MEETING PLANNERS HAVE A LOT TO LEARN from the world of contingency planning. We asked Paul Kirvan, editor-in-chief of Contingency Planning & Management magazine, what steps planners can take to prepare for the worst.

First of all, who are your readers?

The readers of Contingency Planning & Management are typically business continuity practitioners and managers, senior-level IT managers, security professionals, and emergency management professionals.

What can our readers — meeting executives — learn from your readers about identifying risks to their events?

The first step in contingency planning is to perform a risk analysis. This is a detailed assessment of the various threats to the process of planning, organizing, and executing a meeting. It typically looks at the entire spectrum of meeting activities: before, during, and after the event. Assign identified threats a level of criticalness, such as high, medium and low, based on previous experience or established industry benchmarks.

If possible, try to determine operational and financial effects. What effect will the threat have on the meeting, whether it is in the planning, setup, execution, or post-adjournment stages? This process also helps to focus risk prevention and mitigation efforts as well as emergency response and recovery activities on the most relevant threats.

How can planners evaluate how much security they need?

First, determine the type of security needed. Physical security may be needed to protect delegates from unauthorized individuals getting into the event. Network security may be needed if there will be access to the Internet, or if there will be high-speed network communications. If meeting industry security benchmarks are unavailable or not defined, begin by discussing security provisions with the venue's management.

Presumably, the venue will have some security procedures in place. Meeting professionals can review the venue's efforts in light of the event's requirements for people, transportation, AV equipment, technology, meals and social events, lodging, travel during the event, and supplies. Investigate vendors outside the event venue, e.g., transportation companies, equipment suppliers, and caterers, to determine if they have security provisions. It is also useful to conduct a gap analysis, if possible, to identify where the security provisions are insufficient to meet the meeting's needs.

How can readers design an emergency response plan?

Emergency response and recovery plans for meetings do not have to be complex documents. Each plan can be as simple as one to two pages of action steps to be taken in the event of a specific threat. Plans should include phone/fax/mobile/pager/Blackberry/home/e-mail contact information for all key venue staff, third-party suppliers, utility companies (if the event requires that level of detail), labor unions, public safety officials, police, fire, emergency rescue units, and other relevant organizations. Make sure that the venue's management has access to this information.

Should planners create policies for security, crisis response, and business continuity?

It is certainly worthwhile to see if the proposed venue has such policies in place. If so, review them carefully in light of your risk assessment results, and determine if any gaps are present. Review your concerns with the venue managers and negotiate any added services as needed.

Perhaps you can even negotiate a service-level agreement that puts your needs in writing and specifies penalties to the venue (as well as other vendors) for failure to perform.

What other contingency planning challenges do our readers face?

Each event offers a new set of challenges. The meeting professional must be able to step back in the early planning stages and holistically assess the threats to the event — as well as the effects.

Ideally, the meeting professional develops a baseline set of criteria to ensure that all phases of the meeting have been “upgraded” to include security, emergency response, recovery, and restoration activities. These criteria can then be used as a benchmark for future events.