Meeting Planning When the Unexpected is the New Norm

Posted by Beth Mauro on Feb 6, 2018 3:13:52 PM

Tie-down. Pre-con. Button-up. It’s the final meeting conducted to ensure that BEOs are updated, security briefed, and travel details finalized. That used to be enough to ensure a safe and successful meeting. Trouble simply wasn’t anticipated or invited. Sadly, the new world order no longer allows passivity. Current headlines tell us that the unthinkable is a tweet, viral video or act of violence away.

Weather, political rallies, insects, terrorists… they can all wreak havoc and produce waves of impact beyond the source location. And, they are all situations beyond our control. Understandably, nobody wants to be the doom and gloomer who brings the topic up. But when you plan on how you will respond to an emergency, all members of the team will feel empowered.

“Drill” when times are sane, ensuring that your entire team can snap into emergency management mode calmly and quickly, guaranteeing the safety of your staff and delegates.


Start with scenarios ripped from the headlines.

  • A rally escalates into violence when your group is onsite or about to arrive.
  • You are in a city on the opposite coast when a rally turns ugly and groups across the country, including your host city, conduct rallies in response.
  • Avian flu or Zika have been diagnosed in your host city. How do you ensure the health and safety of your participants?
  • A terrorist action or weather event in the U.S. or outside disrupts air travel when your staff members are overseas.

Brainstorm responses.

  • Identify multiple ways to communicate with attendees while they are in transit. Use your event app or a text messaging service to help you get the word out and distribute instructions quickly and cost effectively.
  • Work with the CVB, convention center, hotel personnel, security consultants and law enforcement in advance to learn their emergency response and communication plans.
  • Do your research online. The city or state department of health may have warnings and the CDC may have guidelines as well.
  • Ensure your insurance plans are updated and reviewed by a risk manager. Consider adding addendums on a case by case basis. You may not need Zika insurance in Alaska but if your June meeting is in a tropical locale that is a different story.
  • Review the Force Majeure clauses in your hotel and venue contracts, and research what happens if you need to activate them, particularly the timing of the response.
  • Know where your people are and how to check in on them, particularly when traveling overseas. Collect travel itineraries, phone numbers and personal emails. Work with a travel agent who will be able to quickly rearrange travel plans if necessary. Consider adding extra travel insurance to cover travel disruption.

Document the plan and make sure everyone knows it and understands it.

The recurring theme here is the need for a variety of communication channels before, during and after a crisis. Make sure your response plan is understood by the meeting staff and other travelers. Identify a point person who remains back in the home office to field inbound communications. Simply put, plan as if something will happen and hope that nothing does. Your pre-event planning is equivalent to carrying an umbrella. Hopefully it won’t rain, but if it does, you’ll be covered!

Beth Mauro confesses that she anticipates the worst, first. She has navigated union actions and bomb threats, attendee medical emergencies, a bird flu outbreak and traffic snarling snowstorms, each time gaining another insight into the ever growing list of (potential) crisis scenarios.

Topics: front row meetings & events, meeting management