On March 13, 2012, the SHAPE America National Convention and Exposition experienced one of the most disheartening things that could happen at a conference: a power cut. On the opening day of the event, a large transformer exploded in a parking lot near the convention’s host hotel, causing power to be wiped out across 27 blocks of Boston for several days.
Paul Roetert, CEO of SHAPE America, was the man in charge of salvaging the situation. At the recent annual American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) meeting, Roetert and his colleague Eileen Johnson, partner at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston L.L.P., presented their tips on how to safeguard your conferences and events.
- Have a disaster recovery plan in place before you need it. Decide who has decision-making power and make sure you inform those staff and volunteers who will be responsible for implementing the contingency plan in advance. Identify a point of contact for local government and emergency response services, as well as each of the sites and vendors for the event.
- Ensure everyone knows their role. The chain of command needs to be understood by all those involved and staff need to know which parts of the disaster recovery plan they are responsible for. Within this, understanding who can speak on behalf of the organization and knowledge of the external parties to contact in case of situation resolution must be communicated. In addition, it is important to identify one person to oversee logistics.
- Communicate with your attendees. In our instance, we communicated with the mayor’s office, the convention center, the conference host hotel, other delegate hotels and the electric utility. We monitored the utility’s efforts to get power restored to the area and communicated information to our attendees using multiple channels, including social media and posters in stairwells and near doors. We had to be creative, of course, as communication without electricity can be challenging!
- Ensure you have event cancellation insurance. Obtain event cancellation insurance to cover potential losses and notify meeting attendees, presenters, exhibitors, etc. in advance if any expenses incurred in attending the meeting will not be covered by the policy. It’s also a good idea to have a risk management specialist assigned at your insurance company and to address unexpected events, natural disasters, etc. (typically identified as “Acts of God”) in contracts with each vendor and event site.
- Focus on safety first. Ensure measures are in place to deal with any medical emergencies that may arise and identify how you may need to deal with supplies. In our case, the power cut meant none of the hotels or restaurants in the affected area could store or prepare food. With thousands of people to feed, arrangements were made to bring it in from outside of the affected area.
- Keep calm. It’s best not to panic as it can be contagious to attendees. Try to allay concerns as they are raised on an individual basis.
Hopefully, nothing like this will ever happen to you or your organization. However, if it does, the above tips will make sure you’re as prepared as you can be
E. Paul Roetert, Ph.D., is the Chief Executive Officer of SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators, the largest organization of professionals involved in school-based health, physical education and physical activity. Founded in 1885, SHAPE America is committed to ensuring all children have the opportunity to lead healthy, physically active lives. Roetert has presented and published extensively, both nationally and internationally, in the fields of sports science and medicine, as well as coaching education, including five books, more than 25 book chapters and over 100 articles. He received his Ph.D. in biomechanics from the University of Connecticut and is a Fellow with the American College of Sports Medicine.
Eileen Johnson is a partner with the law firm of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston L.L.P. and a Co-Chair of the firm’s Nonprofit Organizations and Associations practice group. Her practice focuses on tax, governance, transactions, employment, intellectual property, and fundraising. She brings a unique approach to working with clients, drawing upon her experience as in-house counsel for the National Wildlife Federation for nearly 20 years. Ms. Johnson now serves as general counsel to a variety of associations and organizations. Ms. Johnson is a Certified Association Executive. She is currently a member of ASAE’s Finance & Business Operations Section Council and a Past Chair of ASAE’s Legal Section Council, Past Chair of the Virginia State Bar’s Corporate Counsel Section, and has held numerous volunteer positions with ASAE and other associations for nonprofit executives.