If you're running event programs at scale you've likely faced unexpected circumstances at an event you've planned at least once in your career whether it be a heavy storm impacting speaker and attendee travel, a power outage at your venue, a data breach, an injury onsite, a hurricane, a flood, a wildfire, loose zoo animals (okay maybe that's a stretch).
But, whatever the contingency may have been, it likely not only caused disruption for your event but may have also posed dangerous conditions for your attendees. Accidents, weather, and emergencies happen. And, they won't stop happening. So, how do you plan ahead to alleviate risks for your attendees when unforeseen circumstances arise?
Whether you're planning a smaller internal meeting or a large conference—a contingency plan is a key part of proper planning. These plans help you prepare for anything from an emergency situation to inclement weather, power outages, venue cancellations, and so much more.
Don't leave your corporate event to chance! In this article, we'll explore all the details surrounding contingency and emergency planning to ensure your upcoming event goes as well as possible, no matter what might happen.
What Is a Contingency Plan?
A "contingency" is any type of unexpected situation that could arise before or during your corporate event. Generally, contingencies will affect your event's or your company's professional image, bottom line, or market share. A contingency could range from a minor snag to a major crisis and virtually anything in-between, affecting anything from a very small part of your event to the entire experience.
So, a contingency plan is a specially constructed method to address as many possible situations as your team can imagine. The plan should enable fast, accurate communication and action to address any contingency. First and foremost, the goal is to ensure your attendees' safety, but also a great contingency plan can help minimize the impact to your event and brand.
What Elements Should I Include in My Contingency Plan?
There are many important components of a good contingency plan, and there are also many different people you should bring to the table when creating yours.
Contingency Plan Components: Types of Risks
Here are the most common and important types of risks to consider when creating a proper contingency plan for your corporate event:
1. Physical Contingencies
These are issues that would affect your event's venue or equipment. That includes accidents and issues like natural disasters, inclement weather, or physical issues at the venue itself like roof leaks, broken windows, and others. It's key to understand what you'll do if your outdoor event is rained out, where your backup venue might be, and when event entry costs might be refundable.
2. Team & Attendee Contingencies
Your event is only as good as the people managing, running, and participating in it. That means contingencies like illness or fractured relationships could greatly affect your event's success. What if your keynote speaker gets sick? What if your venue double-booked you? Questions like these are very important to ask yourself and your team while planning for your upcoming events.
3. Legal Contingencies
Another important question to ask yourself while contingency planning is, "why might an event participant or attendee sue our company or the venue?" Understanding all of your event's possible legal issues is one of the most important elements of your contingency plan.
4. Technical Contingencies
Technology is amazing—until it stops working. Your contingency plan should include specific steps to take in the event of a power failure, HVAC issues, internet outage, key computer system malfunction, or any other tech-related problem. You'll also want to review your use of data and data security at your event to ensure attendee data is kept private.
5. Political Contingencies
Your event might seem apolitical, but things like protests, campaigns, and even updates in certain corporate policies could greatly affect your success. Did you unknowingly schedule your event on voting day? Is there a mass demonstration planned on the same block as your venue? Be sure to understand exactly what you'd do in these types of situations.
People to Include In Your Contingency Planning & Execution
There are many various stakeholders from across your business who should have input into, understanding of, and training for your contingency and emergency planning. Be sure to include all of the following people when creating your contingency plan and training everyone involved in how to address each contingency.
1. Your Event Planning Team
It may seem obvious, but the first group of people to include in your contingency planning is everyone at your company involved in creating, promoting, and executing your event.
2. Your Legal Team
Legal contingencies can be complex and potentially very serious. Be sure to bring your legal team into your contingency planning to ensure you're considering all the legal ramifications your event could create.
3. Your Company's Leadership
Whether they're involved in planning or executing your event or not, it's important to ensure your company's key leadership team members understand your contingency plan and have the opportunity to provide input and suggestions.
4. Your Venue's Key Personnel
Generally, your event's venue will assign a staff member or team to work directly with you in planning and executing your event. Make sure all of your venue's key personnel are included in your contingency planning and training to help you understand the venue fully, see what past events there have done about pre-planning, and make sure everyone is trained on proper emergency management.
5. Your Day-Of Event Support Team
The people who will be on-the-ground running and supporting your event are critical stakeholders in contingency planning. No matter how thorough your contingency plan, if your event support team isn't involved or properly trained, you risk the possibility of making a bad situation worse.
What Tools Can I Use to Help with My Contingency Plan?
Use Tried and True Templates
If you're unsure where to start with creating a contingency or emergency management plan for your event, luckily there are a lot of resources for planners out there. Take for example some of the best we've come by:
- Emergency Action Plan by the Pensylvania Emergency Management Agency
- Special Event Emergency Planning Guide by Yale University
- Emergency Response Plan Template for Planners by Meetings Today
- Emergency Action Plan (Template) by the CDC
Example: DoubleDutch Safety Check
An Event App or Attendee Communication Tool
There are many tools out there that can help you with your contingency planning and implementation. One of the most important ones we recommend you consider using is a standalone smartphone app for your event. Not only will this app help you with registration, attendance, and event material distribution, it will also allow you to send push notifications to your attendees for quick communications in case of an issue or change in venue. This app will likely become a key part of your event's communication plan. Look for an app that provides:
- Push notifications
- Data privacy and security features
- Safety check-in features
- Code of conduct features
What Is a Communication Plan, & Why Do I Need One?
Even the most detailed contingency plan will mean nothing if you can't communicate information and updates to event staff, participants, and attendees. This is where a communication plan comes in. Part of your contingency planning must include understanding how you will notify everyone involved in your event when there are issues or changes. Your communication plan should be as detailed as possible and include all potential channels for communication as well as examples of specific messaging.
If you think of every type of contingency, get the right people in the room and trained, utilize a template and incorporate technology then you'll have a rock-solid contingency plan for your programs. Expect the best, but be prepared for the worst at your events to bring yourself, your team, and attendees peace of mind before and during your events.