The unthinkable: Joan Eisenstodt talks about event contingency plans
Joan Eisenstodt is as near to a legend in the events industry as they come. Her LinkedIn list of recommendations is enough to put many a head of state to shame.
Described as a "powerhouse in driving the events industry forward," she is known for an ability to connect with people, a strong commitment to ethics and as a highly effective trainer, mentor and leader. Her company, Eisenstodt Associates, LLC, founded in 1981, provides clients with planning and management support for conferences, seminars, and conventions.
Joan is also highly regarded for her expertise in meeting/attendee safety and emergency planning. Recently, she agreed to answer a few questions on the subject for Sound n' Sight. The following is part one of that interview.
Jenise: First, could you tell me a little bit about your background on this subject? Experience and experiencess you've had that you learned from?
Joan: Everyone thinks something really bad must have happened to a meeting I was doing. I've had my share of "stuff" but nothing (thank goodness) catastrophic.
'...the plates came in w/ the lovely poached salmon AND a steamed crawfish on each plate .. tentacles wiggling!'
THAT said ... I started my biz in '81. In '83, 3 things happened (coincidentally with the same client): on the way from DFW to the hotel (in the car w/ the client's VP), we were broadsided by a car that FLEW across the median. It was a very bad accident and I was the one most injured. (Remarkably no one was killed.) I had to be cut out of the car, had multiple stitches, wore a neck collar and was black and blue. I learned to do site management with a radio .. and realized how prepared I was.
Then .. at one of their luncheons where I was seated in the front to manage the speakers -- the plates came in w/ the lovely poached salmon AND a steamed crawfish on each plate .. tentacles wiggling!
Lastly: after the '83 meeting, they canceled, after a site visit, the 2 hotels for '84 and moved to another hotel in the same city. The group was sued as was I and my company. I spent lots of time with the attorney and the client and learned .. lots.
I observe everything and see risk in almost all things. Once, speaking to an HSMAI chapter, doing a session, I think, on risk, I had the group walk the room and observe. They missed the toasters on the table in front of the containers of ice w/ pitchers of juice. Easy way to be electrocuted.
Jenise: I'm sure most event planners are familiar with the term Force Majeure but for anyone out there who isn't, can you explain it and how it relates to event planners?
Joan: It is a condition or "act" beyond the control of the parties. Interestingly, since 9/11, planners have been trying to use Force Majeure for anything and everything. Law covers it and at the same time, I am more comfortable having language in a contract. What planners often forget is having it in vendor contracts as well as facility contracts.
I think reading the APEX panel report is good to better understand terms. And I think ASKING questions is the smartest thing to do -- never just pretend understanding.
More, I think we have to look at FM when it comes to not just full termination of a meeting - we have to look at it when a meeting goes on even when not all people can get there. We give F&B guarantees typically 72 hours out and there are often F&B minimums in contracts w/ no provisions for FM.
Jenise: Do you think event planners are doing a good enough job preparing for unexpected & undesirable situations?
Joan: No, not at all. There are planners (and suppliers) who believe that because "nothing bad has ever happened" to them, nothing will. And planners believe that facilities know what to do and will protect the meeting and the participants and the property and all other things.
I did a webinar the other day and someone said that it seemed so overwhelming. It is! You know how people say what we do isn't brain surgery? I used to have pencils made that said "More than brain surgery" and gave them out when I did training. I did that bec. brain (and other) surgeons have a team of people to ensure things go well.
We don't. Often it's one person in charge of all arrangements and on site management.
It starts w/ site selection and the questions asked and most people rely on 3rd parties that, from what I've seen, don't ask safety questions. It is our responsibility to keep people and property safe. Period.
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