Medical emergencies will happen at meetings. Often the difference between life and death may be seconds or minutes. Relying on your meeting staff or calling 911 is not the only answer, since few meeting venues are adequately trained or prepared, and emergency medical support response times and capabilities vary greatly from venue to venue and from destination to destination. At today's mega-meeting places or at a resort golf course, it can take more than five minutes to simply traverse them once EMS is on the scene.

The preparations for and response to medical emergencies at meetings has not been at the forefront of the meeting industry's agenda. Yet it is an excellent opportunity to make this a critical issue for the advancement of our profession as well as the enrichment of meeting experiences.

What follows is a basic checklist to begin the process. When medical emergencies occur, we know we can't save everyone. But everyone deserves the best possible chance to be saved. These actions will help.

Your organization is well on the way to effectively manage medical emergencies at your meetings if:

  • The preparation for and management of medical emergencies is a “Mission Critical” function for meetings of all sizes. You promote and reward a medical emergency readiness mind-set as a core professional competency.

  • Staff members' skills are current. At a minimum, employees are annually trained to the current standards of cardiac pulmonary resuscitation/automated external defibrillation.

  • A detailed venue and transport-specific medical emergency preparedness and response plan has been developed for all locations and all travel during your meeting — especially for off-site excursions.

  • Medical emergencies are prepared for according to the demographics of the membership: What's the age range? Do you have any individuals or groups who have made you aware of pre-existing medical conditions and special needs? Will there be circumstances, such as weather or special activities, that might increase the odds of illness or injury?

  • The medical emergency preparedness and response plan has been reviewed and approved by meetings-specific medical emergency management specialists.

  • A medical emergency response team leader and support staff have been designated. The management and activities of the program are part of the group's performance evaluation, and group members are afforded special recognition by your organization for their responsibilities. The leader is in close contact with a meetings-specific specialist for ongoing support and quality assurance.

  • Medical emergency plan activation drills are frequent. You and your staff routinely engage in drills at your headquarters' offices and at your meeting site with your facility staff and EMS personnel.

  • Meetings are held in facilities with proven medical emergency capabilities. Facility personnel have provided evidence that their staffs, their communities' EMS systems, and the designated medical facilities are capable of performing at or above current standards of medical emergency care.

  • Pre-con meeting agendas include addressing how medical emergencies will be managed. Protocols address who will do what, when, where, and how among your staff, the meeting site staff, and EMS personnel at all facilities and during all transportation.

  • Staff members know how to respond to emergencies. They can rapidly recognize medical emergencies and can rapidly activate the on-site medical emergency response and local EMS systems at all locations and on all transportation routes throughout your event.

  • Information about the designated medical emergency care facilities and professionals is provided to staff, attendees, participants, and other stakeholders. Instructional signage is placed in many locations throughout each facility, and instructions on what to do in case of an emergency are announced at each session. Simply listing “Medical Emergencies” someplace in the meeting program is not a best practice.

  • Communications and rapid activation systems are tested daily. If they are not performing, provisions are made and all staff and attendees are notified. For example, many cell phones do not work with Enhanced 911 systems. Attempting to call 911 on a cell phone will not identify the caller's location, or EMS personnel may arrive with few people at the facility being aware they have been called.

  • Emergency transportation arrangements are made at least six weeks before the meeting. The rapid activation of long-distance MedEvac transport of attendees, participants, or staff is arranged, and provisions are in place for the arrival and departure of helicopters. Fixed wing; ground; and, if relevant, watercraft MedEvac are all in place as well.

  • Post-emergency continuity protocols are in place. Staff members are designated to manage the needs of people who have become ill or injured or have died. This may include communicating with family members or significant others and making transportation arrangements with all meeting, housing, and medical facilities to ensure that continuity is maintained.

  • Backup systems, people, and technology are in all aspects of your medical emergency response plans.

  • Risk management, legal, and insurance specialists are actively involved. Efforts are made to manage, transfer, and insure against medical emergency risks in all aspects of medical emergency preparedness and performance.

  • Meetings-specific experts are retained to advise, train, and assist in the preparation for and ongoing management of medical emergencies.