Legal Briefs: 6 Ways to Protect Your Meetings

Meeting Planning


Meeting planners who depend on the venue or the destination’s professional emergency service providers are not fulfilling their professional duty. And failure to fulfill a professional duty can lead to liability, financial loss, exacerbated injuries or, at its worst—death. Risk management takes a coordinated effort on everyone’s part.

Many meeting planners want to make their meetings safer and protect their attendees and organizations but aren’t sure what to do. The good news is that doing something is better than doing nothing. So here are five things meeting planners can do. It’s not a comprehensive crisis preparedness plan, but it’s a start.

Have (and Use) a Crisis Management Plan

Although you can’t plan for everything, a good crisis management plan starts with assessing the risks that might occur based on the probability that they will occur and the consequences if they do occur. In your plan, you address those that are most likely to occur and those with the biggest impact if they do occur.

Then, form a crisis management team to draft the plan, which should include at a minimum:

-Emergency response procedures for immediate response (such as evacuating the meeting space and venue) and extended response (such as sheltering in place, setting up a command center or evacuating meeting attendees and staff from the city or country).
-Maps and information about the meeting venue, with emergency exits and equipment well marked. Verify the accuracy of the information.
-Contact lists for key staff—of the planner’s organization, facility, destination and vendors, as well as emergency service providers.
-Other forms and documents such as an incident report form, facility emergency plan information and any other useful information.

Choose Wisely

Make meeting choices with safety and security in mind. In particular, consider the safety and security of the venue and destination in site selection decisions, as well as how attendees will travel to your meeting—where flights will connect, for example. When the London Underground was bombed in 2005, there were serious delays and cancellations in flights connecting through London airports.

Asking vendors about emergency plans, training and certifications is also a good idea. Ideally, you will put risk management questions in your RFP and require the attachment of emergency plans to any proposals.

Mitigate Risk and Liability

Two of the best risk-mitigation tools meeting professionals will use are contracts and insurance. Mitigation means to limit the risk. Any meeting comes with risks, but contracts allow you the opportunity to define the scope of risk your organization is accepting. This is why contract negotiations can be so intense! Negotiating a contract is all about apportioning risk with each party’s underlying goal to minimize their own risk.

Likewise, insurance is a way to shift some of the risk. You pay a little for a lot of financial protection. Training staff on policies and procedures, first aid and CPR/AED also mitigates the impact of an emergency that may occur.

Call on the Experts

Technically, hiring experts like security personnel and on-site medical services is also mitigation, but is so important it merits its own category. Meeting planners are often unwilling or unable to spend money on professionals whose job it is to protect the organization from risk. Ideally, every meeting organizer would have a risk-management budget line in meeting budgets.

Experts Might Include:

-Security personnel to keep meeting property safe or patrol areas for acts of violence or vandalism.
-On-site or on-call medical personnel, who are available to administer aid in case of a medical emergency or accident.
-A lawyer
hired to review a contract to be sure the organization isn’t agreeing to take on an unreasonable portion of the financial and liability risk in a contract.

Like insurance, it’s easy to overlook calling on experts—because if you don’t need them, it seems like money wasted. But if you ever have needed them and didn’t have them, you sure wished you had spent the money, because it quite often costs much more to get out of a bad situation than to have avoided it in the first place.

Crisis Communications

Finally, meeting professionals should have a good crisis communication plan. This should include internal communication with staff, the facility, vendors and the destination, as well as external communication with the news media and families and friends of those directly involved or affected by the crisis.

Internal communication starts with the emergency contact list included in the crisis management plan. In addition, a phone tree for emergency communication should be established in advance. This basically allows each person to call 1–3 people with a “trickle down” effect until everyone has been contacted, so no one person is tasked with trying to call everyone.

Media training for someone who will be on-site at major meetings is important because the media won’t wait for the meeting organizer or hotel to carefully craft a story and designate a media representative. Breaking news is best hot, so if the media can’t get the story from you, they’ll find it elsewhere. It is important to get out in front and control the message that is released to the extent you can. Be sure to include media representatives on your contact list.

Meeting professionals can do much more to be crisis prepared, but this is a start. Remember, doing anything is better than doing nothing. Be safe.

Tyra W. Hilliard, Ph.D., J.D., CMP is a consultant, attorney and educator in the areas of risk management and legal issues for meetings and events. Subscribe to her blog,, or follow her on Twitter @DrTyra.