It is hard to believe that 10 years have already passed since the Great Blackout of ’03 turned out the lights in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. Along with most of the northeastern United States, about 50 million people were thrown literally back into the dark ages. Like many people, I remember that day vividly (oddly enough) – and it wasn’t by any means all bad. I saw many instances of co-operation, humanitarianism and a new-found appreciation for the quiet of a city at sleep.
What I do wonder, however, is how such a blackout would affect my life today. As a cottage owner, my wife and I are well-accustomed to living without power – blackouts are a regular, almost weekly occurrence in Ontario’s Muskoka region. We have learned how to survive for at least a few days without water, lights or appliances. We barbecue whatever is in the fridge (grilled fritattas are delicious!) and if it is hot outside, we can always forgo the electric fans and go jump in the lake – not a ready option for most city dwellers 100 km south in Toronto, I realize. But the hardest part, by far, is having to get by without internet or email – and I know I am not alone.
The art of managing mayhem
Managing a family and perhaps a few houseguests at a home or cottage without power is one thing. But what happens when the lights go out on a major conference or meeting with hundreds or even thousands of delegates? Besides the obvious health and safety concerns of all in physical attendance, how do you communicate instructions or information to the thousands of others who may also be logged into your event via social media or other technology? And how do you placate the roomful of delegates now rendered incommunicado by the loss of their smartphones?
As more and more GenXers (or younger) enter the meetings profession, many have never experienced a world without the internet, technology or smartphones. They have come to depend on the instantaneous connection that these devices provide. But meetings and events have been going on for hundreds of years, although the F&B has improved considerably since the Middle Ages, I am sure.
Ultimately, it all comes down to how well you plan for contingencies such as power outages, floods, fires and other natural “disasters,” not to mention the unnatural disasters of strikes, walkouts or other labour strife, technological breakdowns, speaker no-shows and culinary catastrophes. Being prepared isn’t just for the Boy (or Girl) Scouts.
What contingency planning tips, tricks or suggestions do you have for making sure your event goes off without a hitch or glitch – or at least ensure that everyone gets home safely? I’d love to read your comments and ideas in the box below.