“One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”
Arnold H. Glasow
I’ve been doing special events for the federal government for more than 30 years, and I don’t have a risk-management plan in writing. Nor have I ever asked for a venue’s risk-management plan. Call me naïve? Perhaps since I work for a law enforcement agency, I thought that whatever happened, someone could fix. I always had a plan “in my head,” so what if I was a casualty and my mental plan was inaccessible?
On June 19, I was in Nashville for a trade show at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. At about 8 p.m. there was an explosion in the hotel, which authorities confirmed was mechanical in nature.
My group was returning from dinner, and when we arrived amid numerous fire, police, and other emergency vehicles and personnel, I was immediately impressed by the calm. Guests were milling around, chatting with other guests, wondering what had happened, how long we would be out of the hotel, etc. There were no signs of panic; the group was controlled and just seemed curious. I heard no mention of terrorism or bombs.
The hotel (almost 3,000 rooms) had been evacuated. This was no small feat. Every member of the hotel staff that I encountered was prepared. Soon after the evacuation, Opryland personnel began distributing bottles of water and assuring us that we could return to our rooms as soon as the hotel had been inspected and deemed safe.
Since I was the point of contact for my agency’s attendees, I emailed and asked everyone to report back on their status. Everyone was safely out of the hotel.
About 10:30 p.m., hotel personnel gave out more bottled water and nut bread, followed by sandwiches, chips and fruit, always accompanied by words of assurance.
About 1:30 a.m., they told us they were opening the Grand Ole Opry House, where we could sit or stretch out. They provided shuttle buses and gave out blankets, food, water, etc.
My group decided to relax in our own van. About an hour later I was asked to check on our attendees at the Opry House. It was quite a sight — carts with blankets, towels, food and water. It was quiet and calm; people were stretched out or sitting up, wrapped in blankets, many sleeping.
About 3:30 a.m. we were allowed back into the hotel. Opryland personnel were at the entrances, directing us to the closest stairwell and promising us that the elevators would soon be up and running.
I had two hours of sleep before I had to catch my plane home. As I walked toward the front desk to check out, I noticed hotel personnel going about their business as usual. They gave no clue that anything had happened. At checkout, I was told there would be no charge for the previous night’s stay and that breakfast was being provided for all guests.
No injuries were reported, but the structural damage has been estimated at $750,000.
Amazing! This situation was handled in the most amazing way. The hotel’s personnel were always professional, informative and calm while taking care of guests. As a direct result, the guests also were calm and cooperative.
I wondered if the Gaylord Opryland was so well prepared because of the floods that occurred two years ago, but I suspect they were as efficient and effective then as well. In an email with Gaylord’s housing manager, she said, “I have been here for 15 years and through two evacuations now. I can say that I am proud to work with great folks. We all seem to come together in stressful times, no matter what the cause. I am sorry that it happened to you nonetheless, and so glad everyone was safe!”
I’m a believer. I’m writing my risk-management plan now, and you can bet that for my next event, I’ll ask for the venue’s risk management plan in advance.