Medical emergencies will happen at meetings. Often the difference between life and death may be seconds or minutes.

Relying on your meeting staff or calling 911 is not the only answer, because few meeting venues are adequately trained or prepared, and because emergency medical support response times and capabilities vary greatly from venue to venue and destination to destination. With the expanse of many mega-meeting places or resorts, it can take more than five minutes to reach the victim once EMS is on the scene.

Preparations for and response to medical emergencies at meetings have not been at the forefront of the meetings industry's agenda, so meeting planners now have an opportunity to make this a critical issue for the advancement of our profession as well as the enrichment of meeting experiences.

What follows is a basic checklist to begin the process. When medical emergencies occur, we know that we can't save everyone. But everyone deserves the best possible chance to be saved. These actions will help.

  • The preparation for medical emergencies is a “Mission Critical” function for meetings of all sizes. You promote and reward a medical emergency readiness mindset as a core professional competency.

  • Staff members' skills are current and employees are trained, at a minimum, annually to the standards of cardiac pulmonary resuscitation/automated external defibrillation (CPR/AED).

  • A detailed venue and transport-specific medical emergency preparedness and response plan has been developed. This is done for all locations and travel during your meeting, especially off-site.

  • Medical emergencies are prepared for according to the demographics of the membership: What's the age range? Have any individuals or groups made you aware of pre-existing medical conditions and special needs? Will circumstances, such as weather or special activities, increase the odds of illness or injury?

  • The medical emergency preparedness and response plan has been reviewed and approved by meeting-specific medical emergency management specialists.

  • A medical emergency response team leader and support staff have been designated. The management and activities of the program are part of the group's performance evaluation. Group members are afforded special recognition by your organization. The leader is in close contact with a meeting-specific specialist for ongoing support and quality assurance.

  • You and your staff routinely engage in medical emergency plan drills at your headquarters' offices and at your meeting site with your facility staff and EMS personnel.

  • Meetings are held in facilities with proven medical emergency capabilities. Facility personnel have provided evidence that their staffs, their communities' EMS systems, and the designated medical facilities are capable of performing at or above current standards of medical emergency care.

  • Pre-con meetings address management of medical emergencies. Protocols address who will do what, when, where, and how among staff, meeting site staff, and EMS personnel at all facilities and during all transportation.

  • Staff members can recognize medical emergencies and activate on-site medical emergency response and local EMS systems at all locations and on all transportation routes throughout your event.

  • Information about the designated medical emergency care facilities and professionals is provided to staff, attendees, and participants. Signage is placed throughout each facility and instructions on what to do in case of an emergency are announced at each session. Merely listing “Medical Emergencies” in the meeting program is not enough, and it is not a best practice.

  • Communications and rapid activation systems are tested daily. If they are not performing, provisions are made and all staff and attendees are notified. For example, many cellphones do not work with Enhanced 911 systems. Attempting to call 911 on a cellphone will not identify the caller's location, or EMS personnel may arrive with few people being aware they have been called.

  • Emergency transportation arrangements are made at least six weeks before the meeting. The quick activation of long-distance MedEvac transport of attendees, participants, or staff is planned, and a place for emergency aircraft (airplane, helicopter, etc.) to land and take off is arranged. Air, ground, and, if relevant, watercraft MedEvac arrangements are in place.

  • Post-emergency continuity protocols are in place. Staff members are designated to manage the needs of people who have become ill or injured or, in a worst-case scenario, have died. This may include communicating with family members or significant others and making transportation arrangements with all meeting, housing, and medical facilities to ensure that continuity is maintained.

  • Backup systems, people, and technology are in all aspects of your medical emergency response plans.

  • Meeting-specific experts are retained to advise, train, and assist in the preparation for and ongoing management of medical emergencies.

For more information on SafeMeetings or on the international AED program registry it is developing, call (330) 856-2246 or send an e-mail to