Gather alternative contact information. Because government employees affected by the shutdown were unable to respond to emails to their government addresses, AMS had difficulties determining which speakers would and would not be able to present. The challenges continued on site, as some government workers paid their own way to the meeting, so they were present but unauthorized to present at their sessions.
“As our program chairs tried to fill all the holes in the schedule, communicating with presenters who had government email addresses was an ongoing challenge,” Gorski said. “We mostly communicated through the AMS community.” For the future, AMS is working to collect alternative email addresses for members, attendees, and speakers to avoid similar issues.
Use those apps. Both PAG and AMS had mobile apps in place for their events, which became crucial for communicating with attendees about the many schedule changes caused by government presenters who were unable to show. “Our printed program was useless,” Gorski said. “Our meeting app and website were updated continuously as sessions were changed. Meeting planners had to juggle their regular on-site work with constantly changing the schedule based on new information about which speakers were there and were or were not able to present.”
Rely on volunteers. A strong volunteer network helped rescue sessions that would otherwise have been canceled at both AMS and PAG, as non-government members and attendees stepped up to present and moderate sessions or judge student presentations. PAG workshop organizers shared via social media a link to a volunteer document where attendees could add their names and areas of expertise. Using that document, organizers were able to contact volunteer speakers to fill vacancies in the schedule.
Reconsider dates. After the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS) meeting was affected by the 2013 government shutdown when a number of FDA speakers had to cancel, planners have paid attention to the government’s fiscal year when scheduling the conference, said Heather Wakefield, senior manager of education and events at RAPS. (The accounting period for the federal government begins on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30. Fiscal year 2018 began on Oct. 1, 2017 and ended on Sept. 30 2018.) If rescheduling isn’t possible, “stay alert to the news and anticipate when this might impact you,” Wakefield said. “Create a communication and cancellation plan for unexpected events; we’ve had to use this kind of plan in the event of government shutdowns and weather events that have affected our event.”
Make backup plans. If attendees will be visiting government-operated attractions such as a national park, it’s a good idea to have an alternate excursion in mind. For instance, although some national parks and monuments have remained open (but unstaffed) during the most recent shutdown, news outlets have reported health hazards such as mounting trash bins and overflowing toilets.
If speakers include professionals from government agencies, give a heads up to non-government presenters that you may need their help to cover additional sessions. For instance, many scientific meetings include poster presentations, or posters that detail research for attendees to view but don’t include an oral presentation. In the future, Gorski intends to make contingency plans for poster presenters to be prepared to “switch over to oral presentations if needed,” she said.