Individuals participating in any kind of event, whether a small, regional meeting or an international incentive trip, have an expectation of a safe and secure experience. Planners have a responsibility to make sure those expectations are met.

It's important to remember that local laws or requirements in other countries may not be the same as those in the United States. For example, the Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act was enacted by Congress nearly 20 years ago as a result of fire outbreaks in several luxury hotels that resulted in deaths. The law states that federal government employees are generally not permitted to attend meetings or events in hotels or other venues that do not have hard-wired smoke detectors and automatic sprinkler systems.

In the years since the federal law was enacted, state and local building codes have been modified to mandate such protective devices in virtually all newly constructed or renovated buildings, although many planners still include a provision in their own hotel agreements requiring hotels to have such devices in good operating condition.

Hotels have not been so quick to install another type of protective device, the automated external defibrillator, which is mandated in many public buildings, such as airports. While the devices are generally quite easy to use, many hotel lawyers worry about potential liability if an AED is not used properly.

Nevertheless, it is a good idea for planners to contractually require a hotel or other venue to have at least one AED in good working order, as well as at least one person trained in CPR techniques on site at all times. If a hotel refuses a planner's request for such a provision, the company should consider CPR training for its employees and determine whether to bring its own portable AED on site.

What about emergency rooms?

As part of a site inspection or request for proposal, planners should consider asking about the availability of medical assistance as well as the location of the nearest hospital emergency room. Asking front desk staff at the time of an emergency may be too late.

Planners should also consider collecting emergency contact information from attendees, so that they know whom to notify if an attendee becomes ill or suffers some other unanticipated emergency. Attendees (as well as sponsoring organization staff) should be encouraged to put ICE (in case of emergency) listings on their cell phones.

Especially when dealing with venues in other countries, planners should inquire about security plans and procedures for dealing with criminal (or terrorist) activity. While many hotels are reluctant to discuss security precautions, planners should nevertheless press for information because such data will help determine whether the meeting sponsor needs to provide security on its own.

Disclosure of crimes

Some contracts submitted by planners seek to require hotels to disclose any criminal incident involving injury or death to a hotel guest or theft of personal property valued at more than $500 occurring in the six months prior to the meeting.

Most hotels balk at disclosing such information, citing vague “privacy” concerns. But the information is important to a planner in mitigating the risk of being sued by an injured attendee for locating the meeting in a venue that the planner should have known posed a security risk.

Depending on the nature and location of the meeting, it might be appropriate for planners to hire security personnel to provide an extra measure of protection. When contracting with such vendors, a planner should require that the security firm provide all appropriate licenses, possess at least $1 million in liability insurance, and use only properly trained personnel.

James M. Goldberg is a principal in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Goldberg & Associates PLLC. His practice focuses on representing associations, corporations, and independent meeting planners. He is the author of The Meeting Planner's Legal Handbook.