in your meeting destination. If it were to change today to an elevated level, what would that mean to your event plans? 

• Do you know where fire extinguishers are at the property? When have they last been checked? Too often, fire extinguishers are missing, or they haven't been tested in years and they are dried out.

Supplier partners must be closely involved in the efforts to ensure the safety and security of events, Coffey stressed: "If you are on the sales team for a property, and you are not part of the safety team for the property, you need to be."

For more information, including travel safety tips, click here to visit Coffey's website.