Risk Management for Meetings and Incentives

Risk management is the general management function that assesses and addresses the causes and effects of outside variables on an organization. The planning and execution of meetings and events is a maze of elements that are subject to external influences. That is why even entry-level planners need a rudimentary knowledge of the principles of risk management. Here is a basic glossary of terms and a checklist for how to develop a basic risk-management strategy.

The Tools

The basic tools of risk management include: loss prevention, loss control, emergency/crisis management, and insurance. Here is a quick look at each one.

Loss prevention. By planning ahead or being proactive, it is possible to prevent many losses. For example, if you are planning an incentive trip to an exotic and/or remote destination, advising attendees to secure appropriate inoculations and only drink bottled water may prevent a possible outbreak of diseases.

Loss control. If your group eats at a particular restaurant at the convention hotel, and those who ate, for example, chicken salad get food poisoning, you immediately take those affected guests to a hospital to further reduce the chance of dehydration and so forth, while also avoiding food from that kitchen. If you are in a remote location it is best to be prepared with first aid to treat for dehydration and diarrhea.

Emergency/crisis management. If a situation is serious and is considered a crisis, a good risk management plan would call for having communication with paramedic units, medevac helicopters, and so on. How elaborate these plans are should be directly related to the level of risk you assign to the venue and the group.

Insurance. You should consider insurance liability for all kinds of contingencies ranging from liquor liability and inclement weather all the way up to emergency medical coverage, depending on how high you consider the risk is to your group.

The Process

Risk management comprises three distinct functions:

1. The identification (discovery) and evaluation (measurement) of potential loss exposures.

2. The feasibility assessment of alternative risk management techniques (risk control and risk financing).

3. The implementation and monitoring of risk management strategies.

Let's apply the risk management process to something as basic as the bar at a reception.

The identification and measurement of the risk factors range from something low-risk, such as the bar drawing people away from the main networking area, to a medium risk of intoxicated attendees becoming belligerent, or a high risk of a drunken attendee getting behind the wheel of a car.

The feasibility assessment would include such strategies as:

--Adding interactive games that would keep the guests occupied with networking rather than gravitating to the bar.

--Having a written alcohol policy.

--Having licensed bartenders.

--Making it a part of your BEO that bartenders and servers will cease serving alcohol to those who are becoming intoxicated.

--If it is a one-night event, having a taxi service available for those who become intoxicated.

--Booking a few rooms at the hotel under J.I. Case (Just In Case).

When you move on to the implementation function, you would troubleshoot the potential strategies for problem areas. For instance, if you choose to have the wait staff cut off intoxicated attendees, you might also consider having them inform the host to deal with any potential conflict. (It is less likely that an attendee will act aggressively with a company officer vs. a hotel server.) If you choose to have a taxi service standing by to drive intoxicated attendees home after a one-night event, you should also have a monitor at the valet parking location, in case someone who shouldn't be driving escapes your detection.


A Risk Management Checklist

Here is a list of risk management strategies that you should consider when formulating an overall plan:

--Take traveler's checks instead of cash.

-- Keep a copy of your passport with someone who can readily fax it to a U.S. consulate.

--Keep a low profile as an American in certain parts of the world.

--Avoid traveling to countries with U.S. State Department warnings.

--Use safety deposit boxes, especially the ones at the front desk.

--Have a written crisis management plan.

--Differentiate between natural crises (i.e., earthquakes, floods) vs. acts of terrorism (car bombings, shootings, kidnappings).

--Keep trip directors and meeting planners managing a group well versed with action steps.

--Learn CPR.

--Familiarize your staff with emergency evacuation procedures.

--Provide emergency response telephone numbers.

--Prior to a meeting, specifically at a high-rise hotel, have the hotel's safety officers address your travel staff with simple knowledge, like the fact that when smoke is accumulating at the ceiling, fresh air for breathing is near the floor.

--Learn how to control alcohol-related situations at your event.

--Design your event to have food, entertainment, and even interactive activities.

--Offer nonalcoholic beverages in the mix of options.

--Have "monitors" roam the event.

--Have an agenda for the event. Have the bar closed during awards and speeches. Not only will you avoid distractions, but you will reduce consumption.

Harith Wickrema is the president and founder of Harith Productions, a global, full-service event management company located in suburban Philadelphia. He is the winner of multiple coveted industry awards including the Crystal, Esprit, Super Six, and Gala awards. To contact him, visit www.harithproductions.com or call (215) 517-5500.