I always knew that meetings management was a tough job, but it really hit home during the recent National Business Travel Association meeting, held in late July in Los Angeles. In more ways than one.

In one session, Lee Ann Adams Mikeman, assistant vice president, conference planning & special events, Science Applications International Corp., spoke about how ad hoc meeting planners unknowingly can cost companies thousands of dollars by signing contracts that put them at risk. “The money you save by avoiding that risk,” she said, “can be as significant as the savings you get from having an SMMP.”

Then why are so many amateur planners still signing contracts? Isn't it a meeting manager's responsibility to get the word out through his or her corporate communications people about the potential liabilities around things like attrition or cancellation? As our legal columnist, Jim Goldberg, told me afterwards, “All planners — amateur or professional — should understand their limitations and never assume that a hotel contract is necessarily what is best for them.”

The next day, we faced a different kind of risk management when a 5.4 magnitude earthquake struck during the morning sessions. Being my first earthquake, it was one of the scariest moments in my life as I sat deep within the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center listening to a panel, and suddenly felt the building dip and then sway. There was a collective outcry from everyone in the room as we dashed for the door. But my instincts told me that buildings like this were designed to handle earthquakes, which made me less afraid.

This is every planner's nightmare yet something that Bill Connors, CTC, NBTA's executive director and COO, and his conference planning team were prepared for. As part of their risk management plan, they had obtained a copy of the center's emergency plan and discussed it in advance. The main thing when the quake struck, he said, was that they kept the thousands of attendees calm. I couldn't believe how politely everyone filed into place to get down the stairs.

“We were in constant touch with the LACC staff,” Connors said, “so as soon as we confirmed it was an earthquake, we ensured that security was on hand to calm participants and direct traffic through exits, allowing them to choose where they felt most safe.” Once they determined that there was no damage and no one had been hurt, he said, the LACC immediately announced this to attendees and classes resumed as usual. What could have become a dangerous situation didn't — risk management at its best.

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