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There’s this old saying which has come to be known as Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong; will.

As an event planner, this is a principle with which you need to be very familiar. Although the real world is hardly as grim as Murphy’s Law makes it out to be – and you shouldn’t go into your events with the assumption that something’s going to go horribly wrong – it definitely pays to have a plan handy for when things go wrong.  As far as the law of averages is concerned, it’s going to happen eventually.

Maybe one of your guest speakers fails to show up, or you wind up missing your catering staff. Maybe several of your volunteers come down with the flu, and are unable to help out. Maybe someone gets injured at one of your events, or something gets stolen. The fact is; if you don’t have a set of general guidelines in place for when something goes south, that means you and your staff will end up flying blind. Ultimately, this is going to make a bad situation even worse, as you’re scrambling to get everyone organized instead of simply springing into action and solving the problem.

So what are the components of a good event management disaster recovery plan?

First and foremost, it needs to be flexible and general enough to be applied to a wide range of different situations. The fact is, no crisis management plan will ever be perfect, and there’s no way you’ll be able to predict everything that could possibly go wrong with an event. Instead of trying to accomplish such an impossible task, instead try to conceive of a plan that’ll allow you to respond effectively no matter the crisis.

That said; there are a few over-arching crisis types you’re likely to encounter while running an event. Staffing problems might involve a missing keynote speaker, a vendor dispute, or legal issues involving one of your volunteers or partners. Similarly, attendee problems could include injury, harassment, or violence involving someone attending your conference. Equipment and venue problems, meanwhile, encompass any issues your technology might encounter; these include damage, theft, and malfunction.

Depending on where you host your events, you might also need to take disasters into account, as well. Although it’s not likely to happen, there is a chance you might end up dealing with either terrorism or any of a wide range of natural and man-made disasters. Having a set of guidelines in place for when something like this happens will allow you to get both your staff and your guests to safety as soon as possible.

Most crisis management plans are organized into three steps. Prevention, assessment, and correction.

Prevention– which is probably the most important step – involves the measures you’ll take to avoid running into trouble in the first place. You might, for example, require a thorough background check on all volunteers to avoid bringing in anyone with a criminal history.

Assessment: This involves details on how you’ll keep track of the goings-on at your event, and how you’ll determine when a crisis has occurred (or is about to occur). In order to assess whether or not something’s going wrong, you’ll be laying out guidelines for security patrol routes and communication between volunteers. You must be able to quickly assess the situation’s severity as well as who will be able to correct it, which leads us to the last step. 

Correction: Basically, this is what you’ll do when, in spite of your best efforts, things go south. As a general rule, you’ll want to write up an incident report template for your volunteers to fill out in addition to laying out guidelines for how they should manage a crisis – calling security to defuse a fight by separating the two parties, for example.

When you’re running an event, it’s best to assume that something’s going to go wrong. After all, the law of averages dictates that, over the course of your career as an event planner, something’s eventually going to go south. If you’ve a proper crisis management plan in place, you’ll be able to deal with whatever problems arise efficiently and effectively. If you don’t, well…

You’ll be seeing Murphy’s Law in action.