As professional planners we have a moral and legal responsibility to be proactive rather than reactive with regard to anticipating risks and preparing emergency response plans. This has always been the case, although for many in our industry, contingency planning rarely advances beyond the theoretical. The naїveté, dumb luck, and “it can't happen to me” attitude that prevailed before September 11 was dangerous then and is unacceptable now.
We don't like to think about these things, nor do we want to alarm our attendees, but more than ever, we must recognize our responsibility to effectively safeguard their health, safety, and well-being while on site. This requires adequate preparation and more detailed information than we usually request on registration forms.
The days are past when merely enquiring about an attendee's preferences is sufficient. By law, we must accommodate the variety of special needs covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is now routine to enquire about and accommodate a plethora of dietary requirements that go far beyond common food allergies or keeping kosher. For the most part, this information is freely given when requested. But what about information that may be considered private or even privileged? If you are an attendee and you are asked to provide information about your medical history and current health status, how will you react?
Several years ago one of our attendees collapsed in a hotel elevator and was rushed unconscious to the emergency room. By the time the ER personnel ruled out heart attack, the gentleman had almost died from massive internal bleeding. Had we been able to tell the emergency medical personnel right away that he was taking ulcer medication, they would have determined the actual cause of his collapse — a perforated ulcer — considerably earlier.
Post-September 11, our discussion must focus on how much and what kinds of personal information about attendees will make the implementation of our emergency response plans more effective. Just how far does our responsibility extend? How do we balance individual privacy with our responsibility and potential liability? If personal medical information is requested or required by our sponsoring organizations, who will have access to it and how will the confidentiality of this information be maintained? Difficult questions, indeed, that require answers sooner rather than later.
Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM, is CEO/president of Krugman Group International Inc., an independent planning company based in St. Petersburg, Fla. She has been conducting contingency planning workshops for several years.
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