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The Risk Factor

Posted on December 05, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

So far this we've talked about meeting design and demographics.  I'd talk about food and beverage, since it is always a major component of a meeting and can often set the tone. Alas, I am not an F&B guru and will leave that to Arlene Sheff, Patti Shock and others.  I will however address food and beverage - and other issues - in ways we don't consider often enough.

Let's say that you've planned an amazing meeting or event by taking into account the audience demographics, learning styles.  You've formatted the meeting to help everyone there learn in a way that suits them.   The food and beverage events are well planned to meet religious and other needs, and will provide some 'down' time for participants to talk among themselves v. listening to a speaker.

And then:

  • Someone overdrinks, catches her shoe on the edge of a dance floor, and goes flying, resulting in a concussion.
  • In plating up the meals in the kitchen, a utensil that had been used on a nut-encrusted entrée is used and the entrée causes a severe allergic reaction in a guest.
  • A power outage occurs, plunging the facility into darkness.
  • Sirens are sounded as the entire area is under advised of a tornado warning.

The list can go on and each of you reading this can add to the horrors that could occur.

After 11 September 2001, everyone in the world, and especially those in our industry and in the

United States

, became acutely aware of the degree of risk inherent in producing meetings.  We saw, on the MiForum Listserv (then called the MIMList), tremendous numbers of posts asking for help to create a crisis or contingency plan and seeking advice from those who had meetings in progress on that fateful day to provide insight.

Time passed; people moved on; our industry slacked off on its vigilance about risk.

Hurricane Katrina re-awakened us to the nightmares of what can happen when there is a lack of preparation for an entire region.  We saw meeting participants and other hotel guests spirited out of hotels in buses or vans, some commandeered by resourceful hotel personnel.  We saw a city dissolve into chaos because there was not sufficient help.  And we saw individuals, having been through similar warnings, ignore these new warnings, only to be caught off guard.

With each disaster, we became aware of how to manage that type of disaster. Seminars were held at industry meetings; articles proliferated in industry publications; awareness was heightened for a time and about specific types of incidents. 

The world has continued to see disasters - hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, mudslides, fires - and yet, many say "it won't happen at our meeting" or, worse, meeting planners suggest implementing plans and their bosses or clients say "Nothing has happened to us/our meeting before; we don't need to do anything differently."

I scratch my head in wonder and ask "What will it take for our industry to plan for all contingencies?"  As a speaker at both the California and the Arizona Tourism Safety & Security conferences, I interact with police, FBI, Homeland Security, and other personnel about what they are doing and what our industry could do.  I hope, each time I participate, that sales and services and GMs and meeting planners will attend along with the Directors of Security of hotels and venues.  And I continue to see a lack of interest ("too busy" they say) and an unwillingness to participate.

Will it take a major disaster in

Las Vegas

or another convention city before our industry wakes up?  Will it take more deaths that result from alcohol consumption before even the simplest of plans around drinking are put in place? 

I don't know.

I am grateful to Tyra Hilliard, JD, CMP, and others who are on the front lines of teaching these subjects.  I am indebted to Julia Rutherford Silvers, CSEP for writing a new book - Risk Management for Meetings and Events (currently available in the UK and available for pre-order in North America at amazon.com) that should be must reading for anyone who has even a little finger in the meeting planning and hosting 'pot.'

Until then, I'll keep my personal flashlights, bottled water, duct tape and other emergency supplies on my hotel room nightstand and in my conference bag.  If you're not ready to commit to planning and hosting safer meetings, perhaps its time to consider a new career.


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