Event Risk Management: Planning for & Preventing Disruptions

By: ITA Group
umbrella hovering over travel images to symbolize safety

Event risk mitigation and management poses unique challenges. Event professionals work with multiple vendors and large groups of people, and often shuttle attendees between venues in unfamiliar territory. Planning must take a wide variety of risks into account. 

Often, the most exciting, immersive experiences involve risk. Fire dancers at the farewell dinner. What could go wrong? An afternoon excursion to ride dune buggies in the desert? Buckle up! Even seemingly innocuous tasks like menu planning can uncover hazards due to allergies. 

Related: Make food waste reduction part of your menu planning.

Each event poses its own unique risks and challenges. Planning conversations should cover potential: 

  • Threats to participants
  • Risks to brand reputation
  • Financial or contractual liabilities 

We’ve compiled a clear, yet non-exhaustive, list of conversation-starters to prepare your organization for potential event disruptions.

6 Common Event Risks & How to Prepare  

1. Medical Emergencies

Even the best organized event can be disrupted by a health scare. Responding quickly to medical emergencies can mean the difference between life and death. 

How to Prepare

  • Define an attendee privacy policy as it relates to on-site emergencies
  • Secure an emergency contact, and gather allergy and other voluntary health information from attendees during event registration
  • Ensure staff members know where to access personal and local emergency contact information
  • Train the team in CPR and AED use

2. Location Instability

Political unrest can turn even the most idyllic locale into a hotspot for all the wrong reasons. Perceptions of safety are just as important as having protocols in place. Coverage of protests or riots, or discriminatory legislation might deter your audience from visiting. Wildfires rip through wine country during dry months. We’ve even encountered ice storms in Dallas. 

How to Prepare

  • Develop safety protocols that consider medical and transportation infrastructure
  • Conduct destination risk assessments at two stages: contracting and pre-event 
  • Monitor areas of concern throughout the event
  • Partner with trusted security experts to stay informed of any threats
  • Outline processes and contacts for working with local law enforcement and emergency management officials

3. Supplier/Vendor Service Failures

Planners must place important elements of the event in the hands of outside organizations. Carefully vetting suppliers and vendors can help prevent disappointments and preserve brand reputation down the line. In the event of a supplier or vendor concern, such as bankruptcy or a missed flight by a keynote speaker, activate contingency plans and review protective clauses in your contracts.

How to Prepare

  • Develop a system to request and manage partners’ certificate of insurance
  • Consider “Plan B” programming in case your headliner is sidelined by sickness or travel delays
  • Ensure all contracts provide protection against unforeseen situations

4. Venue/Facility Concerns

Internet outages, malfunctioning AV equipment, construction and noise from nearby events cause frustration on a normal day. When these kinds of disruptions happen at your event, annoyances are amplified. At scale, irksome occurrences can cause significant damage to the experience—and your brand.

How to Prepare

  • Anticipate events happening at or near your venue during the event; even a nearby music festival or sewer replacement project could massively impact the vibe
  • Hold vendors accountable to backup plans by asking detailed “doom and gloom” questions about how prepared they are to respond to infrastructure and AV issues
  • Negotiate terms that restrict a property from undergoing renovation and/or construction, or bookings from competitors during your event

5. Data Security

AI facial recognition to unlock apps and RFID wristbands offer attendees seamless experiences. But planners should consider the privacy risks associated with personal data. The more you collect, the more risk exposure for malicious activity. It’s important to understand how data will be encrypted.

How to Prepare

  • Ask if your technology suppliers use third-party services to collect attendee information and what security measures those companies take
  • Restrict confidential data to the people who need to see it
  • Promptly and properly dispose of sensitive information post-event
  • Outline a response process for lost and stolen personal devices and/or personally identifiable information (e.g., credit card theft)
  • Communicate applicable social media and photo release policies

Related: Use attendee data to create personalized event experiences. 

6. Headcount Headaches

Attrition is a huge financial consideration, and while the industry standard is 20%, it’s an inclusion that can be further negotiated to your financial benefit. With trends toward delaying registration until two weeks out, reserving room blocks and setting food and beverage minimums can feel like a leap of faith. Highlighting a sought-after keynote, exclusive experiences or networking with influencers will encourage earlier registrations and fewer cancellations.

How to Prepare

  • Negotiate resale on attrition, good faith deposit amounts and a reasonable deposit schedule
  • Launch a communication campaign that helps attendees understand the value of attending and excites them about key moments 

Collaborating & Communicating Around Event Risk Mitigation 

Event marketers must constantly evaluate risk potential and stay current on emerging best practices. And they must work across multifunctional teams to ensure everyone understands the plan, chain of command, and their role and responsibilities. The crisis management cycle involves:

Identifying and assessing potential risks

  • Scenario planning to prevent, prepare and manage crisis moments
  • Communication planning that allows organizations to effectively respond and recover

However, the full weight of executing a successful meeting or event should not fall squarely on the shoulders of the event planner. Relying on a single point person is a risk in and of itself. Spread the responsibility of identifying, assessing, planning for, and communicating around risk across a team.

Consider the roles of your event stakeholders: 

  • Event Management Agency
    • Helps navigate supplier plans and contract language, informs and helps execute emergency preparedness plans, and provides risk assessments. 
  • Event Host Organization
    • Owns the risks of hosting the event, and pays special attention to attendee safety, brand experience and business/financial risks.
  • Attendee
    • Adheres to policies, and assumes personal responsibilities, like staying aware of their surroundings and knowing where to go for help.

Document policies and procedures and ensure a variety of stakeholders know where to access contingency plans. Outline the chain of command for making calls, and the timing and tone of when and how unfortunate circumstances are communicated to attendees.    

When handled well, crisis experiences can even deepen people’s trust in your brand. Demonstrating competence—especially in the face of challenge—is a key opportunity to enhance brand reputation. 

“The events team was a step ahead of the needs of the program, looking for potential pitfalls and clearing them before I even knew there could be a problem.” —Leading Technology Software Client

Safety and security threats don't have to cause panic. See how we relocated 1,200 participants just weeks prior to departure to minimize risk.

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ITA Group

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