My last column forwas written shortly after the London bombings. In this issue our attention is focused on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, its impact on the medical meetings community, and the recovery of New Orleans.
I am a member of the New Orleans Client Advisory Council, and I have always been impressed by the commitment of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau to proactive communication with its stakeholders. In the weeks following Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans CVB implemented an emergency communications strategy which I believe should be commended as a “best in class” example. It is a model both meeting planners and suppliers can learn from when preparing for disaster.
Within hours of the hurricane striking, information was pushed out by the bureau, including contact details for key personnel and information on meetings support, local hotel impact, and upcoming meetings and events. The New Orleans CVB Web site was updated regularly, with new information being posted by Stephen Perry, president of the bureau, and his staff several times a day.
David Kliman works closely with the bureau in his role as facilitator of the New Orleans CVB Customer Advisory Council, and here he shares his tips for creating a first-class emergency communications plan:
Base the disaster recovery and communications plan in a remote location, not in the city where the event is taking place.
Make sure you are able to instantly back up your Web site and telephone system.
Develop a template system for your Web site so you can readily drop in emergency contact details, staff bulletins, news updates, etc. on the home page.
Set up the telephone system so it can roll over to the remote location. New Orleans CVB personnel were able to access and change voicemail messages following the hurricane.
Communicate early and often. Push information out at least every other day so people don't speculate about what's going on.
Report facts, not maybes. Admit to what you don't know. Trust is all-important. Adopt a pragmatic communication style.
Utilize remote office locations — knowing where all staff were located was key to keeping things moving for the New Orleans CVB.
Build and develop your networks to maximize the likelihood of collaboration and support. For example, several New Orleans CVB staffers have been accommodated in the offices of the Dallas CVB, side by side with industry colleagues who would normally be side by side at an exhibit hall, competing for business.
In the process of writing this column, I remembered reading an article in The Times Picayune in July reporting a meeting of the New Orleans CVB and the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association to evaluate their joint response to the threat of Hurricane Dennis. For the first time, the two tourism groups banded together in a major way to try to coordinate resources and communicate in the face of a possible evacuation. In the article, Stephen Perry said: “We learned how critical it was for the hotels and the CVB to be in direct link so that the status of the hotels and what was happening throughout the city could be updated. It ended up being a great dry run.”
It is tragic that the bureau had to implement a disaster recovery and communications plan so soon after this dry run. However, this proves the importance of preparation and planning, and the bureau deserves to be commended for its flawless execution.
Sue Potton, CMM, president, Photosound Communications Inc., Princeton, N.J., has 20 years' experience in international medical conference planning. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.