— Deedee Sun (@DeedeeKIRO7) May 6, 2018
When a suspicious package forced SeaTac International Airport to shut down for a few hours May 6, the situation set into motion alternative plans for SHW’s incoming clients.
SHW Event Manager Natalee Giamalis was prepping for the arrival of 95 guests to the airport on their way to Seattle for an incentive trip, a week of wining and dining and exploring the city. After the airport security threat, however, the choreography of planes arriving and vehicles departing came to a screeching halt.
Plan B? Greet the guests as they deplaned, and escort them to the downtown hotel on foot, using the Link Light Rail. With quick and calm thinking, Natalee and the onsite staff got the clients calmly and safely downtown, with little disruption to their itinerary. When that didn’t work because of the huge crowds, Plan C was to keep guests comfortable in a safe area until their drivers could make it to the pick-up spot.
Much of what professional event planners do is to plan beyond the obvious. The blueprint for a seamless experience has myriad unseen details and redundancies that are considered and organized – and hopefully never used.
Natalee is the risk management guru at SHW. She’s the one who is heard often saying, “Just because you don’t order a tent, doesn’t mean it won’t rain.” Her naturally optimistic nature is tempered by the reality of events: You need a Plan B…and C and D.
Under Natalee’s leadership, SHW is tightening processes around risk management, both for our company and on behalf of clients. In the local events industry she’s considered an expert on event risk management, and spoke recently at an educational event for the Professional Convention Management Association.
How do event planners like Natalee do it? Here are her top tips:
1. Prepare ahead of time.
Before the event starts, know every detail about the location. In the case of SeaTac, it means knowing all transportation options, alternate routes and directions, all contacts, and more. The deeper your knowledge of the area and site, the easier it is to understand your options. When SeaTac stopped vehicle and aircraft movement, Natalee was able to weigh the pros and cons of each plan she had in her back pocket, whether it was getting attendees on a light rail train towards downtown Seattle, or walking to a nearby hotel to load vehicles.
2. Stay calm and remain focused on solutions.
Keep your cool! Others will be looking for guidance, so it’s important to think clearly and rationally about how to handle the situation. Hone in on the best single solution to create a game plan.
3. Assess what information you do and don’t have, and continually adjust.
Figure out what information is available and what’s missing, then work off what you do know. In situations like these, information often comes sporadically in pieces. As the situation unfolds, it’s important to be flexible and adjust the plan accordingly.
4. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Constant communication is key to creating effective solutions! When Natalee was onsite, she was in regular contact with the staff lead and the transportation dispatcher and talking through each scenario with the client. Working from the same information, they were able to work as a team to do what was best for the attendees. While Natalee leveraged her leadership and expertise, her client stayed well informed and was able to make an informed final decision on behalf of her group.
5. Focus on what you can control.
You can’t control everything. That’s OK. Concentrate on what you can control and work from there. Guest comfort and guest safety is not always the same thing, so finding a balance is important with safety being the first priority. In some cases like the one at SeaTac with crowds and slow traffic but no immediate danger to the attendees, the best plan ended up being keeping the guests in a safe area, and making sure they had plenty of water and information until Natalee could get them into vehicles.
If you'd like to hear more about how we can help develop a risk management plan for your next event, or the role it plays in saving you money with a Strategic Meeting Management Program (SMMP), you can reach us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through our online RFP tool.
Thumbnail Photo: Port of Seattle by Don Wilson