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5 Ways to Prepare Meeting Attendees for the Polar Vortex

Dangerously cold temperatures will sweep the Midwest and Northeast this week, with some locations reaching windchills of -40 to -50 degrees Fahrenheit. The extreme deep freeze can cause frostbite within minutes and can also result in high heating bills and burst pipes.

That doesn’t have to ruin your meeting, however—even if you’re right in the middle of the polar vortex. Here are five things planners can do right now to mitigate the cold weather's impact.

1. Review Plans With Event Venues

Meeting venues in cities like Minneapolis, where cold winters are commonplace, likely already have emergency plans for exactly this kind of situation.

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Ask your contacts at the host venue how they’re handling things like backup power and maintaining safe surfaces in the building. The venue should have mats inside and outside doors to keep your guests from tracking in too much snow, salt and dirt from the outside.

2. Map Out Routes for Meeting Attendees

Think about how attendees will move between their hotels and the meeting destination. Figure out how to make that trip as warm as possible by minimizing exposure to the outdoors.

Minneapolis, for example, has a skyway system that’s roughly 9.5 miles long connecting downtown buildings, including the convention center and almost all of the major hotels.

“If there was a big convention here and there were people who aren’t prepared for this kind of cold, it doesn’t even matter because they can just walk over through the skyway system,” explained Kim Insley, public relations and communications manager for Meet Minneapolis, Convention & Visitors Association.

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Skyways and other covered routes can be a literal lifesaver when the windchill is life-threatening. Just make sure attendees know how to get to the right place.

Ensure any guests with mobility impairments are also accounted for if they need help navigating to their meetings.

3. Utilize Public Transportation

Absent a skyway, you can also turn to the existing public transport system. It’s probably too late to set up a shuttle service if you don’t already have one in place, but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer city buses or light rail to guests who want to use them.

Figure out the best public transport routes between major hotels and the convention center, including the names of stops and how to get to the final destination after disembarking at the last stop. Make these routes readily available to guests and emphasize how easy it is to use public transportation rather than waiting for a rideshare.

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“If you’ve never used light rail, you probably have a question of ‘How do I use it?’ and you might avoid it,” Insley advised. “When we have big groups come in for site visits, we encourage them to use the light rail. It’s right inside the airport terminal, so you can get onto the light rail from there and go straight downtown. From there, it’s pretty easy to jump into the skyway system.”

4. Use Available Local Resources

No one knows the local conditions like actual locals.

Check with the CVB or visitor information center for the city hosting your meeting for information on local resources, group events and tours and more. Larger conventions may even have their own landing page with the CVB where you can direct attendees. Warn people traveling from warmer climates about appropriate weather gear.

5. Embrace the Cold Weather

There’s no stopping the polar vortex, so the best option may be to simply embrace the cold (safely, of course). People expect that a host city in a cold location has prepared for the season and may be more willing to venture outside than you might think.

“Part of what we do about selling the city when it’s super cold is that we use it to our advantage,” Insley said. “For instance, this weekend was the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, which is an enormous event that takes place on a lake in town and teams come from all over the world. It was crisp and cold, but the ice was perfect and that was a huge selling point.

"We have our largest public shows at the Minneapolis convention center during that time and it doesn’t seem to faze people at all," she added.

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About the author
Janelle Penny | Contributing Writer

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with an emphasis on facilities management.