Risk Management for Meetings and Conferences

Hurricane. Terrorist attack. Avian flu outbreak. Staff strike. Missing attendees. Is your heart beating fast yet? Meeting planners today have more worst case scenarios that need to be planned for than in the past. September 11th completely changed our idea of risk management and the Avian flu was not something that meeting planners considered a year ago. This past May, two attendees at a conference in California went missing during a Saturday tour trip. Luckily, that story had a happy ending, but what if it didn’t? You don’t need to have a plan for each and every situation that might arise, but some thought and planning can help reduce your risk and help things run smoothly if a situation arises.

Make a Plan

The first step is to draft a risk management plan, including planning for risks such as natural disasters, accidents, technology situations (ie. power outage) and human-caused risks (ie. speaker is a no-show). Risks specific to the destination, venue, attendees and program should also be included. The plan should outline responses to different situations, the responsibilities of staff members, facility staff and hired security and how media will be managed.
Your risk management plan should be reviewed and revised yearly and as new possible risks arise.

How to Minimize Your Risk

The three best tools to minimize your risk are a site inspection, the contract and insurance.

Site Inspection

During your site inspection, it is important to find out what type of emergency plan the venue has including evacuation plans, what type of training their staff has and the type of emergency equipment that is on site. In the case of a health emergency, find out which staff members have CPR/First Aid training and how they can be quickly identified. To avoid an allergy related emergency, be sure that the food will be labeled on buffets and breaks.


All contracts including those with speakers and performers should include Force majeure clauses that is, what will happen should a situation arise that is beyond the control of either party. This should include things such as strikes, wars, threats or acts of terrorism, weather, travel advisories or disease outbreaks. Also include a catch all provision that will cover anything else that was not listed.


It is important to understand your commercial general liability coverage for each event. If you are going to have anything held off site, be sure that you are covered if you are temporarily off business premises. Also find out if there are any exclusions in the policy such as physical activities or alcohol use. It may not be worth it for every event to pay for event cancellation insurance, so think each event through carefully to determine what is best for you.

Do you need help with your risk management plan? Contact Designing Events at info@designingevents.com or 866-867-1933.

Michelle Issing