Beyond Borders: What does it mean to have a risk-oriented mentality?

Kelly Stratton: It means allowing yourself to realistically assess the risk in the programs you plan, so you can better prepare for the unexpected. This is not a thought process that we come by naturally. It needs to be developed. It's human nature to not want to focus on the negative — especially if we don't feel we are properly equipped to deal with it. I have found that defining two characteristics of the risk — the probability that a loss will occur and the magnitude of the loss if it occurs — will determine if and how you should prepare for it. If this concept is integrated into the planning process, the risks will start to become more apparent.

BB: What are the types of risk that planners need to think about?

Stratton: I see three categories of risk. The first includes risks that can be minimized with solid planning practices, including good organization and planning timelines, vendor quality-control checks, and thorough site inspections. The second category includes risks that can't be controlled but result in a small magnitude of loss, such as mechanical or air-conditioning issues at your venue. A quick-thinking and creative planner can handle issues in this category and keep the problem from escalating. The third category includes risks that can't be controlled and could result in a large magnitude of loss, such as severe weather, medical emergencies, or death.

BB: What do planners fail to consider in terms of disaster planning?

Stratton: Sometimes I get the impression that it's the simple fact that there could be a disaster. A planner should at least determine the risks that could result in the largest loss and design a contingency plan with those risks in mind.

BB: What types of insurance coverage should meeting planners consider?

Stratton: Any insurance that will help mitigate potential loss if the unexpected happens is good to consider. Determining exactly what is needed is part of the contingency planning process. For corporate travel, I suggest starting with some form of group travel insurance. It offers a wide variety of benefits for the least cost, including emergency medical and evacuation coverage, and coverage for trip interruption, canceled flights, delayed and lost baggage, lost passports, and so on. There are several good plans that will cost you less than $10 per person per day.

BB: What considerations come into play for groups outside the United States?

Stratton: There are a number of things: language and cultural issues, acts of terrorism, and emergency health care. It is critical to know where and how to get help when you need it. Before you go:

  • Register your meeting with the U.S. State Department in case of a security or weather-related incident.

  • Call the Centers for Disease Control for health issues in your destination.

  • Carry the hotline phone number for your travel insurance provider.

  • Carry contact information for the U.S.embassy/consulate in your destination.

  • Know the full-service hospital nearest to your meeting hotel.

Kelly Stratton is president of Stratton Meeting & Event Services in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a full-service planning firm specializing in contingency planning and providing group travel insurance. For a complete Contingency Planning Checklist, e-mail