Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio August
The Law & the Planner
BY JONATHAN HOWE
How to Plan for Disaster
Twelve critical steps for coping with mid-meeting
Nobody likes to anticipate the worst, but for the meeting
professional, this kind of pessimism is essential. Every planner
should have in place a crisis management policy that covers
disasters from almost soup (food poisoning) to nuts (the
disgruntled employee seeking revenge).
First, identify all possible problems that might occur during a
particular event, such as fire, earthquake, tornado, hurricane,
flood, terrorism, death of an attendee, food poisoning, union
strikes, protests or criminal acts. Then, consider measures to
reduce or eliminate the possibility that an incident will occur. If
a problem does occur, be prepared to manage it in a safe and
effective manner, with minimum impact on the meeting or event.
Following are the specific elements that should be included in a
crisis management plan.
1. Security. Visible security is a deterrent to
theft, violence and other problems. Determine whether the
hotel/facility has its own security force and whether additional
security is needed. Always verify credentials and check
2. Crime. Consider the safety of the location.
Investigate the frequency or occurrences of crimes in and around
the facility and other places attendees may frequent. Alert
attendees in advance of the possible risk of crime, and advise them
not to wear their badges outside the facility. Include a written
statement with materials to be distributed both before the meeting
and on site.
3. Compliance with laws. Ensure facilities to
be used are in compliance with local, state and federal laws.
Request copies of the most recent fire, safety and health
department inspections. Require each facility to commit in the
contract that it is in compliance with all governmental laws and
regulations. Require all contractors to commit that they will
fulfill their obligations in compliance with applicable laws.
4. Indemnification. Include an indemnification
provision in the contract with the facility and with suppliers.
Indemnification should be mutual - each party agrees to indemnify
the other if a claim is made against the other as a result of
5. Insurance. Be sure appropriate liability
insurance coverage is in place, and that any facility or supplier
carries proper insurance coverage as well. Review your policies to
ensure coverage for all events and related activities. Obtain
certificates of insurance from facilities and suppliers. Seek to
have your organization named as an additional insured on the
supplier's insurance for certain "high-risk" activities (e.g.,
transportation, recreational events). For recreational events (golf
tournaments, running races, beach olympics), have participants sign
a release and waiver of claims in advance.
6. Information gathering. Determine the number
of people estimated to attend the event, their age range and any
particular needs. Assess how many persons with disabilities will be
attending and whether any special setups, equipment or personnel
will be required.
7. Contact lists. Gather the names and
telephone numbers of all emergency contacts, and have the list
readily available during the meeting or conference. On the backs of
attendees' name badges, include local telephone numbers for the
police, fire department, paramedics and security, the name and
telephone number of an emergency contact for each registrant and
any pre-existing medical conditions or allergies.
8. Point person. Assign one staff member to be
the "point person" for coordinating the crisis management plan, and
name an alternate. Identify the roles other staff will play.
9. Communication equipment. Walkie-talkies,
cellular phones or pagers should be available for key staff members
and security personnel. Determine the best means for communicating
information to attendees in the event of an emergency (e.g., public
address system, megaphone).
10. Rehearsals. In preconference meetings,
rehearse various emergency plans and procedures among your staff
and facility staff. Practice fire drills and other emergency
11. Life-saving techniques. Determine whether
any meeting or facility staff members are certified to perform
life-saving techniques such as CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. For
large events, retain emergency medical staff.
12. Education. Be sure your staff is familiar
with and understands the crisis management plan. If this sounds
like a lot of work, that's because it is. And with any luck, you'll
never have to see the fruits of your labors. n
Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is
a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of
Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and
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