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June 5, 2006

CRISIS MANAGEMENT: Are you really prepared for your event?

Preparing for the worst may be a long way from your mind when you’re organising an event, but when such meticulous attention to detail has been paid to setting it up, you owe it to your delegates and staff to build in contingency plans and disaster recovery scenarios.

Crisis scenarios can range from what to do if one of your keynote speakers pulls out to handling life-threatening situations such as fire or a terrorist attack, and it pays to have all your bases covered no matter how unlikely you think it is that it will happen to you.

If you’re not doing so already, it’s time to face up to your responsibilities in looking after your staff and delegates and put together a comprehensive crisis management plan. In the event of a truly catastrophic disaster this could also help you stay on the right side of the Home Secretary’s Manslaughter Bill.

“For an event to run smoothly it has to be well organised,” says Jacky Selway, business tourism manager at Aberdeen Convention Bureau. “However, with the best will in the world, even when an event has been carefully planned, there will always be things that are out of the control of the event organiser. The person in charge of the event needs to have thought through what they will do if crisis strikes.”

The examples Selway highlights include: what needs to happen if the venue is suddenly unavailable due to flooding or if the key speaker at the event is unable to attend at the last minute? “These examples might sound a little far fetched, but these things do happen and any event organiser worth their salt will have, at the very least, thought through their contingency plans,” she adds.

Dr David Perl, chief executive officer at crisis management company Docleaf, agrees and takes the scenario one step further: “A proper crisis plan needs to take into account equipping staff to handle an emergency with confidence and authority, both at home and abroad. In an emergency situation they will probably be as much a victim of a crisis as your delegates.”

Being aware of potential problems that might arise over the course of an event and having thought about the action that would need to be taken is vital. “You only get one chance to get it right in a crisis and you don’t want to be on the learning curve during an incident to test your procedures,” says Perl. “Training and simulation are vital to ensure that there are no cracks in your plan, they also provide staff with the confidence to act positively and effectively.”

Docleaf’s head of crisis management, Lesley Scorgie, explains that the first 60 minutes of a crisis are the most important. “If you immediately activate your procedures and take control at this point,” she says, “you stand a much greater chance of ensuring a positive outcome.”

Of course, it’s not realistic to expect to be able to control everything that might impact on your event. However, by including crisis management as an integral part of your planning process you are not only more likely to solve issues and problems before they become problems, but you should also be better placed to respond to any unforeseen occurrences once the event is underway.

Click here to read docleaf's and Jacky Selways' advice on putting together your crisis management plan.


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