The year 2005 saw disasters in two major cities: New Orleans and London. There are lessons to be learned from each of these tragic events.

Best in Class Example

I am a member of the New Orleans Client Advisory Council, and I have always been impressed by the commitment of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau to proactive communication with its stakeholders. In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans CVB implemented an emergency communications strategy that I believe should be commended as a “best in class” example. It is a model from which both meeting planners and suppliers can learn when preparing for disaster.

Within hours of the hurricane striking, information was pushed out by the bureau, including contact details for key personnel and information on meetings support, local hotel impact, and upcoming meetings and events. The New Orleans CVB Web site was updated regularly, with new information posted by Stephen Perry, president of the bureau, and his staff several times a day.

David Kliman works closely with the bureau in his role as facilitator of the New Orleans CVB Customer Advisory Council, and here he shares his tips for creating a first-class emergency communications plan:

  • Base the disaster recovery and communications plan in a remote location, not in the city where the event is taking place.

  • Make sure that you are able to instantly back up your Web site and telephone system.

  • Develop a template system for your Web site so that you can readily drop in emergency contact details, staff bulletins, news updates, etc. on the home page.

  • Set up the telephone system so it can roll over to the remote location. New Orleans CVB personnel were able to access and change voice-mail messages after the hurricane.

  • Communicate early and often. Push information out at least every other day so that people don't speculate about what's going on.

  • Report facts, not maybes. Admit to what you don't know. Trust is all-important. Adopt a pragmatic communication style.

  • Use remote office locations — knowing where all staff were located was key to keeping things moving for the New Orleans CVB.

  • Build and develop your networks to maximize the likelihood of collaboration and support. For example, several New Orleans CVB staffers have been accommodated in the offices of the Dallas CVB, side by side with industry colleagues who would normally be side by side at an exhibit hall, competing for business.

Terror Threat Lingers

The threat of terrorism is not unique to London: It is a global issue. If you are a meeting professional who does not maintain a risk-management strategy for your events, you need to develop one NOW. Here are some key points to consider:

  • What is your strategy as it relates to people, property, and intelligence/data?

  • What would cause you to cancel or postpone your meeting, and at what point?

  • Who are the people responsible for carrying out the plan? Identify people you can rely on to stay calm under pressure. Ensure that each team member knows what should happen and what role they play in the execution of the plan.

  • Where should attendees go in the event of an incident on-site? Is there a specific rendezvous point?

  • What is your contingency plan in the event that you don't have access to your venue/airline/ground transportation?

  • Who should be notified if an attendee requires hospitalization? Many organizations require attendees to provide emergency contact/next-of-kin details. In addition, recommend that attendees photocopy their passports and other travel documents so that copies can be faxed from their home or office in the event they are lost, stolen, or damaged.

  • How will you communicate your plan, and to whom? Your plan must be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. The plan is useless if you file it away and forget about it! Schedule briefings prior to the event and on-site.

  • What is the venue's emergency/contingency plan? Talk to your representative to find out what is already in place and to establish how you can share information for the benefit of both organizations.

Remember, risk management does not apply solely to terrorism-related events. It applies to any circumstance or event that may disrupt your meeting. If you have a plan in place, you can relax in the knowledge that you are prepared to deal with almost anything and minimize the impact on you and your stakeholders.

Sue Potton, CMM, president, Photosound Communications Inc., Princeton, N.J., has 20 years' experience in international medical conference planning. Reach her at suepotton@photosoundusa.com.