The Unexpected Crisis – Are You Prepared with a Plan?

It seems that now with extra time on our hands, many of us are reflective on our careers and the industry changes we’ve seen.  I thought about how much meeting and event planning has changed over my career.  This is especially true with risk and crisis management.  In my early planning days, we didn’t really consider it too much and if something happened such as a medical emergency or a power outage, we just reacted and dealt with it as best we could with the facility.  Over time it became more important to have plans in place for each event and to be prepared. It seems, too, we also have more potential for crises to occur.  Our world especially changed post 9/11.  The positive outcome is that it is so much better to have plans and be prepared for all that can happen. However, the current Covid pandemic through all of us off our game.

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As many of you, I also in my tenure as a planner have experienced all kinds of crises.  Some I had a plan in place and others I had to quickly think on my feet.  Of course, this is a trait of all meeting professionals on both the planner and supplier side.  From each of these experiences, I learned and over time, I realized how important it is for a planner to have a crisis management plan in place for each conference, convention, and event in addition to a plan for a plethora of possible crises.  It is important to discuss these with key decision makers as well as facility management.     

Some of my own crisis experiences have included and I learned so much from each one:

  • Medical emergencies
  • Attendee death overseas
  • Domestic violence situations
  • Jailed attendee
  • Flooded facility
  • On Site Fire
  • Weather Disturbances
  • Attendees destroying hotel property
  • City protests
  • Labor disputes/strikes – domestic and international (hotel, facility, transportation)
  • Airline strikes
  • Attendee fear of terrorism post 9/11



An occurrence that may negatively influence the outcomes of a planned / controlled situation and in our case having to do with our event.


  • Natural Disasters
  • Terrorist Threats
  • Active Shooters
  • Fires
  • Floods
  • Medical Emergencies
  • Power Outages
  • Gear Malfunctions
  • Epidemics/Pandemics

The objective for crisis management is to find the best way for meeting planners to protect their people (attendees, employees, vendors), and the organization’s identity, image and reputation.  A crisis usually cannot be stopped or controlled. However, by being proactive we can mitigate consequences.  Being proactive and considering the “what if’s” beforehand will shorten reaction time and make your reaction less panic filled.  Even with a plan, as a planner, you will need to Think on Your Feet.  According to my research, many organizations include in their plans 4 key steps.

4 Key Steps

  1. Preparedness – Building awareness, assessing the risk of potential disasters in
  2. Mitigation – Reducing the impact by following pre-planned action steps and staying calm
  3. Response -Minimizing the impact by quick and thorough responses/communication
  4. Recovery – Returning to Normal as quickly as possible

Advanced preparation is key.  You should know your plan backwards and forwards.  Communicate it with your team, executives and key decision makers.  Also, don ‘t forget any outside staff that has been hired to assist in the conference.  They need to know your plan and procedures as well.

Plans and preparations also are critical aspects of your site inspections and negotiations.  Understand and know the hotel or convention center’s policies.  For incentive travel, what are the DMC or tour operators’ policies and procedures?  Ask questions.  For example, do they have a medical emergency response team on site or a physician?  Has their team had active shooter training?   What is the protocol for a natural disaster?  Earthquake, Flood, Tornado, Hurricane?  Find out what is happening in the city.  Are there any scheduled protests or strikes? Have a thorough conversation of possibilities and the staffs’ training.

If you don’t have crisis plans in place or one that you can adapt to each event, make one.  Develop a communication plan to use with your attendees.  At every event, make sure your list is updated with names, numbers and emergency contacts.  Is your event app capable of sending communication blasts?  Have a sample reaction statement ready to go.

It is important when something happens that you quickly assess the situation and discuss with key players and your team.  Communicate facts calmly, alleviating panic and keep the lines of communication open.  I also suggest you have at least one delegated Person-In-Charge (POC) to manage crowds and direct traffic if necessary.  Afterward, assess how you did and note areas of improvement.

In conclusion, always have a strategy.  Know it.  Communicate it to those who need to know.  Avoid panic.  Act with discretion.  Mishandling can destroy the organization’s reputation, incur costs and compromise attendee satisfaction.  From my own personal experience, you and your event team MUST be the leaders and act calmly.  The attendees and even your executive team will follow and look to you. Trust that you, as the planner, know best and because you have had discussions with the facility, together you will work as a team on the situation.  You and your team must be vigilant, staying in charge.  I am sure once we maneuver through the outcomes of our events and meetings post pandemic, our Crisis Management plans and processes will again be adapted.


Julie Martinez, CMP, CMM is a meeting, event and incentive planning specialist providing consulting, strategic planning and on-site management.  She is a member and contributor of I-Meet, the online business community for people who plan meetings and events. Please connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her Twitter.


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