Hurricane threat over my conference – now what! 9 Tips to weather the storm

Hurricane season is June 1st to November 30, five months of prime time convention season in Orlando. Having worked as an event planner and lived here for 30 years I’ve been through my fair share of hurricanes.  Typically with less than a weeks notice of the event you need to make some quick decisions.  How bad does it look? What stage will it hit land? There are a multitude of variables and Central Florida is well equipped to handle some pretty intense storms easily (vs the flooding prone areas like Houston and New Orleans). There is really no way of knowing when a hurricane is going  to crash your party but here are few tips to prepare you before, during and after a typical Central Florida Hurricane.

1. If your event is scheduled during hurricane season, check out getting event insurance from VisitFlorida https://www.visitflorida.org/resources/grants/event-insurance/

2. Make sure you review all your contracts with all your vendors and suppliers and have a clearly spelled out plan.  I just heard today in the wake of Hurricane Irma heading our way that an A/V supplier wants to charge the client for the techs to come in a day early and charge “dark day” rates – a surprise to the planner.

3. Shipping of materials, always allow for extra shipping days;  the hurricane might not impact your actual location but could slow down delivery in effected areas around you.

4. Communicate details to your registered attendees and be clear on all their options.  Having people cancel early because of fear or media hype is bad, but so is having to “hunker down” in a hotel without a plan.

5. Check with airlines to see if they are canceling flights.

6. Typically, canceling a major convention a week out is not an option. A hurricane could decide to come a week before your conference, during it , or start brewing at the tail end, all effecting your attendees travel plans.  Most conferences I’ve witnessed have to weather the storm regardless and then pick up the pieces of cancellation, no show, attrition, leaving early, and more.  The best practice is to stay calm, have a solid action plan and to provide clear and concise communication to all involved parties.  If your conference dates are always during hurricane season in Florida, consider forming  a committee of people that are part of “in case of hurricane” group.

7. If you do need to hunker down at your hotel, meet with the hotel executives and staff and come up with a plan to keep attendees safe, informed and entertained.  While I worked at a large convention hotel during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, we had all hands on deck and the staff stayed at the hotel to help with any issues.  The group was supposed to have an off-property event but Walt Disney World decided to close down causing all entertainment venues to shut down.  We were able to create a “pop up” event at the hotel to feed attendees, providing some games and hotel owned piano.  It gave the attendees the opportunity to socialize and not worry as much…and a windowless ballroom is great safe location to wait it out.

8. On the flip side, in 2004 during Hurricane Charlie I was out of town in Chicago at an industry conference and put in quick call into my family going thru the stress and unknown impact of the storm.  It was unnerving and all the Central Florida attendees at this conference in Chicago felt helpless. Providing a support group area so attendees can share, vent, help etc.  to help weather the storm remotely.

9. Always safety first.

I have been seeing lots of comments on various planner platforms about handling Hurricanes’ and best practices , I’d love to hear from you and create a great resource to help planners prepare as best a possible during Hurricane Season.

Stacey Paul Barabe, CSEP

President | Creative Director

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