August 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio August 1998 Current Issue
August 1998 Jonathan HowePLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner


How to Plan for Disaster

Twelve critical steps for coping with mid-meeting crises

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 references.

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 alleged negligence.

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 evacuation procedures.

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 hospitality law.

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