Risk Management

January 2018

After Hawaii missile scare, it’s time to rethink contracts

by Carolyn Blackburn

People negotiating a contract

Terrorist attacks, natural disasters, unhinged gunslingers and, most recently, an erroneous public warning in Hawaii of an impending missile attack are among the many reasons meeting professionals need to practice extra caution when strategizing their events this year and heading into the future.

Safety and security should be—and should have already been—a major focus for planners. To that end, supplemental education is a great idea, including via MPI, which offers a variety of security and risk management courses at its live events and online. Among the options is the Emergency Preparedness for Meetings and Events certificate course and a webinar titled Cybersecurity: Protecting Your Data.

High-profile attacks like the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the June 2017 congressional baseball shooting in Virginia and the London Bridge attack, which also occurred in June 2017, are powerful reminders of what soft targets meetings and events are, according to Kristi Casey Sanders, director of the MPI Academy.

“But these high-impact, low-probability events we see in the news are not the only threats our industry faces,” Sanders said. “There are protests, labor strikes, cyber hacks and outbreaks, as well as random natural occurrences like volcanic eruptions. But your event is far more likely to be disrupted because of a transportation breakdown or bad weather. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your crisis management plans regardless of the political climate.”

Planners need to address and constantly stay ahead of evolving security risks so that they—or the organization, association or company they work for—aren’t held liable if something goes wrong.

Meetings Today reached out to four industry experts for some negotiation advice and best practices for planners when incorporating safety, security and risk management clauses into their contracts.

Steven A. AdelmanSteven A. Adelman
Adelman Law Group, PLLC
Scottsdale, Ariz.

1. Contract language matters. At the risk of sounding cynical, if a party can push any legal exposure onto someone else, then they’ve managed their risk more fully than any security guard or magnetometer.

This means lawyers need to pay attention to key risk allocation paragraphs that appear in every master-subcontractor agreement: indemnification and hold harmless provisions; insurance, particularly additional insured language; and any substantive term that describes the parties’ respective duties for that event.

2. Authority must align with responsibility. Especially in the context of safety and security, it is essential to identify which party is responsible for what actions, at what times, and at what locations.

In an emergency, following a plan is good; ad hoc decision-making is bad. Ideally, every event has a chain of command that designates one person as Incident Commander.

[Related Content: Watch 'Assuming the Risk: Event Security' for more safety tips]

All operations professionals should know who that is, what radio channel they are on, and what information is relevant to them in an emergency. Likewise, those professionals need to understand their responsibilities once the Incident Commander initiates a response.

3. Promise only what your client can deliver. Acts of public violence from the Boston Marathon to the bombing following the concert at Manchester Arena show the difficulty of preventing public acts, which raises the problem of overpromising. The law is clear that one’s duty is not to be perfect; instead, we must all behave reasonably under the circumstances. Meeting planners should know whether their venue allows guns, and whether they can nonetheless be kept out of restricted admission events; whether the venue provides security guards, where, and during what hours; whether something about the event or the venue indicates that more robust security would be advisable, etc.

The point is that if a question would be raised at a deposition of the planner following a catastrophic loss, it should be asked during the planning process and then built into the contract for that event.

MaryAnne BobrowMaryAnne P. Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM
Bobrow Associates
Citrus Heights, Calif. 

1. Begin asking risk management questions during the RFP process. Rates, dates and space are just part of the equation for negotiating a successful contract. Ten years ago, no one would think to include questions about Wi-Fi/Internet access. Attendee demands changed that. We now need to incorporate questions about attendee safety and security so that a suitable venue can be selected.

Evacuation information, floor plans, on-site security and what the property does to safeguard attendees are just some of the questions that lead to the appropriate emergency preparedness plan. 

2. Seek additional knowledge on risk management generally and specifically from industry associations. The world has changed and risk management responsibilities have changed with it. In a recent poll, only 50 percent of meeting professionals had an emergency preparedness plan. Of that 50 percent, half had not updated the plan in more than three years. Meeting professionals can acquire additional competencies from industry associations’ educational conferences, now providing current details and information on what a plan should include, offered through a variety of platforms. 

3. Once issues are identified, refer them to your legal counsel and insurance broker to ensure maximum protection for your organization. Emergency preparedness plans are concerned with the safety of human life as well as the event organization. In certain instances, the organization could suffer not only damage to its brand and reputation, but also to its very existence.

Know what insurance coverage your organization has and consult with the insurance broker to identify what additional coverage [may be available] to further protect it and your attendees.

Joshua GrimesJoshua L. Grimes, Esq.
Grimes Law Offices, LLC

1. Planners need to start thinking about safety and security during initial site visits and during pre-event walk-throughs. They should consider the neighborhood, and research prior safety/security issues at the venue, including theft, crime and Web hacking. Planners can also use site visits to determine the cost of appropriate security. Each of these factors is important in determining the eventual cost of meeting at the facility, and any special security needs.

2. Ask the venue to share an emergency management plan from a prior event. They typically include evacuation routes, emergency communications and other essential information. Most venues have worked with many groups to prepare these plans, so templates may be available from the venues upon request. No need to “reinvent the wheel.”

3. Consider not just physical security, but also cybersecurity and theft of confidential/proprietary information. Security and safety don’t just involve physical well-being; also important are protections against Web hacking and computer viruses. The meeting contract should allocate responsibility to the venue or its tech provider to ensure that measures will be implemented to keep data secure.

Similarly, many meetings involve dissemination of confidential or proprietary information of meeting participants. The meeting planner should take steps to make sure rooms are secure, and that no unauthorized outsiders can get into the sessions and steal valuable information.

Responsibility for protecting confidential or proprietary information can be allocated in the meeting contract, usually to the meeting venue at additional cost.

Tyra HilliardTyra W. Hilliard, PhD, JD, CMP
College of Coastal Georgia
St. Simons Island, Ga.

1. The most pertinent contract clause regarding safety and security is probably the force majeure clause, which allows a party to terminate without liability due to circumstances beyond their control, such as a natural disaster or fire. To be effective, this clause should spell out the right of termination for each party. There has been a tendency in recent years to put everything but the kitchen sink in this clause, which has changed it from a “boilerplate” clause to one requiring heavy negotiation.

Planners have started including terrorist activities/threats in this clause. The other party (hotel, vendor) generally counters with a geographic and time restriction, so it’s only a force majeure if there is actually a terrorist action and it occurs within a certain distance from the hotel within a certain timeframe.

2. Indemnification puts the responsibility for injury or damage on the party that had control over the instrumentality that caused it. So this covers things like chandeliers falling, slipping on wet floors, etc. In recent years, there have been lawsuits brought by U.S. citizens against U.S. hotel companies for terrorism actions in U.S. brand hotels abroad. I expect we may see this clause become used in the event of a terrorist action to make claims for insufficient security measures in preventing the occurrence or inadequate response/protection following the occurrence.

3. Planners and suppliers should both become more proactive about safety and security. Right now, we are a very reactive industry. We “hope” nothing will happen and then scramble when it does. The OSAC Hotel Security & Safety Assessment Form, produced by the U.S. State Department, is a good start in verifying a hotel’s safety and security measures before contracting.

I suggest planners include these questions in a RFP and then incorporate the hotel’s/vendor’s response (via the OSAC form or their own) into the contract.

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