When I first entered the meetings and events world after many years in the corporate business travel industry, I was surprised to see a lack of awareness of the safety and security of meeting and event attendees. In sharp contrast, travel executives accepted their responsibility for safety, security, and risk management for business travelers many years ago. Many of them have annual and renewable agreements with risk management companies offering global security, medical traveler assistance, and other services.
Today’s meetings and events managers have to be ready for all sorts of unexpected situations that can crop up anywhere—including right here in the U.S. In addition, if your company has meetings globally, your company is obligated and may be legally bound to provide care for attendees. When an emergency happens, you need to be able to communicate with internal departments, meeting attendees, and other affected staff and guests, and most importantly, coordinate assistance. Each minute of inaction can lead to tragic circumstances, even loss of life.
This leads us to “duty of care,” a term that many toss around but that is often not well understood. The definition of duty of care is “a company’s obligation to protect its employees, travelers, and meeting participants from risks. These risks can be related to injury, sickness, safety, security, health, or travel.”
Many global companies, especially those that do business in higher-risk parts of the world, have duty-of-care programs—but do those programs apply to meetings? If your company has a strategic meetings management program (SMMP) in place, it’s likely there is also a duty-of-care program in place.
If you haven’t done it yet, keep in mind that creating a duty-of-care policy will give you a blueprint for responding to crises that affect your employees and attendees, no matter where they are in the world.
Here are five steps that can start your efforts to create a duty-of-care program as part of your meetings and event program:
Start a stakeholder collaboration initiative by communicating with key stakeholders, such as human resources, corporate security, legal, etc., to find out what duty-of-care programs already exist. Reach out to your corporate travel department to find out what security and risk suppliers it has already contracted. Explore whether those agreements can be expanded to support your SMMP and events.
Collaborate with your preferred suppliers. Ask whether they have emergency plans and duty-of-care initiatives on a global or property level. Leverage what they have to enhance your own program and efforts. However, identify whose policies and procedures prevail if anything happens on site. You don’t want a situation with both sides expecting the other to take the lead in an emergency; that kind of potentially lethal delay is avoidable with upfront communication.
Use enterprise event technology. Your enterprise technology supplier should be your main partner in carrying out duty-of-care assistance. The data it provides not only speeds up the identification and contacting process, it could end up saving lives. If you don’t have an enterprise technology in place for meetings and events, duty of care alone is a great reason to investigate the benefits of a technology platform. For smaller and medium-sized companies, you can also use your meeting and event management suppliers to also function in the same capacity using their meeting management technology to support your duty-of-care program.
In addition to stakeholder buy-in, it’s critical to get executive buy-in. Having support from human resources, legal, and corporate security upfront should make this a lot easier.
Finally, consistent communication is a must. For your duty-of-care planning to work, everyone needs to know what to do if they are ever caught in a life-threatening situation. In your communications, you should spell out what actions’ attendees should take especially if they are isolated from any immediate help. Your planning should also include actions they can take if access to the Internet and cell/text services are unavailable.
In today’s unpredictable world, it is difficult to stay on top of global events and disasters that may impact your attendees. Being pro-active and creating a well-designed and executed duty-of-care plan allows your company and attendees to be better prepared. If not, you are risking not just the safety, security, and lives of your attendees, but also damage to your personal and corporate brands as well.