Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 26 2012

Do You Have a Disaster Plan?

By David McMillin, Staff Writer

By now, you've probably heard the news: Hurricane Isaac barreled down on Tampa, Florida just prior to the GOP's most important four days in the past four years. 

The Republican National Convention was scheduled to have a full day of programming yesterday. Instead, RNC organizers spent Monday scrambling to prepare for Isaac to potentially make landfall in their host city of Tampa Bay. The situation highlights one of the most important questions for meeting planners: are you prepared for an emergency? 

Communication is Key
If you find yourself watching the unexpected unfold, chances are your attendees are doing the same. Have a plan in place to keep them aware of any changes. 

"Make sure everyone in your organization knows the chain of communication," Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP, senior vice president, education and meetings, PCMA, says. 

Peacy recommends having one central stream of communication run by one person to ensure that all messaging is consistent. In addition to displaying regular updates on your website, those updates should also reach across all of your social media channels. 

"These don't have to be long updates," Peacy says. "They just need to keep everyone informed as the situation develops."

Know Your Programming Priorities
Currently, organizers in Tampa are planning to condense the convention from four days into three, which brings up an obvious question: what gets cut from the program? For association and corporate planners who have faced this question, Peacy says it's crucial to consider if an organization's bylaws require that certain elements be covered. 

"Focus on the must-haves instead of the nice-to-haves," Peacy says. "For example, in many organizations, there must be an on-site business session."

Once you've checked off those must-haves, Peacy recommends moving on to the next most pressing question: what did you spend your money on? If your speakers have any degree of scheduling flexibility, Peacy recommends asking to move their appearances to a time when the majority of meeting participants will be able to attend.

Peacy adds that this can be a beneficial exercise for planners to conduct well in advance of any potential crisis. Recognizing the most critical pieces of your meeting can provide a useful perspective when budgeting for the future.

Extending Your Program
GOP sources have told news providers that convention organizers are weighing the option of adding another day to the program.

"The first question you must answer is whether you can actually have the facility for another day," Peacy says. "There may be another group moving in immediately after yours."

"You'll want to consider your room block, too," Peacy adds. "If hotels are booked, staying any longer may not be possible."

With a convention like the RNC, extending the schedule with such short notice can be very challenging. Organizers expect more than 50,000 people to visit Tampa Bay this week. With so many attendees flying to Florida, adjusting travel will not be easy.

Cause for Cancellation
It's an unspoken word for planners everywhere: cancellation. While calling off your big meeting is clearly a last resort for any organization, all organizers must be willing to recognize if you should tell attendees to stay home.

"While cancelling an event is the last thing any organization wants to do, the meeting participants’ health and safety is always of primary focus and concern. Careful risk analysis prior to an event and the subsequent risk planning that occurs as a result should assist organizations in making these types of cancellation decisions," Peacy says.

In the RNC's case, that answer isn't as easy as knowing when the rain stops. The potential for serious flooding after the storm had organizers concerned about potential damages to bridges in Tampa Bay, which could have had a dramatic impact on transportation from Gulf side hotels to the Tampa Bay Times Forum. 

Additional Resources
Convening Leaders session: Risk Management in Uncertain Times
Same Venue, New Menu
Always Prepared
High Water Mark
Cruise Conferences in the Wake of the Costa Concordia Accident

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