Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio June
Back to Basics
By Oren Jaffe, CMP
WARDING OFF LEGIONNAIRES’ DISEASE
An outbreak begs the question: What can a planner do to
prevent illness at a meeting?
The words “Legionnaires’ disease” bring back memories of the
American Legion convention in July 1976 at Philadelphia’s
BellevueStratford Hotel, when 221 attendees became seriously ill
during and after the meeting, and 34 died.
There have been few headlines about Legionnaires’ disease since,
but it hasn’t gone away. According to the Centers for Disease
Control, each year between 8,000 and 18,000 people contract what is
officially called Legionella pneumophila, and 5 to 30 percent die
from it. An outbreak did make news this past winter, perhaps
because it struck employees at a high-profile Ford Motor Co.
People catch the disease, a form of pneumonia, by inhaling mist
from contaminated water mist that in the original case was spread
through the hotel’s ventilation system.
The 1976 outbreak shows how tragedy can result from poor conditions
in or around a host facility and other meeting venues. To avoid
disasters, as well as less severe problems such as minor food
poisoning, planners need to add a few items to their destination
inquiries, site-inspection checklist and even contracts.
In the news. After choosing a destination, keep
alert for unusual goings-on there by checking with the convention
and visitors bureau and chamber of commerce both before and during
During the 1976 American Legion convention, there was a strike
of sanitation workers in Philadelphia. At one point, the CDC
theorized that the disease arose from bacteria growing and
spreading from the uncollected trash on the streets.
The CDC theory was later disproved, but if such a scenario is
proven to be the cause of an illness, you and your organization
could be held liable. It could be argued that you should have
learned of the situation during your routine pre-meeting
In the corridors. Be health-wary during a site
inspection. Assess the cleanliness of the building and ensure that
proper sanitation practices are being followed in all areas,
including meeting rooms, kitchens, rest rooms and guest rooms.
Also, ask the property how many and what types of health and
medical incidents have occurred in recent years. Try to get the
responses in writing.
Lastly, ask meeting sites for a list of at least five past and
current clients as references. Call them.
The contract. Both a planner and her
organization might be held liable if someone falls ill at a
meeting. To avoid this, add protection in your contracts. The
clause should indemnify, defend and hold harmless you and your
organization from being held liable for a sudden or unexpected
health or medical occurrence originating from any venue used for
the meeting, or from any other source that was out of your control
or knowledge before or during the meeting period.
Several government Web sites have helpful information on the health
hazards a planner might encounter.
Concerning food, details on meat safety are listed by the Food
Safety and Inspection Service (www.fsis.usda.gov). For information on other
foods, visit the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (vm.cfsan.fda.gov).
The CDC Web site (www.cdc.gov/food) offers information on diseases and
environmental health guidelines. It also has details on indoor air
quality issues (www.cdc.gov/niosh/pdfs/sec_7.pdf).
Discussions of pesticides, water and environmental assessment,
and foods can be found at the Environment Protection Agency’s
Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances (www.epa.gov/opptsfrs/home/opptsim.htm). For a gateway to
additional food-safety sites, go to www.foodsafety.gov.Jeremy Weir Alderson is a free-lance writer
who works out of Hector, N.Y.
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