Every couple of months my husband and I head from our home in New Hampshire to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, where Joe gets a series of scans and we meet with his oncologist to hear whether his cancer has progressed. And for each of these trips, we pack an overnight bag, just in case the doctors find something that would necessitate immediate medical treatment.
Packing a suitcase in anticipation of bad news is part of what we have come to call our “plan for the worst, hope for the best” strategy. We learned the importance of such contingency planning eight months ago, when one of Joe's periodic scans showed a potentially life-threatening tumor that needed to be removed immediately. During that emergency, we had to call upon friends and family to bring us the toiletries, medications, and clothing that now travel with us for every visit.
Every planner knows that contingency planning is equally important in the meetings business. It hit home painfully in the wake of 9/11, and has been reinforced with each new terrorist plot, each new hurricane threat, and each new medical emergency. Those in the hospitality and travel industries must be prepared for the next horrific event — knowing it is inevitable, yet hoping we'll get lucky.
But many financial services and insurance meeting planners have been slow to act. During a panel discussion on contingency planning at the Financial & Insurance Conference Planner's Northeast Chapter meeting in August, Leo Messier, director of the Providence, R.I., Emergency Management Agency & Office of Homeland Security, asked the audience how many of them routinely met with the hotel security staff before a meeting. There were gasps of surprise as only a few of the 35 planners in attendance raised their hands.
When I thought about this in light of my personal situation, I had an epiphany of sorts. Planning for the worst, whether at home or at work, may be the hardest thing we do. First, there's the huge mental hurdle of acknowledging that the unthinkable could happen, and it probably will. (It's important to recognize that this acknowledgement doesn't mean we're putting our energy into making bad things happen. Rather, we're objectively identifying potential crises so we can design contingency plans to deal with them.) Then we have to spend time on all sorts of unpleasant and often time-consuming tasks. For each suitcase I've packed before a trip to Dana-Farber, there's another chore on my personal preparedness list that I haven't accomplished. Naturally, I always have an excuse. Who among us crosses off all the items on our ever-expanding to-do lists?
But the most important step is to break that mental barrier. For planners, this means admitting that emergency preparedness is as much your job as it is the hotel's job. If you don't have a contingency planning to-do list, make one now. (For tips to help you get started, read “Protecting Your Meetings in Uncertain Times” on page 9 of this issue, and “Weaving a Web of Security”, page 15, FIM May/June, 2006).
The other half of our motto is equally important. It's much easier to embrace hope, of course. Just talking with my husband about taking a Mediterranean cruise perks me up, even knowing that it is unlikely to happen. I believe that the capacity for hope is what keeps us going and helps us sleep at night.
While hoping for the best may seem counter-intuitive when you're mired in the details of a disaster-preparedness plan, remember this: The planner and supplier attendees at themeeting in August echoed a belief I've heard many times before when they talked about how, working together, they could overcome even the most dire circumstances. You cannot escape the harsh realities of our current world or ignore any aspect of contingency planning for your meetings. But you can hope that if disaster does strike, you'll have a sound plan to follow and partners who will help to pull you through.