Most meeting planners have spent the past 18 months consumed with safety protocols related to the pandemic. But recent hurricanes serve as a reminder that it’s key not to overlook traditional risks concerns when preparing for your upcoming meetings.

Hurricane Ida tore through the Gulf Coast and then headed up the East Coast, causing a multitude of weather-based disasters like flooding and tornadoes. The weather event served as a reminder of the typical risks meeting planners were concerned about prior to the pandemic.

“Risk management is an ongoing process,” said Amy Calvert, CEO of the Events Industry Council. “COVID has put to the test these practices in ways we hadn’t imagined. [Recent storms are] a good reminder that there are all sorts of opportunities to apply this risk-management process to, to ensure we are creating safe and meaningful experiences for our communities.”

This summer, EIC released an updated Risk Management Guidebook to help meeting planners better assess the risks that might be associated with their meetings and create a plan to mitigate them. With the recent hurricanes and winter weather concerns coming up later this year, Calvert said it’s a good time to fully examine all risks associated with meetings—not just COVID-19 safety.

Looking beyond just the pandemic, Calvert noted that everything from natural disasters to political instability are items that should be considered in risk-management plans. When associations are trying to determine what risks a meeting might face, it’s important to turn to local partners.

“Destinations and venues and cities—they all have their own risk assessment, risk management, and crisis communication resources,” Calvert said. “The key is to, in the planning cycle, align those and do scenario planning and build that strategy into the logistics of the event experience.”

Because COVID-19 is relatively new, the protocols related to minimizing viral spread may intersect with other safety protocols, so now is a good time to look for any conflicts and consider if and how they need to be resolved. For example, might shelter-in-place or evacuation plans conflict with guidelines about distancing or trigger masking requirements?

“The layering on of safety and health protocols around COVID are going to add some complexities, because you’re dealing with a movement of people, and there are restrictions in place relative to mitigating the transmission,” Calvert said. “But I don’t think that’s anything we should feel overwhelmed by. It’s just a matter of thinking about that and communicating with the destinations and venues to better understand their policies and principles and how those intersect.”

Having a communication plan that covers how you’ll connect with stakeholders both prior to and during an event is a necessary element. If there are known storm concerns, there should be a plan to communicate with attendees, one that’s approved by key event leaders. However, Calvert said there’s no rule of thumb about how much communication to provide.

“They have to assess their own practice and their own risk profile and, knowing their community, determine what is the right level of communication given a scenario,” Calvert said. “I think the key there is to have that all thoroughly vetted out prior to needing to execute it.”

And that’s really the key concept for risk management—whether it be COVID-19 or natural disasters: have a plan in place in advance so that you can execute it, no matter what arises.

“The world around us is dynamic,” Calvert said. “Things can change quickly. Things that might not have been perceived as a risk can happen within a moment. We have to make sure these [risk management] processes are well-understood and supported.”

RASHEEDA CHILDRESS

Rasheeda Childress is a senior editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips. MORE »