Meeting planners often talk about all the positive aspects of meeting planning, but what about the risks involved?
Why do you think risk management is key to the industry, yet often overlooked?
Risk management ensures that a planner has taken steps to identify and adequately prepare for any emergency and security situation that might arise and is able to execute a plan to ensure the safety of his or her attendees and the success of the meeting or event. The various risks can include fire, torrential weather that could result in injuries to crew and guests, threat of protestors that can potentially turn into a violent ruckus, terrorism and bomb threats, medical emergency, vandalism and even the worse-case scenario of a mass shooting by a deranged gunman. It’s planning for the unknown and establishing a set of policies and protocol to handle these various situations—from knowing all emergency exit routes to understanding the venue’s own security measures to alerting law enforcement in advance, especially in the case of controversial speakers or the [controversial] nature of the conference, where the threat of protest or civil unrest might be an issue.
I believe risk management is often overlooked for a few reasons. “These situations only happen to others, but we’ve always been successful.” “It’s a fluke so why invest in the time and resources?” “It’s only a local or regional conference.” “It’s the venue’s responsibility to make sure our guests are secure.” The list goes on. That said, none of these reasons justify why a planner shouldn’t invest time and resources in creating his or her own risk-assessment analysis and establish an emergency plan. Risk assessment can also be included when developing the SWOT Analysis by identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. After all, Murphy’s Law does exist.
How have your company’s risk-management policies changed over time?
Our risk-management policies continue to change as events unfold each day throughout the world. Who would have thought 10 years ago someone would enter a private venue and hold people hostage or a terrorist extremist and suicide bomber could be one of your meeting attendees? The plan is constantly refined and evolves based on internal and external events that affect our society that are beyond our control.
What event crises (if any) have you faced that required you to re-evaluate your company’s risk-management policies?
Without a doubt, the worst event crisis we faced that required us to re-evaluate our company’s risk-management policy was a bomb threat. It was not to be taken lightly, and we worked with local law enforcement and appropriate agencies to ensure the safety of attendees.
Another event crisis we faced was the threat of protestors. We were aware of the situation and actually created a barrier situation outside of the venue, where the protestors could peacefully congregate, while providing a safe and secure environment for our attendees. By taking proactive steps, a win-win situation was created. I think if we ignored the risk or attempted to clamp down on the protestors, it could have resulted in an unruly situation.
What are key tips you have to meeting planners putting together their own risk-management policies?
Foremost, plan for the worst-case scenarios. Allow for members of your production team to provide input into your risk-management policies. It’s also advised to get input from law enforcement, security, trusted colleagues and from those venues where you are hosting meetings and events.
Once the risk-management policy is in place, communicate it to your entire team and establish a clear chain of command for it’s execution in case of an emergency. Chaos and confusion on the spot is something you will want to avoid. Stay calm!