RISK & DISASTER: If You’re Not Prepared…You’re Risking Everything!!!!

Have you ever been at a meeting or event and a natural disaster has struck?  Has your conference ever been attacked by terrorists?  Have you ever had a fire break out?  Has your client’s proprietary information been stolen during a meeting you were producing?  If you’re saying no….then trust me, it’s only a matter of time in this day and age.


It can seem like a mind numbing topic, but it’s one that is extremely important.  It’s so easy to get complacent, but now is NOT the time to do it.   Risk assessment is a key part of planning any event, meeting or conference.  While easily over looked and often pooh-poohed as unnecessary since there can be cost associated with it, when disaster strikes…you will be regretful if you don’t spend some extra time assessing the risk and putting together a management plan in case something catastrophic happens.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind as you assess the risk of each event, meeting and conference you plan.  These next questions are just the beginning of a long list we all should be asking ourselves before every function we plan.

  1. How high profile is your meeting?  Who are the attendees and speakers?
  2. Do any of the speakers have personal situations that might heighten risk?  Ie.) a military leader, controversial speaker, etc.
  3. How much media coverage is the meeting going to generate? This one should be a red flag for any planner.  Risk goes up substantially with high profile or controversial events. (think about the G-8 Summit over the years).
  4. What health issues may come to the forefront?  Is there an outbreak of bird flu or   whooping cough that is presenting itself in the region or country you are in? Providing a healthy environment is an integral part of risk assessment and management.  Have you ever been to a conference where some mysterious illness spreads like wildfire through a convention?  I have and I was in another country.  To say it was concerning is an understatement.  I was thankful to make my flight and not be quarantined for days.
  5. Are there going to be proprietary unveilings at the meeting? What steps do you take to prevent corporate theft?

Of course, these are just the beginning of one very big topic.   Here are some questions to ask yourself as you think about how well you are currently prepared to stare risk in the face.

  1. Have you checked the facilities evacuation plans and procedures?  Have you communicated them to your attendees and key personnel?  Does everyone have an assigned role in case of emergency? 


  1. How will you control access to the meeting or event? Can people register on site?  If there are high-profile speakers present (say for instance a past President) have they cleared security?  Do they require Secret Service clearance?  Are there extra security precautions that need to be considered in the production elements (ie.) bullet proof glass)?    Can everyone on your staff pass a security clearance?  There are a lot of questions to be answered when dealing with high profile VIP’s. 


  1. Do your vendors have adequate experience, training and experience to deal with an emergency?  What happens if a rigged truss tower falls on a guest?  Do your vendors all have insurance in force?   How big of a risk is the design of the event?  Are there safety hazards to the general attendee?


  1. What if a tornado hits?  Do you have a plan?  Who’s in charge?  Is there a space to adequately get people out of harm’s way?  Do you have local emergency numbers?  911 is not enough!  Where’s the nearest hospital?  Do you have EMT’s on site?  Where’s the local police station?

Shoulda, woulda, coulda isn’t going to fly in any disastrous circumstance.  The only thing that works is preparedness, training and giving RISK, the attention it deserves.  I know, I know…we’ve been talking about a lot of things lately that require preparation but this is not an area you want to skimp on. 

So how can you prepare?   Conduct emergency training sessions that address the most common types of threat.  Be aware of all threats that may exist in whatever city, state or country you are in.  Whether your event is on the beach in Miami during hurricane season, or a past POTUS is speaking at your function, there is an inherent risk that needs to be planned for.  Political unrest and economy performance can greatly increase the risk of disaster – what’s going on in the country you are in?  Being aware and well informed of possible situations that could possibly arise during the time your event is going on can go a long way in getting you on the road to preparedness.  On a personal note, I remember being at a Lakers game when the Rodney King verdicts were issued many years ago.  Riots broke out and the crisis management teams not only at the Great Western Forum, but around the City of Los Angeles, had their hands full.  When we arrived at the game all was peaceful…after the game, chaos reigned.  I often wondered what their management plan was since no instructions were given besides leaving from a different exit because there was rioting.  The short announcement ended with be safe.  My friend and I had to literally duck and cover and crawl several times before we made it to the car.  I saw people beaten, fires being started, bottles being thrown, and cars driving the wrong way down the street.  Looting was rampant.  We were on our own.  It was truly terrifying.  You just NEVER know what’s going to happen, so preparation may be the only thing that will see you through. 

So YOU have a great plan.  What about your staff?  Are they trained and ready? Do they know how to effectively implement a disaster response?  The success of any plan is only as good as the people that execute it.  What-if scenarios are quickly becoming when-it-happens scenarios.   From natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes to god forbid a terrorist attack to the less adrenaline rushing disasters of corporate theft, risk assessment and management/response are key factors in responsibly planning and executing an event.    

There are so many ways to get training that are low cost or free.  From community CERT programs (while they are not specific to events and meetings specifically) to having a professional come to your office and do a training seminar, there is absolutely no reason to not spend the time making sure your company is not prepared.  In fact, your life and the life of your staff and guests may depend on it. 

These are just my thoughts…big, fat, unpleasant, yet important thoughts.


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