Here are steps you can take now to prepare for a potential avian flu pandemic:

  • Create a detailed communication plan and a chain of command to be used in the event of an emergency. It should include key staff, facility, and emergency personnel contacts, and communication trees with back-up and off-site communication contacts should key personnel be unreachable. Cellphone numbers should be listed (in case land lines are down), and in cases where cellular communications can't get through, personnel should be encouraged to use text messaging.

  • Develop a crisis plan that is updated or adapted to include specific procedures for a variety of situations: A pandemic might require a “lockdown” situation, while something like a bomb threat would require an evacuation. And simply having a plan is not always enough. Planners should practice their plan with a drill or simulation. Update the plan each year with information specific to the meeting destination, including contact numbers, communication plans, information on hotels and venues, evacuation procedures, and response plans for specific emergencies, such as natural disasters, fire, bomb threat, etc.

  • Detail the steps to be taken you need to cancel in advance of, en route to, or during the meeting.

  • Have a well-written force majeure or “excuse of performance” clause. After the SARS epidemic, event insurers put exclusions into the policies for communicable diseases, so there basically is no insurance coverage for meetings and events that are canceled because of the bird flu or pandemic. “Many planners now prefer to include wording allowing cancellation if the event becomes ‘impossible, illegal, or impractical’ to hold,” says Joshua Grimes, Esq., Grimes Law Offices, Philadelphia. “Impractical” was added to cover situations where the event could actually be held — the facility was not destroyed, or planes were not grounded — but as a practical matter it doesn't make sense to go forward because few if any attendees will likely attend.

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