How to Host a Safe Conference Amidst the COVID-19 Outbreak

As an event planner it is your responsibility to host a safe, enjoyable conference. Planning for any possible health and safety occurrence is just as important as booking the right vendors, food and entertainment.

Large conferences, such as Mobile World Congress and Facebook’s F8, have been cancelled due to concerns over Coronavirus (COVID-19). Event planners should consider these health risks when organization an occasion. There are some methods to make guests experience as comfortable as possible.

How events are organized will determine the experience for the attendees, so planning for every possible situation is crucial. The first thing to do is appoint a team lead to plan out all health and safe measures. While planning the event, work with the venue management to figure out an emergency plan. Ensure the safety exits are up to standard, properly marked and are not blocked by objects. Also, see if the facility has protocols in place for in the event of an emergency.

“You’re going to want to plan how you’re going to notify people if they need to evacuate,” said Jan Chappel, senior technical specialist at Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Due to attendees being new to the space, they will not know the layout of the building. For example, if there’s a fire make sure attendees know how to leave the building safely, a meeting spot and how to account for people that are still within the building who couldn’t evacuate, explained Chappel.

To avoid any confusion during an emergency, ensure the participants know the emergency plan.

“Take a moment at the beginning of each session to say ‘here’s your closest exit, here’s a protocol for leaving the room, your muster point is over here,’” said Chappel. “It is just making sure that all attendants know what to do if something does happen.”

By going through the emergency plan throughout the event, this gives attendees peace of mind and comfort while attending the event.

Safety risks are easier to indicate and fix than health risks. Since the spread of infectious disease is invisible, it takes foreseeable planning to prevent a disease from spreading.

“Most viruses are spread by either respiratory or through touch a door handle, the next person who comes by touches the same door handle and then touches the face,” said Chappel.

The best cautionary measure for planning for an event during an outbreak would be to provide areas for attendees to keep their hands clean. This could be facial tissues, alcohol-based hand sanitizers located throughout the venue and soap in the washrooms.

By keeping doors propped open it will reduce the number of contact individuals have with one another. Ensure the ventilation system is working, airflow in crowded areas is important for airflow and comfort.

If possible, larger distances between people can help prevent the spread of diseases and keep guests comfortable. Social distancing is a method used to avoid crowded spaces and large gatherings. When in crowded areas, it’s suggested that people give a distance of three to six feet (two metres) between one another. This distance is effective to help prevent the spread of disease.

In an office setting, reminding people to not share dishes and cutlery and remove reading material, such as magazines and newspapers, out of common areas.

Food is an easy carrier for a potential health risk since serving spoons and dishes are a hot spot for the spread of infectious diseases. By having staff serve the food and plates, it reduces the contact from multiple people.

In the extreme case an attendee has come in contact with a transmittable disease, a plan of action should be outlined in the emergency plan. A list of all of the staff and attendees at the event and their contact information should be a part of an emergency plan. In the case of an emergency, all attendees and staff should be contacted immediately so they can make arrangements with a health provider.

If the venue cannot accommodate any health and safety concerns, another option is to host an even virtually. This could be through a webinar, teleconference or a video conference.

Ultimately, it’s up to the event organizers to determine the health and safety risks at the event. There are a lot of factors to consider when planning an event, but with the proper planning, the event can be enjoyable for everyone.

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