The Intersection

The Crisis Experience

If a crisis occurs, did you plan for the worst?

There are a variety of crises that can occur at a meeting — something as serious as an active shooter situation or as silly as a skunk wandering into a convention center floor. Bob Mellinger, founder and CEO of Attainium, encountered the latter during his time working with clients on crisis preparedness. But regardless of the scale or gravity of the crisis, “a lot of people don’t think about it when they should,” Mellinger says in the latest video for The Intersection, presented by PCMA and PSAV.

When approaching emergency preparedness, meeting planners should first get to know the venue of the event they are planning, according to Mellinger. “I think the venue and their ability to deal with a crisis, and your comfort in their ability to deal with a crisis,” Mellinger says, “is the most important.”

A key aspect of getting to know the venue is learning the chain of command in communications. Planners should know who to contact first and where to meet in the event of weather-, accident-, or security-related disruptions. In many cases, Mellinger believes venues will ask planners to contact the building’s security before dialing 9-1-1.

“Who better to know how to get emergency responders in here than the venue, versus you calling [9-1-1] and saying, ‘Hi, there’s something going on at the convention center. I don’t really know where I am and I don’t know what door to tell you to come into’ — whereas security will be right on it,” Mellinger explains.

Although venues will have some emergency plans in place, Mellinger cautions against relying too heavily on their plans without additionally drafting your own event-specific plans.“I’m not comfortable pushing it all off [on venues],” Mellinger says. “I think you need to understand where one circle ends and another circle begins.”

In his decades spent in the event management industry, Michael Owen agrees that emergency plans must be a “living document” unique to each event. “It has to be something that is done thoughtfully. It’s not a policy. It’s not a like green policy that you can set and think, ‘Oh, great, we have an emergency policy.’ It’s part of the planning process,” explains Owen, managing partner at EventGenuity.

Owen often finds that planners draft crisis plans and then leave them tucked away. “There’s not a lot of emphasis on updating or adapting a plan for an invididual property,” Owen says. Like Mellinger, he feels it is important for planners to take responsibility for certain aspects of emergency planning, instead of relying solely on the venue. “A building could have a very robust, well thought out, well designed emergency plan, but without a certain amount of coordination,” Owen says.

When EventGenuity works with clients to create an emergency plan, they approach potential crises “from top to bottom,” Owen says. “That goes from everything from a slip-and-fall to an unruly guest who maybe over-imbibes, all the way up to the spectrum of active shooters. We forget about things that, while they won’t have the impact of something like an active shooter, they are far more likely to happen.”

Owen reminds meeting planners not to fret over tackling crisis preparedness, as it’s not so different from their everyday work. “The process of emergency planning is not dramatically different than the process of meeting event planning,” Owen says. “Any of us who are experienced in this space understand that, no matter how thorough we are, how thick our event bible is, that no matter what we do, that when the event is in progress, stuff happens that you didn’t plan for.”

TIPS ON CRISIS PREPAREDNESS:

1. Know who to call and how to reach them when a disruption or disaster unfolds.

2. Follow the chain of command as the crisis unfolds.

3. Keep abreast of changing technologies in managing safety at your event.

4. Learn from what has happened at other venues and integrate their solutions into your playbook.

Watch the latest video from The Intersection.

Casey Gale

Casey Gale is associate editor of Convene.