A Real-Life ‘What Would You Do?’

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Session Focuses on Crisis Management in the Business-Events Arena


Business-event professionals are used to thinking on their feet, preparing for disasters, large and small. Yesterday morning’s session “The Crisis Experience: How Ready Are You?,” presented by Bob Mellinger, founder and president of Attainium Corporation, tackled the challenge of dealing with the biggest emergencies — the ones no one wants to think about but for which everyone needs to have a plan in place.

When a real disaster strikes, there’s not much time to ask questions. Yesterday’s session had that tone, as attendees collaborated in small groups as part of a simulated event-crisis-management exercise. In rapid-fire motion, questions and issues started flying at the group (in presentation-slide form), similar to the way things would happen in a real crisis situation.

As events unfolded, the groups were periodically given three minutes to prepare “SIT-REPs” (situation reports). The goal of each report was to update the overall plan as things kept moving forward, and to set timelines, communication plans, and key contacts. Reports answered the questions:

  • What do you know?
  • What don’t you know?
  • What do you need?
  • Who do you need to talk to?
  • What are you planning to do next?

While based on a real-life scenario, the simulated event included compounded issues that were out of the ordinary. But even if a challenge isn’t a “gas leak turned health crisis turned international incident (due to a crew of South African delegates showing up in the middle of the chaos),” there are a variety of crises that can pop up in the normal course of planning large-scale events. Participants in yesterday’s session were forced to think about their own operations: What emergency plans do they have in place for their own venues and events? How often does their team review and update those plans? Are they really prepared to handle anything?

The session focused improving crisis communications and decision-making skills; identifying gaps in event crisis planning and response plans; and discussing best practices for handling event disruptions and disasters. Mellinger wrapped up with key takeaways. He urged attendees to remember to create a situation report, and to make sure someone is taking notes and keeping track of the details as things unfold — which, he said, will be a huge help in the debriefing stage, after things have calmed down. Mellinger also stressed the importance of reviewing an organization’s chain of command in a disaster-response plan, as well as making sure everyone involved is aware of the plan that’s in place.

Attendees walked away with much to think about. “I now know that I have a lot of work to do when I get back to the office,” said Patty Tipson, training manager for Land Trust Alliance. “This might be the most valuable session I’ve attended. What’s more valuable than life and safety?”

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