Meeting CRISIS Management: The Elephant in the Room

Originally posted CMP Today enewsletter

The Urban Dictionary defines the saying, “elephant in the room” as “n. A very large issue that everyone is acutely aware of, but nobody wants to talk about. Perhaps a sore spot, perhaps politically incorrect, or perhaps a political hot potato, it’s something that no one wants to touch with a 10-foot pole. Sometimes pink elephant in the room.”

“And the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition for this sense of ‘elephant in the room’ and variants thereof: ‘A significant problem or controversial issue which is obviously present but ignored or avoided as a subject for discussion, usually because it is more comfortable to do so.’

“The OED’s first published reference for this usage is the title of a 1984 book, ‘An Elephant in the Living Room: A Leader’s Guide for Helping Children of Alcoholics,’ by Marion H. Typpo and Jill M. Hastings.”

What’s the first significant event you remember that caused a disruption to a meeting or to guests at a meeting in a hotel in which you worked? Was it a CEO who was walked? A speaker who was a no-show? Shipment of materials that never arrived? Food poisoning of an entire group after a banquet? Death of a participant, staff or Board member? Hurricane – Katrina or Rita or other named storm? After this event, what did you do to change how you assessed the risk and planned for contingencies for your meetings?

Certainly 9/11/01 is remembered even if one had not yet been in the industry. It was a day of catastrophic events that impacted everyone worldwide. In the D.C. area, many of us met weekly once we were all safely back after getting participants at meetings safely back to their homes. We even met with airport security personnel to understand more about our responsibilities as things changed rapidly.

It’s an assumption that any emergency occurrence at one of your meetings or in a hotel or convention center or destination in which you worked would ensure you and those with whom you work would implement different strategies and protections for “the next time.” And yes, I know what “assume” does!

Thus, our first “elephant in the room”: Few meeting destinations and venues are assessed for safety prior to selection and contracting and fewer meetings have written contingency and emergency plans that are consistently and thoughtfully prepared and staff and vendors, on site and back in the office, trained on procedures.

Assessment basics include:

  • Before completing your RFP, research safety and security issues that concern you or your group, making the research destination and time of year specific.
  • Write an extensive RFP to be completed by the DMO (aka CVB) in the cities being considered about the safety and security of the destination, their plans for evacuation, with whom those plans are coordinated and implemented (City? State? County? Federal government?), how the hotels and other venues are involved, and what their experiences are in practicing and/or implementing those plans.
  • In your RFP for hotel/s or other venues, include questions about all safety issues including back-up generator capacity, water source/s, number and location of AEDs, number, experience and hours of security personnel, their evacuation and shelter-in-place plans, to name just a very few.
  • When conducting a destination and site inspection, focus less on what’s cool and pretty and more on how people will be safe and sound.

Those who do prepare usually look at the obvious: health and medical, transportation, accidents in and outside the facility, speaker no-shows, demonstrations against a speaker for your group or another or the facility itself.

What about the less obvious (!) elephants? In the session Brad Goldberg and I will facilitate on Monday, September 8 at from 9:45 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., we look at three even less obvious elephants that are in the news.

Why should you attend? As CMPs, you are held to a higher standard of care. And as Jeffrey King, esq., a former Counsel to the CIC, said to me years ago, “It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, you can still be sued.” At the very least you want to have a good defense in what you learned and did.

Recommended: google alert for the city, convention center and hotel/s you’ll use; subscription to the local business journal at www.bizjournal.com.

 

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