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Disasters are often sudden, unexpected, and very overwhelming. The COVID-19 pandemic has been all of those things.

I have been involved in disaster recovery, business continuity, and crisis management for more than 30 years. I feel confident I’m well-read on most topics in our profession. I’ve read thousands of articles, listened to countless hours of presentations, and attended hundreds of board discussions, but nothing has prepared me for this.

As business continuity professionals, we’ve studied and identified most risks. DRJ has well-documented plans on most scenarios which might affect our shows.

Many of these plans have been tested over the past 33 years in business – from 9/11 travel restrictions, hurricanes, and lost freight. We’ve encountered a number of issues; that is why we have event cancellation policies in place.

But again, nothing prepared us for the entire world being affected in so many different ways at the same time.

In March, I was forced to make the toughest call of my life.

We have had insurance coverage on our events for years, but epidemic outbreaks are not covered in our 100-page policy. To take it one step further, the risk or fear of an outbreak is certainly not covered.

Registered attendees were facing company travel bans due to the growing threat of the virus. This was a struggling scenario: how does a company policy supersede the attendee cancellation clause every attendee agreed to when registering? Again, timing was the biggest struggle because we needed to make our decision before the government’s ban on large gatherings, the closing of Walt Disney World, and a State of Emergency in Florida.

Many attendees and exhibitors were already choosing to cancel, accepting that no refunds would be given because it was only days from the show. This opened us to liability to those same attendees. Once we canceled, those same attendees were the first to request a refund, although they were the major reason causing us to cancel. It was a double-edged sword to do the right thing.

We cancelled DRJ Spring 2020 five days before it was supposed to start.

What came next was the chaotic fallout of managing hundreds of emails and phone calls. Many were angry but we appreciate the patience and support we received as we worked through our biggest problem.

We had a massive liability to the hotel and several vendors with no insurance. The majority of our revenue had already been spent leading up to the event.

For those of you who don’t know, an event contract demands the host (DRJ) must guarantee a certain number of hotel room nights, food and beverage, audio/visual, and much more. This contract was signed in 2016.

Thirty days prior to our events we can make micro-adjustments on these guarantees, but no changes are allowed past that date. This is why we have our attendee cancellation policy in place.

With the inevitable cancelation of DRJ Spring 2020, most of our customer demands  – especially with our attendees – have been met. Negotiations with sponsors, exhibitors, and third-party vendors have kept me busy virtually every day since.

This pandemic is our chance to remain flexible, learn from each other, work together, stay positive, and thrive. This crisis will once again prove the value of BC/DR professionals like you. This is your chance to earn your seat at the (C-Suite) table … and we will be here to help.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bob Arnold

Bob Arnold, MBCI Hon., is the president of Disaster Recovery Journal.

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