Contrary to popular belief, losing your exhibit en route to a trade show is not the worst thing that can happen to your program.
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It's an adage members of the exhibit and event industry know all too well – so well, in fact, that we often tire of hearing about it, and cringe whenever anyone mentions Murphy or his infuriating law. Earlier this year, however, it wasn't Murphy I was worried about. While on my honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, it was Patricia who was calling the shots, and threatening to throw the entire region into chaos.
As Hurricane Patricia rolled into town on Oct. 23, we were instructed by staff at Velas Vallarta resort to pack a small bag and head to a refuge area arranged in the property's on-site convention center. The irony of being holed up in a convention center for an indefinite period of time was not lost on me. After all, I've spent the better part of the last decade hopping from one convention center to another, covering conferences and exhibitions alike, and I must admit I wondered, if only for a moment, whether the idea of "Live by the sword, die by the sword" applied to event venues as well as weaponry.
Thankfully, Patricia benevolently said goodbye to the Mexican state of Jalisco less than 12 hours later, leaving relatively little damage in her wake. The next day, I couldn't help but contemplate how fortunate we'd been, especially considering meteorological reports estimating Hurricane Patricia would surpass the devastation of infamous mega storms such as Sandy and Katrina. I also couldn't get over how remarkable it was that despite all of my trade show travels, Patricia was the closest I'd come to a real code red emergency.
Contrary to popular belief, losing your exhibit en route to a trade show is not the worst thing that can happen to you or your program. Whether it's hurricanes on the coasts or toradoes in the Midwest, terrorist attacks or tsunamis, earthquakes or avalanches, the world can be a very scary place – especially when you're far from home. And as your company's exhibit manager, it's your responsibility to do everything you can to ensure not only your own safety, but also the safety of your company's representatives who are traveling to staff your event or booth space.
Shortly after returning from Mexico, I queried dozens of exhibitors at a trio of trade shows in Las Vegas. Only one of them reported having a formal emergency plan. And while it's impossible to prevent and difficult to predict these so-called "acts of God," it behooves us to proactively prepare – even if those preparations only include pre-identified meeting points and calling trees. Because if disaster strikes, your priority as an exhibit manager must immediately shift from safeguarding your company's investment to protecting its people.
The world doesn't care whether or not a trade show is taking place, and Mother Nature isn't interested in your integrated campaign. Granted, show management and venue personnel play a significant role in emergency preparedness. But it would be negligent of exhibitors to have more plans in place for how to handle logistical hiccups than what to do in the midst of a bona fide emergency.
From comparably benign disasters like the recent exhibit fire at the Sands Expo and Convention Center to outright tragedies such as the recent shooting at the IRC Conference Center in San Bernardino, danger lurks and Murphy rules whenever crowds gather and events take place. As such, there is a certain amount of risk involved at each event you organize and every trade show you attend. But exhibitors are notorious for always having contingency plans. Just be sure you're investing at least as much energy in preparing for unpredictable disasters as you would for an impending labor strike.