Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

April 21 2014

A Risk Management Resource For Your Next Meeting

By David McMillin

When the Boston Marathon bombings occurred on April 15, 2013, the chaos and concerns at the finish line spread across the country as Americans struggled to understand how a terrorist attack had occurred during such a joyous occasion. The meetings industry felt the same overwhelming sense of despair as the Hynes Convention Center and nearby hotels were evacuated in the minutes following the bombings. The Ambulatory Surgery Center Association was in the midst of gearing up for its annual meeting at the Hynes, which was set to begin just two days after the tragedy.

“We weren’t prepared,” Bill Prentice, CEO, ASCA, told attendees at PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2014. “We did not have a plan in place.”

SEE ALSO: Behind The Scenes In Boston

Of course, Prentice (pictured above - second from right) and ASCA aren’t alone. While crisis management is an essential piece of effective meeting management, many organizations still lack a concrete plan. That’s why PCMA is unveiling a new customizable emergency action plan. The template is designed to offer meeting planners a step-by-step approach to dealing with the unthinkable and the unexpected.

“As meeting planners, we spend an incredible amount of time creating the perfect program that we want attendees to enjoy,” Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP, Senior Vice President, Education and Events, PCMA, says. “However, that program can be interrupted by a number of variables. Unfortunately, the Boston Marathon tragedy reminds us that a worst-case scenario can become a reality.”

“We developed this emergency action template to help meeting professionals think in advance, as well as on-site, about how to handle a variety of crisis situations at live events,” Peacy adds. “Developed with the assistance of several PCMA members, it’s a resource that delivers a set of recommended procedures to help make sure every staff member understands their responsibilities and every attendee is safe.”

SEE ALSO: Do You Have A Disaster Plan?

Shawn Bryant, Director of Meetings, ASCA, can attest to the need for organizational guidelines during a time of crisis.

“As a meeting planner you’re always worried about your staff, but it’s usually getting sick or falling,” Bryant told attendees at Convening Leaders.. “With something like this, I had no idea what to tell them to do.”

Bryant (pictured above - second from left) allowed his staff members to leave, but each of them had to check in every hour. In hindsight, Bryant wishes he would have kept everyone in one place. One of his staff members wound up locked in a store in the mall.

Outside of internal challenges, Bryant reflected on one of his biggest external hurdles.

“One of the hardest pieces was battling the misinformation from the media,” Bryant said. “That misinformation is one of the elements that I wish we had a better plan in place to alert attendees as to what was going on.”

Bryant credited Robert Noonan, Chief of Public Safety, Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, for his team’s help with educating their audience on what was happening on the ground in Boston.

“If you’re trying to develop a communications strategy during your event, it’s going to be difficult,” Noonan (pictured above, center) told attendees at Convening Leaders.

SEE ALSO: Is Your Emergency Plan Comprehensive?

From arranging a chain of communications to identifying a staff evacuation meeting point to making the decision to cancel a meeting and much more, the new emergency action template offers helpful advice for the key questions any planner could potentially face. Click here to download the template and adjust it to fit your meeting’s needs.

Interested in learning more about how the ASCA and the MCCA worked together as the events unfolded in Boston last April? Click here to watch the full OnDemand educational session, “Convene Live Presents: Crisis Management - The Boston Marathon Case Study.”



Please note that the emergency action plan template is designed to help you consider some of the essential details of crisis management. It is only a guide. Every organization is different. Be sure to review the unique qualities of your meeting and discuss your plan with your internal team.

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