3 New Rules for a Risk Management Plan

It’s happened in a movie theater. It’s infiltrated U.S. schools. Sometimes it’s a record-breaking storm or a redirected flight. Whether it’s man-made or designed by nature, catastrophe can strike anywhere, at any time. Imagine you are on the planning committee for the Olympics. Risk management would be top-of-mind. As history shows, disaster can strike in many forms and the International Olympic Committee has used these experiences to strengthen its security plans for future events. If your programs have never come in contact with an emergency situation, you have no historical background. This lack of experience with past incidents and a feeling that there is no need to prepare for what hasn’t happened can put risk management near the bottom of the planning checklist. Here are steps you can take to be prepared: 1. Understand your organization’s current level of risk management. Before you can develop a risk management plan for your program, you need to assess your organization’s internal level of crisis preparedness. Most organizations have emergency procedures for their office buildings, even if it’s limited to fire evacuation, medical emergencies and theft. Many also include emergency instructions in travel rules and regulations documents. These policies, however, are reactive. They tell the traveler what to do if an incident occurs. Your goal is to move from reactive to proactive by putting in place emergency training, risk disclosure for all travelers and a crisis notification process. Travel directors, managers of travel departments and senior meeting planners should write procedures that complement the organization’s internal process and expand the plan to include all participants in a meeting regardless of the location. A meeting held in New Orleans on the cusp of hurricane season can have as great a risk as a summit held in Mumbai after a terrorist bombing. The type of threat is different, but as long as there is emergency training in place, the crisis level of any scenario can be reduced. 2. Research current risks. Your crisis management plan should be customized to address historical and potential security risks in your meeting location. The U.S. Department of State’s website lists current travel warnings and alerts around the world. A warning can mean there are ongoing threats in the country, such as an unstable government, civil war, intense crime or violence, or frequent terrorist attacks. By issuing a warning, the Department of State is advising against travel to the country. Current examples include travel to Iraq and Honduras. An alert is issued for a short-term event and provides information that travelers should be aware of before traveling to a particular country. These alerts could be issued due to an election, which might result in strikes or disturbances; a medical alert, such as the H1N1 virus; or an increased risk of terrorist attacks. The Winter Olympics earlier this year in Sochi, Russia, are an example of the latter. Once the event is over, the alert is removed. If there are no warnings or alerts listed for your meeting location, you should still search for it under “Country Information.” These pages provide a snapshot of important travel information that can be added to your risk management plan, including locations of U.S. embassies and consulates, safety and security information (warnings, alerts, crime reports), and medical services information. 3. Be proactive. Every meeting planner should sign up for the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This free service allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip and sends you the most up-to-date information on the country you are traveling to, including any warnings and alerts. By providing your contact information, consular officers in U.S. embassies can locate you more easily. In addition to enrolling in STEP, follow the Department of State’s Facebook page and Twitter feed for real-time travel information and updated warnings and alerts. Rather than a static document, your risk management plan should be updated to include any new, country-specific information that should be communicated to all meeting stakeholders. If your meeting destination becomes an unstable environment, decision makers will need to assess the risk and determine if travel will be too great a liability for attendees. A risk management plan requires careful research prior to each program. It should be at the top of your planning checklist, right after you’ve established the goals and objectives of your meeting. Emergency situations can be the costliest and largest change factor to a program, but having a proactive crisis management plan in place that is updated and customized for each meeting will mitigate the risk. Monica Compton, CMP, is a writer and event marketing consultant with Pinnacle Productions Inc. She has 21 years experience as a global meeting planner.