Today, with the sometimes unpredictable nature of travel, unstable political climates and increasing demands from a preparedness perspective, the topic of crisis management appears more and more within organizations planning meetings and events. As the industry and world changes, these conversations need to shift as well.
In the world of meetings and events, refusing to consider the elements of change in the 21st century can have unwanted consequences. Crises can arise both internally and externally and may have everything or nothing to do with the organization you are representing; but can affect you and your team regardless.
How to Prepare for Crisis Management
In this article, we provide best practices for how to prepare for and deal with a crisis situation, if and when one should arise. We'll explore other shifts that need to be considered and who you'll need to work with to ensure comprehensive crisis management.
Create a thorough crisis management plan
A thorough plan should specify any and all rules that need to be followed and consider a wide variety of possible crisis scenarios and responses. If you work for a large organization, your HR department has most likely already considered and formulated rules around a number of issues any Crisis Communication Plan should detail.
You should know what policies you need to stick by and which ones are flexible. For instance, what is your company’s medication policy? Is it okay to act in opposition to that policy in any environment? Most company’s HR departments clearly state that it’s unacceptable to share or dispense OTC medication to a fellow employee. In today’s litigious climate there may be legal consequences if someone we’ve shared medication with has an adverse reaction. You need to be sure that your plan’s rules and policies are clear and communicated effectively to avoid unnecessarily creating a new crisis.
For a specific program in a specific location, you’ll need to adapt your plan to cover the distinctions of that destination and client. Details will shift from program to program.
• What resources does the location have to deal with an incident?
• What are the closest medical facilities, what are their hours of operation and what types of payment do they accept?
• Where is the closest embassy and how can you contact them?
Commit to good communication with teams and attendees
Communication is key to effective crisis management. Begin by discussing the plan and its contingencies with your team and client well in advance of the event. Agree on the details along with roles and responsibilities for each team member during a potential situation. Ensure this is clearly documented in your on-site materials.
Often, a client will have their own internal protocols and procedures that need to be followed in case of an emergency. This by no means alleviates the need to develop and discuss your own plan, but it does necessitate a discussion to determine whose plan will take precedence on-site and whether that plan needs to be enhanced with elements from each.
Also, discuss the importance of communication, decision making, following the plan and documentation in any crisis scenario with your program partners. These include hotels, DMCs, travel directors and event venues. Discuss any and all relevant details of your plan with your program partners to ensure everyone knows what you expect and who will be involved in making critical decisions.
Technology use during a crisis
Determine how technology can support your communication efforts in crisis management. Plan to utilize the event app, texting and other options. But, also consider what happens if you find yourself unable to rely on technology because of a crisis. How will you communicate with your program participants if this happens? In the event of a crisis you may need to communicate regularly with attendees and their emergency contacts. Remember to always have a paper copy of their contact information in case you can’t access it electronically.
Establish a clear chain of command
Most companies have a tiered plan detailing decision making and communication escalation in case of an emergency. It needs to be clear and agreed upon as to who needs to be involved in any incident’s resolution and who is responsible for contacting the necessary decision makers. This is a standard approach to the command, control and coordination of emergency responses, and it is especially important to have this clearly established on-site. It provides clarity of command, allowing your staff
to operate in an organized and effective way, and it ensures that everyone who needs to be involved in making a decision is recognized.
Also, your program partners should know who to contact first within your team in case of an emergency. A program pre-con is a great time to share these details again with your operational partners. Will your client have their own on-site security team at your meeting? If so, make sure to clearly establish their place in the chain of command. Also, be sure to determine what situations their security team will handle and what situations your team will need to handle.
Collect necessary information and documentation
If you need to communicate with your attendees during an incident, then it is critical that you have collected and confirmed their contact information and their emergency contact’s information. It’s also recommended to collect any pertinent international travel document information, like passport details. These might be important if you have the type of crisis that causes you to contact a country’s embassy.
For international travel, consider recommending that attendees purchase travel insurance if their company doesn’t provide it. A small investment can provide significant coverage. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the cost of medical evacuation back to the U.S. alone can reach six figures. Make sure that you have a copy of your client’s valid corporate liability and insurance documents.
Collecting and documenting accurate information during any incident is key to protecting yourself legally. Create an easily accessible incident response form and have relevant team members complete it together, including any updates or resolutions that may come after the initial incident has passed. Share this form with other pertinent parties, like your management team and possibly your legal team. And if possible, collect copies of any and all other incident reports that were filled out by your program partners.
After the program has concluded, you’ll want to debrief as a team on any incidents that occurred. Having clear and accurate paperwork to discuss these issues is essential to reviewing them and learning from the event.
As individuals and companies who are passionate about helping to plan and create meaningful experiences and events, we certainly want to avoid the possibility that anything out of our control may impact our investment and attendee experience. Expectations have shifted and so have the consequences of being unprepared. So we must plan ahead to respond effectively to crisis.