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Definition and Development of a Crisis Management Plan

A Crisis Management Plan (sometimes referred to as an Emergency Preparedness Plan) is a document that identifies and assesses potential risks, defines the processes and best practices an organization will use to respond to critical situations, and provides guidance and information to staff to help mitigate risk. The plan should:

  • Identify a comprehensive list of natural and/or man-made catastrophic situations (those that might occur to those more likely to occur), that may endanger the lives of meeting attendees with separate plans of action for each circumstance and level of need.

  • Lower risk: Immediate evacuation - quick resolution and return.

  • High risk: Immediate evacuation with need for sheltering in place and/or a command center.

  • Provide a general understanding of the roles and responsibilities of on-site staff.

  • Include a communication plan that addresses how guests are notified of an impending or immediate threat and/or the conclusion of, and the procedure for informing family members or other designees of injury or loss of life.

A natural disaster would/could stem from: hurricanes; tornadoes; snow storms – causing airport closings or flight delays, early departures or extended stays.

Man-made disasters would/could be: smoke detectors going off during preparation of flaming desserts; power outages; sprinkler system malfunctions – causing short-term disturbances.

Premeditated disasters would/could be: terrorist-type attacks -- with intent to cause serious bodily injury or loss of life.

If you do not currently have a Crisis Management Plan in place, I would suggest establishing a task force of both internal staff and external professionals with the express purpose of coming up with a strategic plan for review and approval by your company’s leadership team.

Internally, I would most definitely start with Corporate Security, and then look at representation from Legal, Procurement, HR, Risk Management and, of course, Event Management. Outside counsel should include city, county, state and/or federal fire and law enforcement leaders.

I would also seek the counsel of your local Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (and/or their related counterparts outside of the U.S). They are destination experts and have key contacts with city, county and state authorities you may need to partner with.

I am not an expert by any means on crisis management so encourage you to seek out those that truly are to help you develop your plan. Since 9/11 and with the ongoing turmoil we continue to experience nationally and internationally, increasing attention has been given to this subject and deservedly so. There is much to learn and be aware of. At the very least as you plan your events, you’ll want to give consideration to the following.

  • Potential natural and man-made critical situations, disruptions and/or disasters that the meeting venues and destinations you’ve chosen are subject to and the steps you can take to mitigate risk for each.

  • Security threat level of the destinations under consideration if you haven’t yet confirmed a final location. Most recent and the seriousness of incidents they’ve experienced.

  • A communication plan to notify staff and meeting attendees of impending or immediate threat and/or the conclusion of, the communication tools to be used, and the chain of command for communicating.

  • Draft copies of communication announcements for each disaster scenario in advance. (You do not want to be making this up as you go in a middle of a crisis.)

  • Know and understand a venue’s protocol for handling each situation; who communicates what to whom and how it is communicated. Who gives the “all clear” and/or updates on an existing emergency.

A few other things to consider when looking at a destination location and/or venue to help insure you are covering your bases to minimize the risk and make informed decisions:

  • Location of the closest and best medical clinic and hospital to the meeting venue.

  • Weather considerations for the destination under consideration or contract based on the time of your program. (For example, when is hurricane season?)

  • Level of crime in the city or immediate area.

  • How exits/entrances are monitored and by whom.

  • How exterior perimeter areas (parking areas, swimming pools, for instance) are monitored and by whom.

  • Is the venue equipped with portable defibrillators? How many do they have, where are they located, how are they maintained, who is certified to use the equipment?

  • Location of all emergency exits.

  • Access for EMS or first responders.

  • Venue’s relationship with their staff: union disputes; recent or pending layoffs that could provide security risks to your guests.

  • Relationship between venue and local fire, first responders and police. How often they visit. How acquainted they are with the venue.

  • Are hotel security employees or contractors? Are they first aid, CPR and AED certified?

  • Type and level of training Guest Services and front line staff go through and how often.

  • How often does the venue conduct threat and vulnerability assessments? How often are policies reviewed and practiced?

  • What is the procedure for handling crowd control?

  • Is the venue state safety certified?

During an event everyone on your team needs to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times. If they see something that looks/feels wrong, they need to say something, do something.

Again, I am not an expert in Crisis Management, have never written a Crisis Management Plan but others are and have and I would encourage you to seek them out.

I can only tell you what I’ve learned through workshops and reading, conducting site inspections and being on-site for many, many meetings having keyed in on the bullet points highlighted in this article in an effort to raise awareness in others.

I would recommend you look to professional organizations such as MPI and PCMA, two of my all-time go-to sources for all things meeting planning for information on their best practices when it comes to creating your company’s actual Crisis Management Plan.

There are also risk management/security experts and government agencies that are well versed in this subject (and I will gladly update this article to reflect their names and organizations if they’d like).

Mary Jo Wiseman, CMP | Author, “The Meeting Planning Process: A Guide to Planning Successful Meetings.”

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