As I write this column, I'm at home, recuperating from Swine Flu, or H1N1. Despite all my precautions; constant hand washing, wiping down household surfaces with sanitizer wipes, my laptop, TV remote, etc. I caught this from my teenage daughter. According to the CDC and the World Health Organization, we are primed for a strong season of Swine Flu, and it will peak in mid-October. I have a conference for 1000 international attendees the third week of October, so I had already begun to think about how this might affect my conference. If you have any meetings during this upcoming flu season, have you given any thought to how this might impact your meeting? Here are some preventative measures you can and should take:
Consider the impact a health crisis would have on your meeting in particular, financial implications if attendance declines because of fear of travel, travel restrictions set by local health authorities on in a worse case if your meeting is cancelled due to an outbreak.
Develop a Response Plan: What steps will you take if this happens before your meeting? What if there's an outbreak at your meeting? How will you handle sick attendees, employees, speakers or entertainers? What is the hotel's response plan in case of an outbreak? The CDC estimates that in the height of a pandemic, businesses should count on up to 40% of employees staying home for up to two weeks. What impact would this have on your meeting if there was an outbreak among the hotel staff?
Communicate with your attendees to make sure they are provided with the most accurate information possible, making sure to use the CDC or WHO as your two main sources of information to avoid media hyperbole. Keeping your attendees updated in advance on the status of the outbreak, your plans to help prevent and lessen the spread onsite, and steps they can take to prevent getting ill is key to helping allay their fears. Consider becoming a friend of the CDC on Facebook so you will get updates and alerts as soon as they are issued.
Mitigate your losses as best you can; purchasing event cancellation insurance in advance can protect you in case of significant declines in attendance or outright cancellation of your event. Google event cancellation insurance for firms providing this insurance.
Advise your attendees to get vaccinated against H1N1 when the vaccine comes out, and remind them to wash their hands and cover their coughs, while you consider including hand sanitizer and Kleenex packets in their conference bags, and print signs reminding them to follow proper sanitation procedures.
In the best case scenario your meeting won't be affected by H1N1 and you'll have a plan in place that will work for the next outbreak or illness that threatens to strike your meeting. In the meantime, take care of yourself; listen to your mother and WASH YOUR HANDS!