Planning for the Unexpected: Five Best Practices for Risk Management

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Risk ManagementThis guest post is provided by Keri McIntosh, Senior Vice President, Events, CMP at The Castle Group, our PRGN partner in Boston, with offices in Atlanta and Maui. She is a 16-year veteran with Castle, providing clients with expert event counsel on everything from strategic planning, project management, budget projections, logistics, site selection and contract negotiations. She offers five best practices for risk management when it comes to planning events.

As event planners, we're always managing large groups of people in a global environment that's constantly shifting and evolving, so we must always pay attention to safety and security. Recent events--natural disasters, global health issues, terrorism and threats of nuclear war--have heightened the awareness of travel-related risks.

We work with many global clients across industries--including IT, financial services, consumer products and biotech--to plan sales conferences, meetings, incentives and other events around the globe. While not every event has a travel component, those that do have more potential complications to consider. Now more than ever, it's important to factor these risks into event planning.

Here are five risk management best practices to consider when planning an event:

1) Have a Plan:

It's so obvious that it's sometimes overlooked: the first step in contingency planning is to have a plan. Every company typically has its own internal protocol for emergencies. We need to know the chain of command, engage the correct team players and follow all existing procedures. It's also necessary to devise event-specific plans based on the location and key personnel. This includes hotel/venue safety, security and evacuation procedures for various emergency scenarios (such as hurricane, fire, medical emergency), building maps, and locations and phone numbers of the nearest medical facilities and urgent care centers. All team members, including executives and vendors, must understand their roles and escalation procedures. Local police and fire departments may also be engaged as part of the planning process.

2) Know Your Group:

What is the size of your group? Does your group include children? Are they local or traveling from all over the world? The larger the group and more varied the participants' demographics, the more complex contingency planning becomes. It's important to collect contact information from each guest, including email addresses and mobile numbers, as part of the registration process so we can communicate updates, messages and/or text alerts in the event of an emergency. It's also good practice, especially when air travel is involved, to ask for attendees' emergency contact information.

Being here in Hawaii and experiencing the recent false missile alert made me painfully aware of just how damaging incorrect information and human error can be. It goes without saying that all messages must be carefully evaluated prior to distribution.

3) Know Your Destination:

It's important to understand the infrastructure of the destination even when the event is in your own backyard. How close is the airport to the event? Does the venue have an emergency backup power system or generators? Are hotel employees CPR certified? How many vehicles and what sizes are available from your transportation partner? Knowing the answers to these questions allows us to build an effective contingency/emergency plan of action (see No. 1).

For example, if flights are cancelled, are there trains, cars or buses available? Is the hotel sold out over program dates or can it accommodate potentially stranded guests? If not, what nearby properties are available? Be sure to have a plan B, C and D so you are prepared if something goes wrong.

4) Find Partners You Can Trust:

In an emergency, minutes matter. Having experienced, trusted partners you can rely on is critical--especially when it comes to risk management. When planning a program outside of your local area, vet suppliers by seeking referrals from industry colleagues, ask local convention and/or travel bureaus and hotel management teams for recommendations, and solicit feedback from suppliers' past clients.

Take time to ensure that all vendors and properties you're working with have the proper certificates of insurance/coverage, permits and that you are in compliance with the local laws and regulations. You wouldn't want your Welcome Reception on the beach to get shut down because you forgot to obtain the proper permits!

5) Budget for Contingency Plans:

A contingency budget is always a good idea. Unforeseen events happen. They may not be catastrophic, but even something like lost luggage or a property without hot water can become a much bigger problem, especially with social media. Having money in the budget to host people at a local spa (for hot showers and pampering) or to offer a gift card for clothing purchases (to make up for lost luggage) will help ease the inconvenience. At the end of the day, a successful program is one that people walk away from with a positive experience--this is especially true if an unforeseen situation occurs.

With any event, no matter the size or location, there's always a chance that something could go wrong, but a solid contingency plan will give you the best opportunity to keep your event on track and your guests and clients happy.

Abbie S. Fink
Abbie S. Fink
Vice President/General Manager Abbie has been doing public relations her whole life…from organizing a picket line in 6th grade to organizing client communications today. She’s passionate about a lot of things, you’ll see. Check out Abbie's full bio

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