Travelers at Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport were plunged into darkness Wednesday, August 15, 2018, around 10 p.m., a situation that provides an opportunity for meeting planners to think about and assess their own risk management strategies for power outages. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority said a Dominion Energy issue caused the outage, according to a report from Washington, D.C.’s NBC4.

Meetings Today reached out to Paul Frederick, president of Hospitality Security Advisors, and Brenda Rivers, founder and CEO of Andavo Meetings, Incentives and Consulting and author of The Meeting & Event Risk Management Guide, to see how meeting and event planners should prepare for and handle on-site power outages and incorporate the following tactics in their meeting planning risk management strategy.

Paul Frederick

  • Ask the meeting venue to make announcements to your attendees over the fire alarm system. All fire alarm systems in the U.S. have at least a four-hour battery back-up.
  • Attendees should limit their movement.
  • We used to pass out lights and glow sticks, but now people just use the flashlight on cell phones.
  • Ask venue to inventory bottled water in case of a long-term outage.
  • Decide if the program should carry on. I have seen this done successfully. Factors to consider include air-conditioning, need for AV, emergency lighting and the temperament of attendees. Attendees might just want to get back to their hotel, but if the meeting is in the hotel and the power is out, misery loves company, so it may be appropriate to escort all attendees to a general session and do an impromptu general session to keep everyone together.
  • Liaison with the venue about if the issue is related to the local utility or is an internal mechanical issue. In my experience, local utility issues get resolved quicker than internal building maintenance issues.

Brenda Rivers

A meeting planner who has a risk mitigation strategy will already have the following elements in place:

  • They will know from the venue security provider how much generator power is available, and where all of the back-up lighting will be.
  • They will also know how much lighting will be available in their main meeting spaces to plan in case people are in a meeting space and it’s pitch-black dark. They will normally use the property’s public address system to notify people that if they’re in a room that is completely dark and there is no backup generator lighting that they should proceed calmly out to one of the exits and wait outside in the holding area. However, if it’s due to the weather or a [related] threat, they should wait for instructions.
  • If they have conducted a good risk management strategy, in their emergency kit they will have plenty of flashlights, cell phone chargers and two-way radios.
  • If they have a mobile app they’ll be able to send push notifications to all of their attendees about what will happen in the near future and what they should do right now.

[Additional Planner Resource: Safety Checklist for Transportation Services and Off-Site Activities]