Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

February 2014

Rethinking Risk

By Michelle Russell, Editor-in-Chief

And then we look at the risk associated with it at that point. We go through a specific decision tree in order to get to [the decision of whether] we pursue this or not.”

Robson also encourages meeting professionals to develop a framework they can use to evaluate the risk level of each element of an event. Moving into the part of the plan that deals with the on-site safety of attendees, Robson said, planners should take into account “all of the things that we can do to create a safe and secure environment. I always stress that there is no such thing as a risk-free environment. We can't make an environment risk-free, because we have people there and people are unpredictable. What we aim to do with risk management is to show due diligence to create a safe and secure environment as much as we can, [but] there are going to be things that happen that are beyond our control and they are beyond our imagining. What we want to do is be as thoughtful and diligent as we can pre-event, so that when something happens on site we can deal with it.”

Robson recommends that planners identify risks and use assessment models from other fields, such as insurance and criminal justice. “There are a variety of different types of risk-assessment models that you can use,” she said. “You can assign risks in terms of probability and consequence. We go to weather reports, for instance, and we look up the history of the weather in an area so that we can be more confident in our assessment of whether or not weather is going to be a risk [during a meeting] or what type of a risk it's going to be.”

Risks can be grouped together under categories, such as people, property, operations, legal, and ethical. After an assessment of risk level — high, medium, low — you would employ one of four strategies: avoid, retain, accept, or transfer. “Action plans are generally developed in such a way that they can apply to more than one type of risk manifesting [itself],” Robson said. “It's all of the proactive pieces that you [put in place]. So if you've created an action plan for a medical emergency, it will apply to any type of physical injury. It's the same process you would go through whether somebody had a heart attack or if they twisted an ankle.”


Lastly, if your risk-management plan is not well documented and well communicated, then “it doesn't matter how good it is,” Rob-son said. “If a risk manifests itself and something goes wrong [at your meeting] and you're sued and you're in a court of law, you [have to be able to] demonstrate due diligence. That’ s not necessarily to say that you're not responsible, but at the very least it offers you and your organization and the event some protection.”

An action plan has to include “something called ‘triggers,’ which are your indication that the risk is about to manifest itself,” Robson said. “Triggers are ways to either then be able to mitigate the risk before it manifests or to give you an early warning that it's going to happen and you're going to have to implement that action plan. It gives you that early warning system. The thing that I stress is that we have to have documentation. Event professionals are notoriously horrible at writing things down.” For much of the action plan, Robson said, checklists “are the way to go.”

From Robson's research and experience has come the realization that among the biggest risks to any event are planners themselves. “We're probably one of the biggest risks to the event that there is because, again, we're horrible at writing stuff down,” she said. “And so, great, we've got this fantastic risk-management plan” — but it all resides with one person. And that's too big a liability.

The challenge with developing a successful risk-management plan is “to be as inclusive” as possible. “What we tend to do is, we know what types of events we've done in the past, and so we tend to fall into a box of, okay, these are the risks,” Robson said. “We want to try to expand that thinking, and to pull ourselves out of our comfort zone and out of our comfort framework of thinking.”

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