What we learned about crisis management during Hurricane Matthew

When Potential Disaster Strikes

Last week we were on the Gulf Coast of Florida, managing a conference for a client. Two hundred and fifty customers from the Americas (Latin America, US and Canada) joined us for a 3 day conference in Marco Island, Florida.

    …20 minutes later…    

Of course, the hurricane proved to be a concern and we had to adapt to a developing situation.

Here are tips we took away that can be applied to your risk management plans:


1. Get ahead of the churn

Before delegates could start to express concern over twitter and other social media, we put a plan in place to communicate developments.

2. Emergency meeting with the hotel

We met with the hotel leads from events to operations and emergency response. Our meeting had two objectives.

  • Find out, if it should develop, what evacuation plans are for the hotel and how they would be communicated. We were not expecting to be evacuated but, from a risk perspective we felt it important to cover all scenarios. We then focused on what our reality would be. Managing the residual effects of the hurricane that would affect our event.
  • We established our Plan B (and C and D) for the conference activities we had planned that might be affected. This included:
    • Moving the beach party indoors, moving lunches and breaks from the terrace, indoors.
    • Communicating to attendees to check with their airline for cancellations and if they had to extend their stay, to see the hotel front desk.
    • Working closely with the affected departments at the hotel

A shout out to the Marco Island Marriott for their professionalism and flexibility. Not only did they remain flexible as plans were changed, but they came up with more rooms to help accommodate our guests who had to extend their stay.

3. Deal with the facts

This is important in order to avoid the misrepresentation of information.

The Marriott hotel chain is a global company which deals with emergency situations on an ongoing basis. They are the experts and it was important that we listened and followed their lead because we knew they were receiving direct instructions on their situation and procedures to be followed. It wasn’t up to us to go rogue and invent new ones. They informed us they follow the National Hurricane Center and have a series of emergency procedures in place that would be followed (Yup, we saw the thick binder that outlined their procedures).

4. Have a safe base for your communications

This means a standard response that you don’t deviate from, but keep re-iterating, until the situation changes (if and when it does.)

Here is what our communication looked like to attendees:

We are monitoring developments with the host hotel. We will follow the instructions as outlined by the hotel. The hotel receives regular updates from the National Hurricane Center. At this point in time Marco Island is not under a watch or a warning. We will continue to update you as we receive developments.’

5. The customer comes first

Remember, your customer’s experience comes first. And this means helping to navigate the unexpected and alleviating anxiety. Once we communicated the above, we also shared a slide in the general session that included an image from the National Hurricane Center on where the hurricane was tracking. We encouraged delegates to check with their airline if they would be flying to any of the affected areas upon departure. As advised by the hotel, we instructed delegates not to check out of the hotel until they had checked with their airline and if they needed to extend their stay to visit the hotel front desk.

This would have been an entirely different post had we been in the hurricane track. But, the above procedures are ones we would recommend you have in place for any emergencies and risk management plans.