by Sarah J.F. Braley | March 01, 2011

Naomi Romanchok, CMP, is a veteran independent planner who has seen it all, from the hilarious to the harrowing. It was the latter that occurred on a sunny day in Bermuda not long ago, during a golf event she organized, when a participant, an older man, had a heart attack at the seventh hole. Thanks to Romanchok's calm ability to react appropriately during an emergency, the man was made as comfortable as was possible, calls were quickly made and soon he was being airlifted off the course to a nearby hospital. Fortunately, he survived.

"Once you get over the shock that this thing is happening, your mind kicks in and you pull all your experience out of the bag," says Romanchok, who is based in Fairfax, Va., and taught meeting planning for 10 years at Northern Virginia Community College. It helps that she is armed beforehand with a contingency plan, which she tweaks after each incident (one year, she had five meetings in a row where she had to handle a medical emergency).

Unfortunately, too many meeting professionals are not well prepared. According to this month's M&C Research poll (see "On-Site Emergencies"), 40 percent do not have an emergency-response plan for their events, and 40 percent neglect to review their facility's disaster-response plans.

Of course, at any type of gathering, there are countless ways that something could go horribly wrong. A bus could crash, a person could fall down a flight of stairs, a freak storm could flood the meeting space. Planners have to be prepared for anything.

Bruce McIndoe"An emergency is when you have an incident that requires external resources outside of your own ability to manage or that has external visibility," says Bruce McIndoe, president and co-founder of the Annapolis, Md.-based risk-management firm iJET Intelligent Risk Systems. "A crisis is an incident that has escalated to where it can impact the finances or reputation of the organization." The number-one element that interrupts a meeting is weather, says McIndoe, followed by transportation incidents, slips and falls, and petty crime.