A medical emergency might be the last thing on anyone's mind when they're tucked away at some beautiful resort in a remote location--until there's a crisis. These tips will help you prepare in advance:
* Evaluate a facility's ability to handle an emergency during your very first contact. Ask if the property has a safety program. Find out what the ratio is of untrained staff to staff trained in CPR, the use of automated external defibrillators, and AEDs. Not all facilities have AEDs, but it's worth asking because they have a 90 percent resuscitation rate when the victim receives the shock within a minute of his or her heart stopping. Although there's no central database of AED-equipped venues, Warren, Ohiobased SafeMeetings (www.safemeetings.com) has announced plans to launch one.
* Consider the demographics of the attendees. What's the age range? Do you have individuals or groups who have made you aware of pre-existing medical conditions and special needs? Will certain circumstances, such as weather or special activities, increase the odds of illnesses or injuries?
* During the site inspection, question the staff. Ask "What should I do if someone is having a heart attack? What number should I call on the house phone if there's a medical emergency?" See if they know the answers. "Catch someone in the hall--housekeeping, maintenance, someone like that," suggests Richard Obertos, founder of SafeMeetings.
* Learn the site-specific number that operates the property's emergency response. Every venue has a different number, and it's not necessarily 911. Note: Many cellphones do not work with Enhanced 911 systems. Attempting to call 911 on a cellphone will not identify the caller's location, or emergency personnel may arrive with few people at the facility being aware that they have been called.
* Begin communicating with attendees about emergency preparedness with the pre-meeting information. Send a separate e-mail on the subject. At every opportunity, make attendees aware of the facility's emergency number, whether AEDs are available, and where local hospitals are located. Printed emergency information should be a stand-alone piece rather than being buried in a letter or brochure.
* Designate a medical emergency response team leader and a support staff. The team leader should be in close contact with a meetings-specific specialist, such as SafeMeetings, for ongoing support and quality assurance. Consider training your staff members with the Heart Saver course, CPR, and AED instruction so that they can recognize and address medical emergencies. Designate specific people to manage the needs of people who have become ill or injured, such as communicating with family members and making transportation arrangements for them.
* Consult with risk management, legal, and insurance specialists. "Disclosure is the best policy," advises attorney Jed R. Mandel, a partner in the Chicago-based law firm of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg and a columnist for this magazine. "Simply disclosing where the nearest hospital is or whether a doctor is on call goes a long way in being reasonably prudent." Typically, the meeting organizer is not responsible, but cases are very fact-specific and could make potentially anyone liable. "The timing of a heart attack, for instance, is not in the control of the planner," Mandel points out, "but there are bizarre fact scenarios that sometimes can make the organizer responsible."