Meeting Mentor Magazine

January 2022

Cover Story

Emergency Plans Get Fresh Review
As Ebola Recedes

When two nurses who tended the initial Ebola case in the U.S. contracted the disease, meetings held in Dallas in October and November had to act swiftly — whether or not their emergency plans included infectious diseases.

The American Bankers Association — whose annual convention took place at the Hyatt Regency Dallas October 19-21 — started working immediately with hotels, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dallas health officials. “They assured us the Ebola virus was isolated and contained,” said John Hall, ABA’s senior vice president. “So three weeks before the meeting, we told registrants we were monitoring  the situation and that their safety was our number-one concern.” A couple of dozen attendees canceled, but it was a number typical for the 1,200-attendee meeting. Meanwhile, the American Society of Cytopathology updated registrants for its annual Scientific Meeting (through a prominent link on the meeting’s home page) on all the facts to ease their concerns prior to arrival in Dallas in mid-November.

Frank Librio, vice president of communications at the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, cited “a normal amount of cancellations, although some identified Ebola concerns. Most people paid attention to medical facts.”

The big question from all this is: How much do you need to revisit and change in your meeting’s emergency plans? It’s all about risk exposure, said George Taylor, managing director, global operations, iJET International, during a Global Business Travel Association webinar on  managing medical and security implications of Ebola.
Ask yourself these questions:
— What are the potential threats and risks to your meeting and people?
— How vulnerable are you?
— What would be the severity of these impacts?
— How do you mitigate unacceptable threats and risks?
Take specific actions:
• Be informed and educated with the facts.
• Develop public response messaging immediately, before attendees or exhibitors call you. One change ABA made on site was to revise its welcome comments. “We realized some people had to think twice before coming, and we appreciated they were there,” said Hall.
• Inform employees and give them answers for attendee questions.
• Use the “live” opportunity to assess your emergency plan. “We felt ours worked,” ABA’s Hall said, “but it does give you the chance to improve on it.”
• Keep looking at your plan. “You may think you’re covered for all different scenarios, but then something new pops up,” said Deidre Irwin Ross, MHA, CMP, CAE, director of conventions and meeting planning, American Veterinary Medical Association. She learned from the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in early 2003 to “make sure your infectious disease response is comprehensive.” Since then, she also equips her meeting team with sanitizers, masks and gloves.

A webinar organized by the International Association of Venue Managers (which also formed a task force on Ebola) highlighted key responses to threats of Ebola and blood-borne pathogens that also apply to meetings:
• Prevention starts with effective hand-washing. “The Ebola situation hit just as the State Fair of Texas was opening,” said Daniel Huerta, executive general manager, Fair Park, City of Dallas. With three million visitors expected, the venue made hand sanitizers available at every food and beverage location on site. Frequent announcements urged visitors to use hand sanitizers and proper hand-washing procedures.
Staff training takes on new importance. “Since we don’t know who will be first responders on the scene, we need to expand blood-borne pathogen training to all our personnel,” said Paul Turner, CFE, director of event operations & security, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas.
• Proper housekeeping techniques can make a significant difference. (See OSHA Ebola information and fact sheet.)
Communication is paramount in raising awareness and easing concerns. When a nurses’ group met at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in October, meeting planners were concerned about “how we were preparing to respond,” said Al Rojas, assistant director of the facility.  “It was a constant dialogue. We were very transparent in getting messages out. We reinforced with staff to follow protocols and be vigilant in their execution.”

Resources to access for Ebola and infectious disease information to include in emergency plans:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization
U.S. Travel Association
Convention Industry Council
International Association of Venue ManagersMaxine Golding

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