Global marketing expert and trade show specialist Jane Smallfield shares the following experience from one particularly “wet” event:
“As the rain came down in Dallas Texas, the water level inside the hotel basement rose and within a matter of hours, several hundred trade show stands, ours included, were six feet under water. It is something nobody could have foreseen and if it hadn’t been for small attention to detail, the entire experience would have been a write-off. Fortunately, I had asked the sales staff that was on-site to take a photo of the completed stand. It turned out to be the only evidence we had to prove that what we said was on the stand was actually there. The water damage was such that nothing was retrievable and no-one was allowed back into the site until a bulldozer had cleared it. We received a full payout from insurance but I know from the organizers that many didn’t.”
Some event planners may not have to deal with major emergencies in the span of their careers, but this doesn’t mean that emergency preparedness can be ignored.
As Murphy’s Law states, “anything can go wrong will go wrong” and event planners need to be equipped to best deal with these situations whenever and wherever they arise.
Disaster and emergency preparedness is a non-negotiable in event planning and management. This post will assume that there’s already a basic plan in place. The goal is to provide 3 tips on areas that might not be covered in a traditional emergency preparedness scope.
Here’s an overview:
1. Organize a Dedicated Management or Emergency Management Team
While it’s good to give an entire events team, a disaster and emergency preparedness briefing and training, the ideal way is to create a dedicated crisis management team that will step in during major incidents.
What could be classified as a major incident? Take the following as examples:
- A major scale stampede resulting in several injuries and casualties
- Major man-made and natural disasters such as a big earthquake or a major fire
Event staff will be the first responders during these unexpected scenarios. However, a dedicated crisis management team elevates an organization’s disaster preparedness to a different level. Instead of having crisis management on top of their responsibilities during the event, a dedicated crisis team is laser-focused on just making sure that a crisis plan will be executed seamlessly when needed.
A crisis management team would be a skeletal or scaled down version resembling the workforce involved in an organization’s day-to-day operations, plus the specific disaster management functions. If and when a crisis happens, this team will be activated and serve as the mission control orchestrating the different elements of crisis management.
Here’s an example:
This is by no means a complete crisis management team structure, but it gives event managers an idea of what a dedicated crisis management team can look like.
2. Create an Emergency Data Security Plan
Meetings, conventions, conferences, trade shows, and other events are data hotspots. The volume of data — some of which are personal, sensitive, and confidential — collected during events is increasing as more organizations become more data-driven.
That said, it is up to event managers to make sure that all data collected during these events are secured even during emergencies.
- Go paperless. A physical copy of data (i.e. printed documents) is vulnerable to damage, getting lost, and other security loopholes. In the midst of chaos, it’s going to be difficult for event staff to collate everything. Switching to a paperless form of data collection is a simple method to protect event information during emergencies.
- Make sure portable devices are password protected. Switching to paperless data collection would entail the use of portable digital devices such as tablet computers. All devices should be password protected so information cannot be accessed in case the device is stolen or lost due to an emergency.
- Enable remote access. As a failsafe measure, organizations can use a cloud-based data collection system that can be accessed remotely. In the case of an emergency, all access to the data collected during an event can be terminated remotely from a different location.
The recent implementation of the GDPR has made event managers rethink how they obtain and secure the data they collect during events. Now that disaster preparedness is in the mix, event managers should once again assess whether the current data security protocols they have cover emergency situations.
3. Develop a Full External Communications Plan
There’s no sugar-coating it.
Disasters make attention-grabbing headlines. The bigger the disaster, the more controversial the news.
Major event disasters and emergencies will attract major media attention. One of the things that could make matters worse is when there are multiple spokespersons feeding the media contradicting information.
This is an often neglected aspect of event crisis management. Event planners don’t really expect, or foresee, to find themselves in the middle of a major crisis that attracts major media coverage.
Until, of course, they do and it’s too late to put together a contingency plan.
Developing a fully realized external communications plan may seem like luxury more than a necessity. On the other hand, it’s better to have it ready to be deployed if needed as opposed to coming up with a communication plan on the fly.
Some basic elements to include:
- Identifying who the primary spokesperson is
- Creating press release/public statement templates that can be filled in with specific incident information
- A plan on setting up a media center
- Identifying “friendly media” or allies in the press that you can grant exclusives to
- A time in motion plan on when certain information should be released to the press
Most organizations prepare an extensive external communication plan to promote their events, why not do the same for crisis management?
On Top of a Basic Crisis Management Plan
Again, the ideas above are supposed to bolster an existing crisis management plan covering some of the most overlooked areas beyond the obvious areas of concern. However, event managers without a basic crisis management plan in place are advised to do that first.
That said, these ideas may not be included in the mandatory emergency and disaster preparedness strategies, but prove to be valuable when implemented.