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COPING WITH A CRISISWhat would you do if your show was hit by catastrophe? Nadia Cameron asks organisers to outline the biggest crises they've faced and how they prepared for the unpredictableFEATURE24 www.exhibitionnews.co.uk

FEATUREwww.exhibitionnews.co.uk 25three-day event." In New York, the venue had been taken over by the emergency services so Tarsus had no choice but to cancel the event. Again, the key was to speak to each exhibitor and refund their money on a proactive basis, Emslie said.Key lessons learnt were the importance of discussion and planning, he said. After ensuring staff and customers are safe, Emslie advised other organisers to regularly communicate with stakeholders and make sure any customer fi nancial issues are immediately dealt with. "Since 9/11 there have been many challenging events that have shaped our crisis management strategy but the one that remains constant is that the human issues must always take priority," he added.POLITICAL PRESSURESMontgomery Exhibitions MD Damion Angus admits the company often works in less than conventional markets, many that are more prone to crises than others. Over the last few years, the organiser has been confronted with natural disasters, disease, political instability and the threat of terrorism or war. Its most recent challenge has been Libya."As well as the breakout of war last year, in 2010 we were a month out from running our Oil & Gas and Infrastructure Event when Colonel Gaddafi , in retribution for his son being arrested in Switzerland, refused to let anyone from a Schengen country enter Libya," Angus explained. "This not only prevented most of our European exhibitors from attending, but also our contractors, who were Maltese. We had four weeks to go, no way of building up the show and only half of our exhibitors able to attend."In this case, it was quick thinking and strong communication that got Montgomery through. "We had very experienced people working on the event who knew this territory and our exhibitors extremely well and we worked closely with our local partner to keep abreast of what was happening politically on the ground in Tripoli," Angus explained. "The fi rst question that needed asking was whether the show was still viable. We immediately assessed what we had left and decided that on the basis we could fi nd new contractors, we would commit to running the shows and manage the expectations of remaining exhibitors as well as our visitors. Admittedly, we were not insured for this type of scenario, however with our reputation at stake we had to ensure we could retain the trust and confi dence of our remaining exhibitors and prevent them from pulling out."Montgomery refunded those refused entry and took a big profi tability hit. However, strong dialogue with those still involved has strengthened relationships for future years, Angus said. "The nature of a crisis is that it comes abruptly and when you least expect it. At Montgomery, we try to assess what our worst-case risk is on any one event and the implications of more than one crisis happening in any short period of time," he said. "I do not believe there is a single policy or strategy one can put in place to cover all eventualities. We believe in rapid decision-making, strong communication to all parties involved and the view that on the whole it is better to run an event than to postpone."CRIME SCENEAs well as cultural and political issues, organisers could fi nd themselves facing a crisis at a local operational level. Eventshare employees Louise Kiwanuka and Stevie Hassard were contracted to Virtual World Forum at London Bridge when they were confronted with a major catastrophe on the event's one-day buildup: Someone had been shot."Our team and contractors arrived onsite to fi nd it sealed off by the police with no indication of if or when the venue would be accessible," Kiwanuka explained. "With just one day in the schedule for build and that day eventually being unusable, the event was postponed."With limited options to get hold of potential attendees, especially those already on planes, the team set about arranging an alternative and much smaller networking event to take place on the days the event should have been on in a nearby venue. It also established an information hotline for people calling in, and organised staffi ng for both sites. Hassard said key steps included grouping together all parties to made sure reactions to the crisis were considered, establishing a good system of control, communicating clearly by keeping the message simple, setting up a crisis call centre, and fi nding somewhere local to have a smaller, replacement event.Kiwanuka said the operational crisis took months of work post-show including settlements to out-of-pocket contractors. "The worst thing would be to not make decisions," she concluded. "Your decision UBM's international team has experienced signifi cant crises - from the 2008 bombings in Mumbai, India during its CPHi and P-MEC exhibitions, to last year's tsunami in Japan a week in advance of several events. In a bid to ensure staff know how to react, UBM Live MD Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam Nik Rudge has introduced an annual training day based on replicating a major incident or potential crisis on a show.The training covered a crisis as it unfolded onsite during a show, where staff were effectively locked in a room and fed information in real-time. The training then dealt with the implications of a strike the day and month before an exhibition was due to open. "We experienced an immediate crisis, plus the proposition that a strike was going to happen, forcing us to look at the business continuity implications," Rudge said. "What this demonstrated was where the gaps are in our risk assessment and management systems. It also highlighted that people can read the strategy, but don't remember it all."The simulated training environment also demonstrated the challenges of thinking in a high-stress environment. "There are management decisions that have to be taken, but the person responsible in these situations is not necessarily the one best equipped to take charge in a crisis," Rudge continued. "We have 'purposed' people to have elevated roles in these situations."UBM Live Amsterdam is planning to expand training to several scenarios including onsite, strikes and environmental challenges, as well as in the lead-up to the event. For example, where a strike threatens a exhibitors and visitors come by plane, train or car. "You also look at alternatives - we've had to cancel events but then followed them up with a virtual event within days for that community, as it was as much as we could do in the circumstances," Rudge said. Ultimately, the safety of staff, exhibitors and visitors is paramount in a crisis, followed by the commercial considerations, he said. "We have had exhibitors wanting shows to run where it's obviously not been safe. We have a duty of care and you can't jeopardise that," Rudge added. BEING PREPARED: UBM'S CRISIS MANAGEMENT TRAININGn the words of Niche Events' Peter Jones, live events can be "unpredictable beasts". Political disputes, economic threats, acts of God and transport strikes are just some of the potential disasters awaiting even the most prepared exhibition organiser in the lead-up to and during an event. In recent years we've had some whoppers - from weather phenomena such as the Icelandic volcano ash cloud in 2010 and the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan last year, to political upheaval across North Africa and Western Asia. Each presented unique logistic, operational and business challenges for shows running in these territories and required communication and quick thinking from organisers to overcome. It's not just the big stuff either: Even health and safety issues such as food poisoning can derail a show."A crisis is something that requires rapid mobilisation, the involvement of outside agencies, suspension of normal business, all the while posing a serious risk to business continuity, loss of life or even worse; business reputation," MD of X-Venture Global Risk Solutions Simon Garrett said. Not every exhibition is a disaster waiting to happen, and most pass without incident. But if a sudden crisis hit, would you know how to cope? How can you ensure your approach is the best possible when catastrophe strikes?EN asked several organisers to detail crises they've faced and how they dealt with them. TERRORIST ATTACKTarsus Group MD Doug Emslie was playing golf with industry colleagues at Hever Castle when news broke of the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. The organiser, which also has an offi ce in New York, was due to launch a spa industry show that morning in Los Angeles, and stage one of its clothing shows in New York's Madison Square Garden later the same week. "After the attacks all fl ights were cancelled and the police even closed major roads," Emslie said. "We were suddenly in a situation where we had all exhibitors onsite in LA but only a handful of visitors. "The key crisis management strategy we employed was continuous communication with our exhibitors. After the horror everyone had witnessed, we spoke to each exhibitor and asked whether they wished to proceed with the show. Everyone wanted to continue. We reconfi rmed this position each day throughout the show, organisers need to look at what percentage of I