There are many different strategies that go into event planning, but being ready to cancel or postpone in an emergency should top the list. In the wake of the recent hurricanes in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands or man-made disasters like the horrific shooting spree in Las Vegas, event planners need to know when and how to cancel.
It’s a hard choice to make because a lot of work goes into creating a memorable event. The venue is perfect. The sponsors are 100 percent onboard. The vendors are giving it their all, too. The tickets are sold, or all the invited attendees have RSVP’d, so now what?
It never feels good to give up on a planned event, but consideration needs to be given to the community and people whose lives change dramatically in a disaster whether it’s a weather event like a tornado or a terrorist attack. How do event planners know when canceling or postponing is the right choice?
Safety Is Always an Issue
It’s the first consideration for any company or event planner no matter what is happening. For instance, the weather experts are all predicting a hurricane will make landfall in the area of your event — it’s a no-brainer, really. Often attendees fly in from all over the world for a symposium or tradeshow. Chances are, many people will cancel anyway to avoid getting stuck in a city facing a weather threat.
If you are unsure whether the attendees are at risk, look at what others are doing in the community. If schools are canceling and other events are being postponed, follow their lead. You can also call local authorities and ask if they think there is a risk for event participants. Typically, law enforcement will recommend a big event cancel if they feel it’s necessary whether you ask or not. The venue may also request you make that choice for safety reasons, too.
Accessibility to Supplies
There are many assets that go into running an event–everything from electricity to tables. A recent or impending disaster may make getting the stuff you need problematic. You may also be taking resources that the community needs like water and food and that reflects poorly on the event planner, venue and the sponsors. If you do cancel, make sure to stop any deliveries just in case.
On the other hand, donating supplies stored for the event can help those in need. The venue can serve as a shelter, as well.
How likely is it that people could even get to your event in the event of a disaster? Look at the recent incidents. In the hurricane regions, the streets were too flooded to allow for safe travel, and the airports were closed. In Las Vegas, the streets were blocked off to make room for emergency vehicles.
Let’s face it, no one feels like attending a fun event in a community that is suffering, so follow the social cues. Local attendees, vendors, sponsors and staff may be dealing with injuries, lost homes or missing loved ones. People won’t want to fly in and interfere with the recovery process, either. Companies that choose to hold events in the midst of chaos just look bad, and that could potentially reflect on them for years.
Have a plan in place for notifying ticket holders and stakeholders if you do cancel or postpone. Don’t assume posting on social media is enough. If possible, send out emails and texts, as well, and contact the local TV and radio stations, so they can broadcast the information to the public. If using an event app with an opt-in push notification system, use it.
Of course, most organizers understand the need for a strategy to handle emergencies during an event, and that includes figuring out how to avoid one in the first place. No one could have foreseen the events in Las Vegas, but companies do have better warnings when it comes to natural disasters. Planning an event in hurricane or tornado alley means you have to be ready just in case.
Organizers should have response plans for some common disaster scenarios, too, whether it is a terrorist attack or weather threat. Research the region and find out what the risks are prior to creating the event timeline. Work with authorities to develop strategies that keep attendees safe and utilize resources effectively. Develop a plan for communicating during the session if disaster strikes, too, like using a push notification system for attendees that opt-in via the event app.
Consider when is the right time to plan an event in areas that are prone to bad weather like heavy snow and ice, frigid temperatures, tornados and hurricanes. Scheduling at the right time of year naturally reduces some of the risks.
There is no perfect way to plan in case of disaster, but event organizers need to have a strategy in place that includes criteria that leads to cancellation or postponement of an event. This is especially true if planning in high-risk areas. Be ready in case you must make a change and know in advance the necessary steps to take should the unthinkable happen.