Updated: Jun 10
COVID is still with us and as planners and suppliers try to find new dates or create hybrid events, we can’t ignore the issue of event safety. Our industry is crying out for us to get ahead of it. As we begin to return to face-to-face meetings, things like active shooters, weather events, illnesses and other incidents will not be waylaid by the coronavirus. It’s not as if Hurricane Karen is going to stop and say, “Oh, I can’t hit Florida. They’ve just disinfected Disney World!”
At the same time, planners and suppliers already have a ton on their plate. Pressure is already mounting as we move into a post-COVID era to make up for lost revenue and business and to rebuild memberships and event attendance. You won’t be doing this under predictable circumstances, as COVID will probably impact our community for many months to come.
It will eventually begin to feel like the new normal and we’ll do what we always do: become complacent. It happened after 9-11. It happened after the Boston bombing. It happened after SARS and the H1N1 Flu. It even happened after the Sandy Hook shooting. We get an immediate reaction and do all the right things. Then we forget.
Your organization needs someone whose job it is is to fight complacency. The role of a safety manager is to stay on top of not just today’s safety aspects, but to keep his/her eyes open for what’s down the road.
Take COVID. According to ABC News, a November intelligence report by the military's National Center for Medical Intelligence (who knew such an agency existed?), warned of a contagion sweeping through China’s Wuhan region, changing the patterns of life and business and posing a threat to the population, The White House didn’t declare a federal emergency until March 13.
To add insult to injury, two of the major agencies whose jobs it is to plan, prepare and perform during something such as a COVID crisis – Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – had been without permanent leadership throughout the entire pandemic, according to an article in Politico. It led to a certain level of chaos, which many believe left us all vulnerable.
If planners try to take on this level of ownership in addition to their myriad of responsibilities, other elements may suffer and still the level of safety you need, and your stakeholders want, will be less than effective.
It’s not just health emergencies either. To keep registrants, staff, exhibitors, you and other stakeholders from being harmed, you need to consider political disruption (rallies, protests and demonstrations), environmental incidents (flooding, hurricane, fires, etc.), cyber security, physical safety (hotel security, food safety, active shooter, etc.) and reputational safety (public relations, impressions, etc.).
I don’t say this because I’m a CMP and a CMM with experience in emergency operations and public safety, but because our industry has been lacking in this capacity for far too long. There are other voices in the industry who have been saying for years we have to do better at protecting our meetings and all the essentials that go with it. Those expressions haven’t fallen on deaf ears, per se, but the level of involvement has been less than ideal.
For the last several years, we’ve been taking meetings to the next level, creating better experiences and adding to the business narrative. Now we need to do that with safety and security. After all, we want those great conference memories to be aspirational and encouraging, to end with a figurative bang and not a literal one.