I can't recall an issue in which we've had such a difficult time coming up with a cover concept as we've had with this one. How do you communicate a potentially deadly threat without being overly alarmist, and thus sensationalizing the situation?
I imagine our dilemma is much like yours and the organizations you work for with regard to how to react to the much-in-the-news avian flu virus. There is a fine line to walk between scaring people and preparing people. That's the line we're walking in our cover story this month.
One of the alarming findings we report on in the article is that meeting planners, on the whole, are unprepared to deal with disasters or emergencies of any sort that might affect their events — let alone something as catastrophic as a flu pandemic. That's the conclusion of a study conducted by Purdue University for the Professional Convention Management Association, the complete results of which will be announced this month.
Probably the lack of adequate contingency planning in our field boils down to a kind of fear and loathing when it comes to thinking about negative, even life-threatening experiences, as Steve Hacker, president of the International Association for Exhibition Management, points out in our feature. (Kudos to IAEM for creating educational programming on avian flu as part of its June Professional Development Conference in Chicago.) But these days, scenario-planning for potential threats and disruptions is critical for convention andorganizers. From hurricanes to strikes to terrorist threats to infectious viruses, the world of meeting management has never been more in need of scenario-planning and crisis-management tools.
Indeed, as we went to press, the headlines carried news that the first ever human-to-human transmission of the avian virus may have occurred in Indonesia. By the time you read this, we probably will have an answer as to whether that actually happened. Whatever the outcome, get moving on putting together a contingency-planning program for your events. The best antidote for fear is information and preparation. You can start by turning to page 20.