When meetings and events are struck by a disaster, like Hurricane Sandy, it gives most hospitality folks and planners great pause. But how you deal with a crisis like this will determine if attendees and sponsors are receptive to participating in your organization's future events.

Hurricanes are a little different then other natural disasters because you have some warning before the storm hits. And while this is true, the total impact of even a category 1 hurricane can be greatly underestimated. So, here is a reminder of the 4 things you can do keep attendees safe and cared for, even in the worst of circumstances.

Tip #1: Denial is NOT your friend.

Yes, it is true that meteorologists do not know the exact place, strength and time a hurricane is going to strike land — however, they do know it is going to happen. Waiting until the last minute to cancel your event or move your attendees out of the area is not a prudent idea. This is the time for teamwork and communication skills, not a time of hoping the storm hits 200 miles south of your location. Get everyone out early and safely. 

Tip #2: Check all your contracts. 

With your hotel, convention center, and when renting audio visual equipment, check your force majeure clause and make certain you are covered in instances like this. Call the suppliers directly to talk to them before sending an email detailing why you are cancelling. Chances are they will understand and agree, but don't assume anything. During the aftermath of 9/11 for example, some hotels refused to honor this clause even though air traffic was halted for more than 3 days. 

Before any large event, make certain your insurance is up-to-date and will cover your organization during a catastrophe like Sandy. The last thing your organization needs is to be sued as the result of improper event insurance coverage. 

Tip #3: If your attendees are stranded, have a non-electrical crisis plan. 

Right now, businesses in New Jersey, New York and beyond have no cell service or electricity. What is your crisis plan if everything goes dark? Having the use of walkie-talkies and megaphones is one way to handle large crowds. Every venue usually has their own crisis plan, but often times they do not want to share it with event organizers because we will know the venue's weaknesses. 

However, you need to know the first, second and third resource to go to for the plan if it needs to be executed. Here are some questions to ask of any venue contact:

  • If the electricity and phone service goes dead, who do I contact and how do I reach them?
  • What is the quickest evacuation plan for my attendees to get out of the building, how do I direct them and where should they go?
  • What resources will you make available to me in the case of this type of scenario? 

Tip #4: Offer a refund and a discount to next year's conference. 

Even though it hurts your organization's bottom line, the truth of the matter is – it is better to keep an attendee coming back to your conference rather than focusing exclusively on your profitability. This is how you show customer service and differentiate yourself from the "also-ran" event meeting services organizations. Do what is right, not what is popular. 

AV Event Solutions, a California meeting supplier, extends their condolences to those affected by Hurricane Sandy and hopes that everyone in the event meeting services arena that were impacted by the storm, have their business online very soon!