Tag: meetings

Emergency Preparedness for Meeting Planners

Emergency preparedness for meeting planners
This your meeting? Are you ready — for food poisoning, an accident, fire?

It’s a rare business that doesn’t host a meeting once in a while. While businesses are shut down as a result of the pandemic, this list may not apply! But as soon as you get back to face-to-face meetings, it will. So hang on to it!

Your meeting might be for marketing or educational purposes, or maybe to celebrate a holiday or having reached a company milestone.

Whatever the purpose, if you are the meeting planner, you have a long to-do list to be sure everything goes as planned. Even the simplest meeting needs decisions made about date and time, venue, food, invitations, theme and decorations, sign-in procedures, advertising and publicity, entertainment, audio-visual, vendors, etc.  

Our question for today:

Does your meeting to-do list include planning for emergencies?

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you know that we are constantly on the lookout for good emergency preparedness resources. And we look not just for ideas for family planning, but also for small business and, in particular, for neighborhood teams.

This Advisory will be useful for all three groups. But it is particularly vital for businesses, because . . .

If something goes badly wrong at your business meeting, and you could have prepared for it, you will be blamed. And you may be sued.

Please note: we are not attorneys, and this Advisory is not meant to give legal advice. Please consult with qualified professionals for detailed recommendations for your business and your meeting.

As you get ready to meet with those professionals, being ready with questions will save time and money. Here are some questions to start with.

1 – Is there a law that we must have a disaster preparedness plan for every meeting?

At Emergency Plan Guide we have never found a legal requirement on emergency preparedness for meeting planners. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t one!  Your professional advisers may have found it. Ask.

But at the same time we have read enough horror stories to know that people sue no matter what

They may claim that you should have let them know in advance that it was a dangerous neighborhood, that the venue was open to access from outside, that there was no internet security, that a storm was threatened, that medical aid was not immediately available, etc., etc. They will claim you were negligent.

2 – How do we protect ourselves if there is no clear-cut law?

Recent well-known lawsuits seem to have revolved around the legal concept of “Duty of Care.” The Legal Dictionary at Law.com defines Duty of Care this way: “a requirement that a person act toward others and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would use. “

There’s a second legal term we also see connected with this same topic: “Standard of Care.” It is closely tied to “Duty of Care.” 

Basically, this is the “standard” that a reasonable person with the same qualifications would follow in a similar circumstance. As you might imagine, a professional would have a higher standard than a non-professional.

Here’s the challenge. Law.com adds:  “The problem is that the “standard” is often a subjective issue upon which reasonable people can differ.”

Not too helpful! 

Still, we already know that it just makes sense to prepare for emergencies to the best level you can.

3 – So what does a reasonable person do when planning a meeting?

These are my recommendations. They are similar to preparing for emergencies in your own home or business.

I see these as basic steps:

  • Evaluate your OWN level of preparedness. Who from your company will be there, what skills do they have, how ready will they be to respond to an emergency? What gaps do you find?
  • Identify risks for this particular event: geographic location and specific room or building, threats from weather and/or people (attendees or outsiders), security issues, availability of emergency medical personnel, cyber-security policies, firearms policies, alcohol policies, etc.
  • For each risk, confer with your business partners and then decide on who will respond and how. Make it clear who is responsible for what. Will any of the partners need to budget for additional personnel or equipment? List whom to call and all names and numbers. Decide who will interact with the news media or other officials, etc.
  • Confirm appropriate insurance coverages, yours and your meeting business partners.  
  • Write down and update your plan. Document your planning meetings. Share your decisions as appropriate in your marketing materials, since attendees deserve to know you have considered their safety in your planning. Document how everything went at the meeting.

This written document shows that you were attentive, prudent and thorough. This can be your very best protection against claims of negligence.

More resources on emergency preparedness for meeting planners

A while ago I attended a 2-hour training session sponsored by Meetings Today. The title was: Risk Management – Best Practices for Meetings and Events. The presenter, Brenda Rivers, also put out a 30-minute podcast on the Duty of Care. You may be able to find the podcast here: https://www.meetingstoday.com/magazines/article-details/articleid/32549/title/duty-of-care-keeping-safe

Meetings Today has also published a comprehensive template for meeting planners. If you have any responsibility for planning meetings, you may wish to download it for future reference. Here’s the link: https://www.meetingstoday.com/newsevents/industrynews/industrynewsdetails/articleid/31923/title/emergency-response-plan-template-for-planners

If you consider yourself to be a professional meeting planner, or just an enthusiastic meeting planner, please find out more about this topic!

Best of luck,

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Joe and I consider ourselves “enthusiastic meeting planners.”  Together, we have been responsible for literally hundreds of meetings for professional associations, Rotary International, neighborhood outreach for energy efficiency, and, of course, our local emergency response group. You can find one of our neighborhood group meeting planning Advisories here, recently updated.

And if you’re serious about putting on a successful meeting, check out this book from Alex Genadinik. There are a number of books available about planning events, of course, including those on starting a business as an event planner. I recommend this one because of Genadinik’s marketing emphasis.

How to Inspire Readiness

Do your neighborhood group meetings feel like this???

If you are what we could call a “solo preparedness devotee” (or perhaps “voice in the wilderness?”) you know it’s hard to stay inspired and to maintain any momentum in learning new stuff, keeping your supplies up to date, etc.

And if you are involved with a group of neighbors or even trained citizens, you experience the same problem — only worse!

How to keep people interested and inspire readiness?

A close call works.

For example, a 4.5 earthquake works well here in California. News of disasters in other parts of the country or even the world also catches people’s notice and can inspire readiness. Even an announcement about a change in course of FEMA can be useful.

But close calls usually indicate that someone is suffering, so we certainly don’t like waiting for them or depending on them . . .

For a group, we look to regular meetings for inspiration and engagement.

So then the question: What should be on our meeting agenda this month?

I’ve been organizing or helping organize our neighborhood emergency response group meetings for about 16 years now. Even if we figure only 4 meetings a year during that time, that adds up to A WHOLE LOT OF MEETING AGENDAS! Every meeting is an effort — and a challenge! – to inspire readiness through training, door-prizes, entertainment, examples, stories . . . whatever works.

Fortunately, other groups share their meeting agendas with me.

If you’ve been sticking around here at Emergency Plan Guide for a few years, you’ve read about a number of meetings – and not just ours, but also meetings I’ve heard about from other CERT or neighborhood groups. For example, just this week I got these three reports that have already helped suggest meeting topics here in my neighborhood:

  • A friend in a Northern California coastal town reported that she is putting on an earthquake tabletop exercise for a neighboring town. Both those towns are in the way of tsunamis if/when there’s a big Pacific Rim earthquake. Here in Southern California a tsunami is less likely, but an earthquake?  You bet.
  • Another leader in a different Northern California city wrote to tell me that her neighborhood group had planned and executed a Fire Prevention Clean-up Day – removing Juniper trees (very flammable), trash, leaves, fallen branches, etc. from around the homes in their mobile home park. Hearing about this group’s enthusiasm was certainly inspiring to me! We’re working on a similar project right now! (Watch for more.)
  • Still another formal CERT group got this media mention yesterday: Lafayette, CA: The Lamorinda Residents Guide to Wildfire Preparedness & Evacuation. a joint effort that included the Lamorinda Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT) was mailed to more than 62,000 residents in critical wildland fire hazard areas of the East Bay (CA).

Emergency Plan Guide tries to share as many good ideas as possible!

In the past I have put out many individual Advisories about successful meetings we’ve held. And I’ve also published two downloadable books with meeting planning ideas, with about 75 plans for easily-repeatable neighborhood meetings.

Note – these aren’t official CERT trainings. Rather, they are ideas stressing readiness that can be used with “ordinary” groups of neighbors, some of whom have had CERT training but most of whom have not.

I am in the midst of updating them with more meeting agendas and will soon be republishing them in a new format.

And this brings me to a request.

What can YOU add to our list of meeting resources that will help other neighborhood groups inspire readiness within their own ranks?

Have you held meetings that have been particularly interesting, fun or productive? And that lend themselves to being copied? If so, could you please send a description so I can include it in the next version of the book?

I’m thinking that together, we can produce something like “Chicken Soup for Great Emergency Preparedness Teams!”

Here are some simple questions that might work for telling your Great Meeting story:

  1. What was the title/theme of the meeting and what was your objective?
  2. How did the meeting unfold? Any surprises? Any laughs? Any hiccups? What was particularly inspiring or engaging?
  3. Did you need props, handouts, show-n-tell items, other materials?

Please send a story! If you want to remain anonymous, or your group wants to remain anonymous, just say so/ But let us know what sort of neighborhood you’re in, to help readers adapt your great meeting to their neighborhood.

Sharing strengthens volunteer groups and thus whole neighborhoods!

As you know, FEMA’s most recent push has been for Community Resilience – as opposed, I guess, to national response capability. I’ve been working at the community level for years, and I think most of you have been, too. Sharing ideas to help organize communities and inspire readiness among their residents is what we’re about.

I welcome your ideas for great meetings to share!  Please send them to Virginia@EmergencyPlanGuide.org.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

In case you’ve missed them, here are a couple of Advisories from the past about meetings that worked to inspire readiness. At least, I have received repeated assurances that they made a difference!

Why are you a prepper?


My neighbors vote on preparedness. The result?


“Raise your hand . . .”

At our recent homeowner’s association meeting, I asked for a show of hands:

“How many of you have set aside food and water for an emergency?”

Response was good. About 80% of the 100 or so people there raised a hand.

Next question:

“How many of you are prepared to provide your neighbor with food and water?”

Hands that had been raised to answer the first question went down immediately.

We all looked around. Not a single hand was visible. The sound of weak laughter was heard, then it died away.

Even after years of effort in building a neighborhood emergency response group, we recognize that . . .

Being prepared seems mostly to be a commitment to oneself.

On the other hand (pun!), a number of our neighbors are willing to encourage and even help others prepare. Based on the “vote” above, you might not expect this commitment. What’s behind it?

What gets and keeps a neighborhood emergency response group going?

Every so often we quiz everyone in our own neighborhood group about why they are a part of it – when we really don’t have many emergencies to respond to!

Here’s what we know about our members.

  • They have a “social conscience.” The most common answer to why they participate is always the same: “I want to give back.”
  • They feel a sense of responsibility for the community, and typically are engaged with other neighbors one way or another.
  • They acknowledge the risks that face the community. In our case, those risks include earthquake, wildfire, and, more frequently, loss of electricity and water. And, in an earthquake, broken gas mains.
  • They like feeling empowered. Our group members are familiar with the infrastructure of our community. They know where First Responders come from and how long it takes them to get here. They understand how our mobile radio station works and who we’ll be calling in an emergency. And they know the limitations that our property managers operate under.
  • They like their gear. Our members use their walkie-talkies every month, and bring battery-operated lanterns, first aid kits and fire extinguishers to meetings when we advertise a “show and tell.” (And they really like winning the door prize – even if it’s a simple $2 LED flashlight.)


How to encourage more people in the neighborhood to prepare for themselves?

We have found that people who aren’t willing to take steps on their own to prepare for emergencies will sometimes respond – slowly and maybe begrudgingly – to repeated messages of . . .

  • Guilt (“What will your children say when they are hungry and you didn’t think ahead enough to provide for them?”)
  • Fear (“Imagine being trapped under debris, in the dust and dark, unable to move . . .”)
  • A friendly helping hand (“Here’s a simple list of the top 5 things to do, and a bottle of water to get started.”)


How to encourage more people to join in the neighborhood emergency response group?

To be successful, any group has to offer benefits to its members. We try to focus on some of these in our communications and monthly meetings . . .

  • Make it fun! (I mentioned door prizes above. They do work at meetings! And we try to include a joke once in a while in our “educational” pieces.)
  • Give everybody a job that helps make a meeting a success – set up the room, be a greeter, take notes, whatever.
  • Recognize accomplishments – new CERT graduates, someone who used a skill learned in the group in a real life situation. Last month one of our members connected with a relative in another state and got some good preparedness info passed along to a whole new audience!
  • Keep training. Our members like to keep learning new stuff. (They particularly like learning from new instructors – some of whom are now coming from videos on YouTube.)
  • Make it easy to join. Have a welcome and orientation package for new group members. Ease them in; they don’t have to know everything you know on their very first day.

As I write this, I realize I’m writing in part for myself! Having been actively involved in our neighborhood group ever since I took the CERT training in 2002, I’ve observed and tried every one of the suggestions above! Over the years, the size of our group has varied from 15 or so to as many as 85, and then come back down again.

As we have said many times, preparedness is much more a STATE OF MIND than a stash of emergency supplies. And in a real emergency, it’s the people closest to you – that is, your neighbors – who will be the true First Responders. The more THEY know, the more prepared THEY are, the safer YOU will be!

So, I guess we just keep keeping on!

Please add your comments to this post, and your suggestions for inspiring people to take action for themselves and to take action for their neighbors, too.

It’s the best we can do!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. If you are building a neighborhood group, please take a look at the manual I put together a few months ago. It details many of the successful meeting we’ve held over the past few years. If you’re in the midst of planning a neighborhood meeting right now, it will be a big help!



How To Hold A Great CERT Meeting


Trying to inspire and organize your neighborhood to prepare for an emergency is like trying to sell someone life insurance. “I’d rather not think about it,” is a typical response, often accompanied by a sheepish grin.

But a consistent effort does pay off. Last week we held a meeting of our neighborhood block captains, and around 30 people showed up. It turned out to be one of the best meetings we’ve had.

Action Item:  If you’re planning a get-together, consider incorporating the following ideas.

Changing batteries in handheld radio

Changing batteries in handheld radios

What makes a good meeting?

1. A good reason! In this case, block captains were given new materials for handing out to their neighbors.

2. Good publicity. An article in our neighborhood newsletter, announcement at the Homeowners’ Association meeting, followed by email reminders and flyers hand-delivered to each block captain. (Multiple reminders are essential! It’s like that old saying that people have to see your ad seven times before they buy.)

3. Name tags for everyone. They make you “a part of the group” and make it easier for team members to get to know one another.

4. A role for each person. In this case, each block captain brought his or her radio and we changed out the batteries. (We do it twice a year.)

5. Variety of activities. Attendees changed batteries, watched a short film downloaded from YouTube (while eating popcorn!), and picked up their handouts for their neighbors.

6. Good audio-visual equipment. Our team has invested in a portable speaker that has great sound quality. We hooked up the computer to it when we showed the film, and also used the microphone for training.

The meeting had an agenda, and it was followed.  People got what they came for and were in and out in a tight 60 minutes. They’ll be willing to come out again as a result.

If you are growing a CERT group, consider grabbing a copy of one or both of of Emergency Plan Guide’s “from the trenches” workbooks. They pull ideas from the past 15 years into handy guidebooks. Get details here.

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team

P.S. Our third version of Great Meeting Ideas is being assembled now. Sign up for our Advisories below to be sure you get the notice when it comes out!