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Plan For the Worst

The past few week’s floods, hurricanes, and wild fires are a reminder that event planners need emergency plans that are comprehensive, up-to-date, and easy to implement. Of course, the time to plan for a catastrophe is before it happens, but few of us actually do so beyond a vague notion of what we would likely do. Planners’ organizational skills are high value in a time of crises but success relies on preparation. While we all know how to contact security, call 9-1-1 or where to shelter when severe weather sirens sound, event planners need to work with colleagues to develop bigger-picture emergency plans.

College campuses are hosts to hundreds of events annually, many of which are held by off-campus groups, organizations, companies, and even religious congregations. Such meetings are often managed from a variety of offices ranging from continuing education to conferences, special events, and individual colleges. Having a plan for communicating with meeting planners and event hosts when disaster strikes is imperative and often overlooked. Planning for the worst means deciding when and how events will be cancelled in case of major emergencies of the scope that close campus. These are things like tornadoes, floods, epidemic sickness, fires, or in our case, a shooting during the work day. It’s fairly easy to halt routine on-campus activities, but what about things like athletic contests, concerts, meetings, and bookings from external organizations? People from far out of the local area (speakers, for example) may already be en route and unaware of the situation.  Incredibly, even though our campus was closed after the shootings, off-campus clients who had reserved event space still wanted to hold their functions, something that was impossible because campus had been emptied and was on total lock-down.

Before a bad situation arrives on your doorstep, gather a team to create a plan for how events will be cancelled in case of emergency. The first step is to be certain you and your staff are signed-on to emergency notification systems via text, e-mail, and voice. Use multiple numbers and addresses for each person to be certain messages get through.

Begin by creating a campus-wide events crisis management committee composed of people who can get things done then meet to develop a protocol for crisis event management.

A comprehensive campus plan should identify:

*Who has the authority to implement the plan?

*How communication will be handled.

*Who has log-in access to scheduling software and is capable of running it under stress. Can it be accessed remotely? Know the cell numbers for several people who can do this.

*A check-off system for recording whether each group was successfully contacted. Require confirmation from each representative to verify the message was received.

*Names, cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses of key people on campus including A/V and IT, campus safety, catering, facilities, grounds, and space schedulers.

*Overall campus emergency procedures.

*Your duty station. Where will you go? Where will you work from?

*Venues. Know what capabilities are in your inventory in case an assembly point is needed for the president to make an address, to host the media, shelter people, or hold a vigil or memorial service. Know who is responsible for scheduling and unlocking each space and have his or her cell number. Know the capacity for seating, AV, catering, handicapped access, and parking.

*Put the plan in writing and keep it on your phone and computer. Because staff come and go, cell phone numbers change, and office duties get rearranged, update it monthly and distribute it to everyone on the team.

*Review your reservation procedures. All event reservations should be in writing and include full contact information. Be certain contracts contain cancellation language. Get signatures for even the most routine meeting.