Meeting 911

By Kimberly L. McCall

What would you do if a meeting participant died while a sales meeting was in full swing? How would you handle the news of a terrorist attack while out of the United States? Kathy Donnell, a meeting and event planner and owner of Donnell Meeting Management based in Pueblo, CO, has had to be cool under pressure in both situations. Handling as many as 20 meetings each year for 20 to 4,000 attendees, Donnell was the onsite director for a meeting in France when terrorists struck on 9/11. Here Donnell shares some of what she’s leaned about managing emergencies in her 16 years of meeting planning.

  • If you’re out of the country, register your group with the local embassy. Registering a group of foreign travelers requires some paperwork on the part of the planner, but the time is well spent in the event of a terrorist attack. The embassy will require information such as name, address, date of birth, passport number, local lodging information and an emergency contact name and number for each person.
  • Carry an international phone card that allows you to make emergency calls.
  • Carry extra, charged batteries for your cell phone.
  • Have vital information about your attendees, including an emergency contact name and multiple phone numbers (home, business and cell).
  • For any type of emergency, involve the onsite upper management immediately.
  • Have the human-resource director’s number at hand. Large companies have procedures in place for dealing with HR issues. When you bring hundreds of people together in a strange town, a few of them will find trouble. These situations eventually end up in the meeting planner’s lap, so it’s important to alert the HR contact immediately.
  • After 9/11 most hotels updated their emergency plans. Before a group arrives onsite, have a meeting with the security staff at the hotel to learn its plan.
  • Provide your group with information about the nearest acute-care center and major hospital.
  • Alert your group about the procedure for exiting the building in case of a fire. If you’re in an area known for earthquakes or tornadoes, provide guests with the recommended ways to deal with a natural disaster.
  • Take phone numbers for air carriers, local transportation companies and local disaster-assistance organizations such as the Red Cross.