Flashback to Fall 2001, post-9/11, event organizers everywhere were clamoring for information on how to create an emergency preparedness/crisis communication plan. In just a few short months, the horror of 9/11 faded and other issues bubbled to the surface, as some plans were finalized, others halted midstream and yet others never started.
Fast forward to Las Vegas, October 2017, where, in the matter of 10 minutes, a gunman using 23 weapons fired more than 1,100 rounds of ammunition aimed at country music festival goers, killing 58 and injuring more than 800.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 60 percent of Americans are neither prepared nor practicing for disasters of any kind, be they natural or manmade. Certainly, event facilities and other public places, including hotels, have developed emergency plans. According to Reuters (Sept. 20, 2016), almost 80 percent of school districts nationwide have plans to prevent, control and help in the event of multiple kinds of emergencies, including active-shooter incidents.
Event organizers and other meeting professionals have a duty of care to ensure the safety and security of event participants. If you are among those who have yet to begin the planning process, start today. Start small and work up so you don’t become overwhelmed. Make your plan a living document that is constantly refreshed and rehearsed so it is an effective tool when emergencies happen.
RELATED STORY: Event safety tips from a meteorologist
Begin by Googling “emergency preparedness,” “crisis communications” and similar phrases—that will provide you with a plethora of samples, templates and guidelines. FEMA, OSHA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security also have materials you can implement immediately, including online classes that are free.
The process of creating an executable plan is not necessarily simple, but taking it one step at a time, you will become comfortable with creating this plan for your events.
Research and analysis are your first stop on the way to building a plan. Where is your event being held and when? Research the area for any potential threats—natural and manmade—to your event. The likelihood of an earthquake in Louisiana would be low as a threat potential, while a hurricane would be high. Is there political unrest in the city where your event will be held?
Risk management is defined as the identification, evaluation, analysis, mitigation, communication and monitoring of risks. In other words, what can go wrong, how can it go wrong and what can be done about it before it does?
4 phases of risk management
Risk management has four phases, and this is where analysis steps in. Plan for the most credible, worst-case scenarios. Start small and work up (slip and fall, medical emergency, strikes, boycotts, civil unrest, tornadoes, floods, bomb or terrorist threats/assaults and power/technology disruptions to name just a few).
Once you identify your most credible possibilities, determine what you will do to reduce or eliminate risk to life and property. Mitigation also includes various types of insurance your event may have that offers additional protections. (See image below.)
Prioritizing risks is part of your assessment process. Using a grid (example below) rank each risk to the event from insignificant to catastrophic.
Creating a risk probability chart provides a useful framework for deciding what risks need your consideration. When a risk is considered low impact and low probability, you can often ignore it. On the other end of the spectrum, a high-impact/high-probability risk is critically important.
Responding to an emergency also means a well-developed, rehearsed crisis communication plan. The U.S. government offers an excellent, detailed plan that you can adapt as your own. Download it.
The Essential Guide to Safety and Security: Best Practices for Meeting and Event Planning 2018 is free for MPI members, $49 for non-members and will coach you every step of the way.
The final phase, recovery, assumes the incident does not render the event unrecoverable and deals with the ability to restore the event after the crisis has passes. Consider, for example, bond trader Cantor Fitzgerald who occupied the top floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Because the company had a plan in place, and even though they lost 658 employees on 9/11/2001, they were able to immediately shift their functions to their Connecticut and London offices, where surviving traders began settling trades by telephone. Operations were resumed in two days, partly with the help of backups, software and computer systems.
Once you have conducted research and analysis, begin the planning process in six steps.
- Formulate a collaborative planning team
- Understand the situation
- Determine goals and objectives
- Develop the plan; identify courses of action
- Prepare the plan; obtain review and approval
- Implement the plan, rehearse it, maintain it and revise it
The safety and security of participants are the prime responsibility of the organization during an emergency. As situations develop and parameters of operability shift, organizations must provide a safe and secure environment for attendees, vendors and staff.
RELATED STORY: 8 essential event security details
And while you are in a risk-management frame of mind, why not also consider creating a plan for yourself and your loved ones.
Planning for protection
I asked a friend and colleague, Eric Rozenberg of Event Business Formula, for his views since he emigrated to the U.S. from Belgium for his family’s safety and security due to the explosion of antisemitism in Europe. In his words, “In an environment where danger exists, you cannot deny the reality to move. Lead, follow or get out of the way.” Eric went on to say that incidents can happen anywhere and at any time: “Preparedness is an attitude we must live by. Prepare your children without stressing them.” Keep a positive attitude. Even though Eric’s daughter was in school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and is safe, Eric’s attitude is that “despite the Parkland event, the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. Whether for business or for family, prepare yourselves and your family to defend themselves mentally and physically.” Rozenberg’s daughters were trained in Krav Maga (a form of self-defense and physical training first developed by the Israeli Defense Force) on the use of reflective responses to threatening situations. The first thing taught by Krav Maga is if you CAN run, run.”
Eric concludes that “preparedness is a mindset to enjoy life and be prepared. Prepare by training your brain muscle.” Sound advice for business and personal plans.