Meeting Mentor Magazine

June 2023

Weather and Climate

Managing Meetings Around Tornadoes,
Hurricanes…and Now Drought

Each year, weather and climate-related issues require more consideration and preparation from meeting professionals. Now add water conservation measures, enacted by California to ease a four-year-long drought, to the increasingly severe tornadoes (already happening) and hurricanes expected this spring and summer in Tornado Alley (north from Texas) and sweeping north and east from the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s some information to help you plan ahead.

Water. Hotels and lodging account for about 15 percent of total water use in commercial and institutional facilities in the United States, cites the Environmental Protection Agency. Bathrooms use about 30 percent of hotel water, landscaping and laundry 16 percent each, and kitchens 14 percent. The EPA estimates that water-efficient practices can reduce operating costs at hotels by as much 11 percent.

California’s mandatory restrictions (with some recent adjustments for local communities) aim to reduce water usage by 25 percent. The order includes replacing 50 million square feet of lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping in partnership with local governments. Large landscapes, including golf courses, must make significant cuts in water use. (Here’s a national drought monitor that you can follow.)

Since the drought in California “is now a national story, it’s fair to ask: Will it have an impact on my meeting? Let the facility respond,” noted Gregg Balko, FASAE, CAE, CEO, SAMPE-Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering. As a California resident himself, he expects groups to see no differences on site. “Facilities will not excessively waste water, since they will get dinged by water authorities. Grass may be browner, which might be important to groups that book resorts.”

While California’s local municipalities and state mandates may require local residences and businesses to limit water consumption, reported Ewell Sterner, director of food and beverage, facilities and operations at Team San Jose, “the overall water situation should have little or no impact [on] visitors and attendees.” A lot, though, is happening behind the scenes at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center:
• Drinking water for client meeting rooms via “Water Stations,” using 5-gallon dispensing units.
• Testing its first hydration station to cut down on bottled water usage.
• Drinking water for banquets and catering provided to clients upon request.
• Kitchen dishwashing set on high pressure, low volume.
• Restrooms using low-flow toilets and urinals.
• Washroom sinks with automatic on/off faucet sensors.
• Drought-tolerant landscaping, and rock replacing flowers, where applicable.
• Exterior sidewalks broom swept (no power washing).

Tornadoes and hurricanes. Balko learned important lessons years ago from back-to-back board meetings in Key West that were interrupted by a hurricane. The good news is that “today’s weather prediction systems can give at least a week’s notice of hurricanes to allow a different set of conversations to take place” with facilities. Still, he said. “if a venue’s geography, access and market are right for attendance, we need to be there,” whether or not it is prone to severe weather. So his answer has been to buy convention cancellation insurance for big meetings — even though earthquake riders for West Coast meetings can be “horribly expensive. If an event is a significant part of an organization’s revenue, you buy the cancellation insurance and riders,” he said.

Like most facilities, the Georgia World Congress Center can host 1,000 people on one day and 50,000 the next. It closely monitor’s the area’s sophisticated weather emergency system. “First and foremost, attendee safety is our number-one concern, always,” said Mark Vaughan, executive vice president, chief sales officer, Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. His advice:
Work closely with the local CVB. The ACVB activates a process in emergencies, and also created a page on its website on which local suppliers can list good and services available for visitors and hours they are open.
Know your point of contact before you get into an emergency situation. Customer advisory procedures are typically spelled out at the very beginning of the planning process, along with evacuation procedures to get attendees to safe and secure areas.

On the southern end of Tornado Alley, the sales and services team at the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau answers meeting planners’ questions in advance of events and also refers them to the city’s Office of Emergency Management. There, they will find detailed tornado and storm safety information, emergency planning guidelines and links to the National Weather Service’s 20-page preparedness guide. — Maxine Golding

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