how do you plan for the unexpected?

Photo courtesy of Gaylord Hotels

Photo courtesy of Gaylord Hotels

Of all the things that can possibly go wrong with an event, do you ever consider that the venue might have its water supply shut off?

That’s exactly what happened last week when a damaged water main in Prince George’s County in Maryland almost led to a water shutoff. Officials were able to make the necessary repairs before having to shut off water for more than 100,000 people during a heat wave, but not before the 2,000 room Gaylord National Harbor and other hotels had already evacuated all the guests. The Gaylord also had to relocate five conferences.

I don’t know which conferences were relocated and to where, but I assume they were all covered by the force majeure clauses in their contracts. Still, I’m sure it was a headache for conference organizers and hotel staff alike.

Any event – big or small – needs a risk plan. Event planners pride themselves in being great problem solvers – reacting to the problems that arise during the event. But we need to be more proactive and work through potential scenarios ahead of time.

Risk management is a huge topic and tons of books have been written about the subject, even specific to events and conferences. I would encourage you to explore those resources when working on a risk management plan, but here are a few basic suggestions:

Always know where your staff and volunteers are and how to reach them in an emergency. Develop an emergency protocol that carries over for all events, such as a call list.

Have a plan on how to reach your guests or attendees in an emergency or even just to communicate change of plans – are you collecting cell phone numbers at registration?

Think about the weather when planning events – there are certain places that have riskier weather patterns at certain times of year. For example, avoid regions that get a lot of snow in the winter if you want to avoid potential travel delays. Avoid regions that are often in the path of hurricanes during hurricane season. Often you can get a great deal on meetings and events in these places at those times for that very reason, but understand the risk.

Have a plan B you can pull out of your pocket for speakers or entertainers who might be delayed.

Know your contract terms. Sit down with your lawyer and make sure you understand how an Act of God is defined in your contract so you know exactly which situations will put it into effect.

This doesn’t begin to even scratch the surface of event risk management. What are your suggestions?

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don’t get caught in the rain

Outdoor events are great, but you always need a rain plan. Always. The weather is often unpredictable and you can’t mess around. It’s surprising how many events are planned to be outdoors without an inclement weather plan, and the host just crosses his or her fingers.

In determining your rain plan, you can either provide a shelter, or have a backup location indoors. For the former, that is almost always a tent, which is not inexpensive. The good news is that a tent in an outdoor location can often enhance an outdoor venue, providing shade or lighting (depending on the time of day), or even heat if it’s unexpectedly cool.

A tent is an added expense, but it does let you take advantage of your original venue of choice. Sometimes, though, you just need to move the whole event inside. As the event host, it’s up to you to make sure that you have another place to go.

If you’re working with a hotel or some special event venues, an alternate location will usually be on hold for your event. This should be in the contract. However, the alternate location could be an interior ballroom, which could be a major letdown when your original venue was an outdoor courtyard with amazing views. Also know that hotels will require that you make a call on where your event will be held prior to the event set up. This should also be in your contract and it can range from a few hours to 24 or 48 hours prior. Sometimes the hotel won’t let you make the call at all, rather relying on the weather report (for example, if there is a 70% chance of rain or higher, they are definitely moving indoors).

Other venues might not have an alternate space available. For example, an organization I support had its annual event at a beautiful art gallery with a lovely courtyard. The entire venue was filled to capacity, both the gallery rooms and the outdoor courtyard. It was a perfect late spring night and the weather cooperated. But what if it had rained? The venue literally could not have held all of the guests. Luckily the organization realized that they dodged a bullet and moved their annual event to a larger venue this year.

While some venues can be more proactive than others, it’s always up to the planner or host to make sure a rain plan is in place, and to have an understanding of how the rain plan will be implemented.

Don’t forget that the weather can be pretty wacky. I was coordinating a wedding in Maryland over Memorial Day weekend, a traditionally hot and humid time of year. In fact, last year it had been 90 degrees. For the rehearsal dinner, which was held outside in a tent, it was cold and windy, never getting as high as 50 degrees! Luckily they were able to acquire a heater for the tent, but no one ever thought that would be necessary in May!

Do you have any good stories about weather impacting your event?

Photo credit:  BizBash