Travel restrictions and restrictions on public gatherings are likely to be adopted in the event of a flu outbreak.
There will probably be at least a couple of weeks lead time between an actual outbreak overseas and one here in the United States, so planners will have a “heads up” that a problem is going to occur.
If the flu has already hit U.S. shores, planners should be prepared for large-scale event cancellations, and they would work with their hotel colleagues to develop procedures for cancellation and information dissemination to attendees and employees.
If the first U.S. outbreak is actually at the conference, which is very unlikely, there may be quarantining of attendees until they have been proven unaffected.
Although hotels may not have actual capacity issues when attendees are forced to stay in quarantine, since new travelers would not be allowed into the area, resources among travelers may become problematic. Food and supplies may become scarce. Certainly, an event planner should work with hotels to develop a pandemic plan that outlines how communications to attendees and suppliers will take place.
Expanded business capabilities, such as Internet access in hotel rooms, will be very important to attendees not allowed to travel in the event of an outbreak.
Planners and hotels must work together to educate themselves on state and local flu pandemic plans so that they can keep their attendees informed.
Planners and hotels should be able to advise attendees of local medical care available to them in the event of an outbreak.
Planner and hotel employees should be informed regarding infection control and their own employer's business plans in the event of an outbreak. Confusion and lack of information can cause panic.
It should be stressed that a human outbreak of bird flu is very unlikely to occur first in the U.S. Planners and hotels are more likely to receive notice that a human outbreak has occurred overseas and prepare to curtail U.S. events according to federal, state, and local guidelines. Preparedness now will assure that these procedures will go smoothly.
Heather Fesko and Catherine Katilius are attorneys in the Health Care and Life Sciences practice at Epstein Becker & Green P.C., Chicago. They can be reached at (312) 499-1400.