With the annual flu season looming, hospitals and doctors are preparing themselves for emergency rooms that may become flooded with patients who fear Ebola but instead have influenza – which can cause similar symptoms in the early stages such as fever and body aches.
Just imagine the consequences of a flu outbreak at a key corporate program this fall or winter.
Not only would it impact attendance, but also it could easily lead to mass Ebola hysteria and the prompt cancellation of the meeting mid stream. Senior management will be looking at meeting professionals to answer challenging questions as:
- Could this be Ebola?
- What crisis management protocols are in place to handle this?
- Are ill attendees getting proper attention?
- Should we cancel the meeting?
So what can meeting professionals do now to be prepared?
The answer to this question takes us to a meeting professional’s responsibility to be proficient at risk and crisis management. This responsibility stems from the duty of “reasonable care,” whereby meeting professionals must satisfy 3 key principles associated with their events as follows:
- The duty to identify risks
- The duty to inform and warn of risks
- The duty to avoid risks
Let’s take a look at each principle as it pertains to the recent Ebola concerns and the upcoming flu season:
Duty to Identify Risks
The risk of an attendee being ill with Ebola at your meeting is extremely low. There is a much greater chance that you will be killed in a plane crash on your way to the program than be exposed to Ebola! However, the real risk here is to business continuity. An Ebola scare at your key program could literally put an abrupt end to your meeting in a matter of hours.
Duty to Inform and Warn of Risks
What is the host organization’s duty to inform and warn attendees of risks in advance of a meeting or event? In this case the threat is low, however, the perceived threat is high.
So the organization’s legal duty to inform and warn is minimal, however, in order to ensure business continuity during the meeting, it is recommended that meeting professionals educate their attendees on the basics of Ebola in a document that reads something like “What You Need to Know.”
The document can go along way in preventing mass hysteria during a flu outbreak by giving attendees practical, reassuring information in advance about the flu and Ebola.
Duty to Avoid Risk
The risk of a flu outbreak at your program and the potential mismanagement of this outbreak are two risks that planners should be proactive in avoiding. Simple preventative communications to the attendees is key. Basic recommendations such as proper hand washing and not coming to the meeting with flu-like illnesses are the minimum requirements.
Other measures while on site include placing hand sanitizer stations through the meeting area, dispensing of individual hand sanitizers in the attendee’s welcome packet and instructions to all managers to report an ill appearing attendee to the appropriate persons
Another real risk meeting planners face is not Ebola or a flu outbreak, but rather access to convenient, quality medical care if they become ill. While there are tests for influenza and screening protocols being put in place for Ebola, flu patients will be much more concerned this flu season because of Ebola. And this translates into very crowded emergency rooms and urgent care centers.
And if Ebola spreads even sporadically throughout the United States in the coming months, issues around access to care while at a meeting will only intensify leading to further strain on local medical resources.
Meeting planners – this flu season in particular – should be providing prearranged access to convenient, quality healthcare during their program. Unfortunately, hotel doctors are not a good solution. Their doctors are rarely affiliated with the hotel, and are non-credentialed doctors with dubious qualifications that just happen to be available as part of a call network to come to the hotel.
A proactive approach involves working with the host organization’s benefits managers to arrange, in advance, preferential access to a local, in network primary care physician group that can see attendees for same day appointments. Another approach is to hire a medical event company that can provide on site medical care 24/7 to your attendees.
In addition, planners must plan for the worst-case scenario – for example, a wide spread flu outbreak at the meeting with at least one attendee who is at risk for Ebola. This requires a team approach including planners, benefits personnel, security and travel company involvement.
Though the risk of Ebola visiting your meeting this flu season is extremely low, there do exist real business continuity concerns that must be addressed by planners. If planners take the necessary steps to prepare, they will look like rockstars in their senior management’s eyes if the flu strikes their meeting.