Exploring Meeting Insurance and Security Issues An estimated 600 participants tuned into "The Association Response to Business, Insurance, and Security Issues," an audioconference cosponsored by the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives (GWSAE) and the Association Forum of Chicagoland on October 1.

Susan Sarfati, president and CEO of GWSAE, opened the audio conference by applauding the efforts of the association community.

"We are proud of the extraordinary work and the response of associations to the attack on America," she said, adding, "You must provide a safe and secure environment for your members."

Jonathan Howe, general counsel to the Association Forum of Chicagoland, served as moderator. Panelists included Lou Novick, president of The Novick Group, Rick Wirth, CCP, President of Event & Meeting Security Services, and Joseph Monteleone, Senior Vice President of Kemper Insurance.

Howe began by quoting some of the total estimated dollar costs to of the tragedy: $25 to 30 billion to clean up and rebuild portions of New York City; $2 billion to $5 billion in life insurance claims, and $5 billion for other claims that may be filed.

According to a non-scientific poll taken of the seminar participants, 45 percent had canceled their meetings due to the attack and were consulting with legal counsel and insurance companies on their options.

However, of the associations participating on the call that did not exercise cancellation clauses; a full 94 percent were planning to hold their scheduled meetings and conventions after this month and into 2002.

Howe led a discussion about the "Force Majeure" clause typically included in meeting contracts.

"You need to see what this clause says with all of your suppliers," he explained, noting that there are often phrases such as "if it is made impractical to hold the event…" that will help interpret cancellation coverage.

However, Howe added, "What is ‘impractical’ is a very difficult term to define."

Monteleone indicated that "there is a Force Majeure or War exception in contract law. This occurs in a declared war." But he emphasized that the attack of September 11 "does not even qualify as an undeclared war. Usually ‘war’ involves an attack by a sovereign nation."

These factors could prove to be stumbling blocks in negotiating meeting cancellations related to the tragedy.

"The more remote you become in time and place from the event, the more likely the coverage is not going to be effective," Monteleone said. He gave this advice to meeting planners and executives:

  • Document all your expenses, correspondence, and put things in writing. Prove your claim.
  • Give notice to your insurance company as soon as possible. Err on the side of over-reporting.
  • Seek professional advice. Ask you insurance agent or broker what is covered and who to notify.
  • Significant legal issues and disputes may come to arbitration or litigation. Seek advice of counsel that works in this specialized area.
  • Wirth addressed the security side of the equation, emphasizing the need for all associations to "have contingencies for emergencies.

    "We are talking about people’s welfare and making them feel safe. But don’t try to guarantee their safety," he cautioned, because that is impossible.

    Wirth indicated that the best approach is to formulate an appropriate security plan in conjunction with convention site managers, providing them with information about the demographics of attendees and other background.

    Conversely, hotel and convention center managers should share with their association clients their emergency response manuals and discuss other potential security concerns, such as the presence of high-profile speakers, other events being held at the same time in the immediate area, and so forth.

    One participant asked if a meeting scheduled at a hotel adjacent to Ronald Reagan National Airport in the Washington, DC area could be canceled due to lack of transportation access. (When the audio conference was held the reopening of this airport had not yet been announced.)

    The panelists indicated that this factor along would certainly be an inconvenience but not likely an excuse to cancel the meeting, since two other airports serve the Washington, DC region.

    In closing, panelists offered these steps for association professionals to take to protect themselves:

  • Conduct a candid review of what service and coverage will be available to you.
  • Review insurance policies with legal counsel.

  • Consider expanding insurance coverage if necessary.
  • For more information, contact GWSAE at 202-326-9500. To obtain a free tape of the audio conference, compliments of KRM Information Services, go to http://www.krm.com/forum.