Preparing For a Disaster

This morning, I came across this heartbreaking story about Blake Hobbs, an independent meeting planner, who was running a 250 person meeting at the Marriott World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. An uneventful day, Blake went to notify hotel security about someone taking ice from the machines on the plaza and felt the force of the first plane that struck. He made sure that his attendees were evacuated promptly from the area and spent the rest of the day walking uptown, and trying to get to his Lake Wily, South Carolina, home safely.

None of us like the idea of a disaster striking in any circumstance, but with stories of earthquakes in busy city centers and stories of severe weather striking at any time, the fact of the matter is that the world doesn’t stop when we are in a meeting or on a conference call. Here are some points to keep in mind when planning your next meeting or event.

  • Everyone has a role. If you’re hosting a conference, assign single individuals to be “in charge” of a particular task in the event of a severe circumstance. You could be moderating a conference call with all of your people scattered around the country, or you could be doing a live broadcast from a conference room filled with live attendees. Have someone call in on a cellular phone, just in case you have to evacuate the area or go to a safe area so that you can let the conference call attendees know.
  • Know the areas. Know the ins and outs of the building – including the fire escape routes, the tornado safety shelters, and the procedures. It’s important to know what you are supposed to do so that you can advise your people and your employees where to go. There are often different procedures depending on the emergency.
  • Have a coded system. When I worked in retail, I had to learn the different codes, that way if something happened I would know how to direct customers that were near me. As an employee it was partly my responsibility to make sure that shoppers were safe, but we didn’t want to cause panic. Instead, we used codes to announce potential dangers. Things like “Code Black” and “Code Red” meant different things so that we would know how to advise people to get safe, before we told them what was going on. Safety is the most important thing.

Planning, hosting, and attending a conference is supposed to be a fun and exciting experience, and statistically speaking, you will probably never need to know the procedures in the event of a tornado. It’s important to know and understand the procedures and have a plan in place. What steps do you take before a conference to plan for the possibility of a disaster?