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Emergencies, Safety,
and Security
Meeting management, some industry professionals have suggested, is akin
to crisis management. Every event at which several hundred people are
gathered carries a potential for catastrophic incidents, medical emergencies,
fire and bomb threats, corporate espionage, protests and other threats to the
security and well being of those in attendance.
In addition to all their other responsibilities, PCOs fill the role of
professional crisis manager throughout the conference. The potential for
disruptions by protestors, corporate espionage, catastrophic accidents, and
terrorist acts or threats is poised like a Damocletian sword above any
gathering of several hundred people in a public facility. Under these
circumstances, PCOs are compelled to add the attributes of James Bond and
Dirty Harry to their already overflowing inventory of knowledge. Regardless
of how thoroughly the event may be planned and how meticulously managed,
the potential for conflict is omnipresent. Knowledgeable meeting executives
carefully tend to the known elements of the meeting and take precautions
against the unknown, with the safety and security of the conference attendees
uppermost in their minds.
Contingency planning is an integral responsibility of any event organizer
and solid preparation is needed to guard against any unforeseen emergencies
developing into crises. The contingency plan addresses various scenarios and
contingencies which may be anticipated even the most routine meeting may
be affected by medical emergencies, fire or labor conflict. For events that
have a high risk potential, it is invaluable. The plan details exact procedures
to be followed and defines responsibilities. The simplest guideline for
contingency planning is to expect the unexpected.
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Medical Emergencies
Of all crises that could occur at the gathering of a large number of people,
a medical emergency is the most common. On the other hand, it is one for
which it is easiest to be prepared. Accidents, sports injuries, and illness
attributable to changes in diet and surroundings, alcohol consumption, and
fatigue, are the most likely. But other life-threatening emergencies such as
a stroke or heart attack can also occur where several hundred people
gather.
The convention bureau and facility representative can help the meeting
organizer plan an effective medical emergency system using their knowledge
of available resources, such as hospitals and emergency medical services.
Medical services on-site, or available on short notice, are a factor to be
considered and planning should include dental emergencies as well. Some
organizations ask attendees to supply advance information on special medical
needs, potential health risks, or provisions for the handicapped.
On-site medical services are recommended if the site is far from medical
facilities, or the meeting attendance is particularly large. These are private
companies supplying Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) on location.
EMT teams are highly trained paramedical professionals offering immediate
medical attention for anything from cuts and sprains to childbirth and heart
attack. Each team is equipped with an EKG heart monitor-defibrillator,
emergency medical supplies, portable oxygen, and radio communications
linkage to local medical facilities.
Demonstrations
Some emergencies are more foreseeable than others, and the possibility of
demonstrations against a sponsor organization, a celebrity speaker, or guest
dignitary can be anticipated, especially if some element of the conference is
controversial. It is the PCO’s responsibility to ensure a secure environment
during the conference, and attention to security details is essential. The hotel
or convention center will be able to supply information and trained security
personnel, but other factors must be considered if demonstrations are
expected.
Generally, demonstrators voice opposition to some policy or activity of the
sponsor organization or program participant. They are trying to make a
statement, disrupt the meeting, and in so doing, gain media attention for
their cause. Or they may simply want to air their views before an assembly
to which they are not invited. A peaceful demonstration must be handled
delicately lest it turn into angry confrontation between demonstrators and
irritated organization leaders. Demonstrators cannot be allowed to over-
shadow the conference; nor can they be ignored. Involvement of local police
agencies may be necessary if a demonstration is expected; advise them and
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