Sylvia Ratchford, Executive Director of the Hinman Dental Society was busily running their 20,000 person event in late March at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta when tornado sirens went off. In addition, on that same day, there was a consumer trade show and basketball tournament in the nearby Georgia Dome. "In all, there were probably about 50,000 people in the meetings corridor when the storm hit," Ratchford said. "We had no warning whatsoever."
Another crisis occurred last May when major flooding shut down the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center for several months. The staff with Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) was left without a meeting venue for 5,000 people just 6 weeks before their event. "I have been doing meeting planning for over 20 years and I never thought I would face this kind of challenge -- moving a meeting in just 6 weeks," said Angela Orlando, CMP, Director, Conferences and Travel.
Both of these situations came out with a happy ending. Atlanta's tornado didn't touch down and destroy property or persons and HFMA was able to move their meeting to Las Vegas with minimal impact on the attendee.
But what about you? Are you prepared for blizzards, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or other disasters? Association meetings are at particular risk because they typically have:
- A large group of attendees (5,000 to 50,000)
- Many who come from areas other than the host location
- The meeting is at a convention center with large space and little to no windows.
- All event meeting services organizations MUST have event cancellation insurance. Especially for a large event, it has to be included. Think of it like your homeowners policy. You don't like to pay it, but it must be done.
- Create a crisis team, including a lot of different partners. Have your staff, the hotel, convention center, CVB, and the company you rent audio visual equipment from involved. This will generate a lot of discussion and protect your event and attendees from all angles.
- Develop a written crisis plan that all team members carry throughout the event. It may be that one of the partner's already has a written plan and it will just require editing it slightly. Whatever the case, make certain it is written on paper and have binders available for everyone to access.
- Communicate your plan to all local agencies including the fire, police, and EMS departments. Let them know how many attendees you have at the convention center, what hotels attendees are staying at, and where the group events will be happening in the evening hours (if applicable).
- Inform the meeting attendees about proper emergency information. Have kiosk rentals in the convention hallways or hotel lobbies to inform attendees of emergency contact numbers. Rent Tablet PCs and put the convention center schematic, emergency information, and shelter locations on the tablet.