Mission No. 1: Safety
Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré has witnessed the best and worst of human behavior in his 37 years of service in the U.S. Army, especially in his hometown of New Orleans during and after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But when he speaks about those experiences, he focuses on the positive lessons that came from them.
“What happened in New Orleans was really the impetus for the level of civic engagement we now see from groups visiting the city,” he says. “People asked, ‘How can we help?’ There has been more service added to agendas since Katrina.”
When he speaks to groups, his emphasis is on the responsibility planners and organizations have to prepare for potential safety threats no matter where they are meeting. But he also challenges people to think about the positive roles they can play when they travel. “You are ideas people,” he says when asked what else planners can do. “When you come in with 1,000 people or more, you bring a lot of energy with you. How do you channel that? How do you work that into your culture? When you get people together for a meeting to share ideas, let’s also identify those things that might change how we live. That’s the value bargain of disasters like Katrina.”
It’s been seven years this month since the hurricanes hit, and some people don’t like being reminded about them every August, when New Orleans often experiences a dip in visitors. Lt. Gen. Honoré doesn’t want people to forget, pointing out that 19,000 women and children stood under the eaves of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center seeking shelter during the worst of Hurricane Katrina and in its aftermath. “We have to talk about the human impact of events like these storms,” he says. “The fact that we went through this disaster and lived is a victory. We need to talk about the love. We need to take our strength and market it. We evacuated an entire city twice, a city where 15 percent of the people have disabilities, are poor and elderly.”
His response to critics who worry about the economic impact is that people need constant reminders about threats like hurricanes. “It’s good to be reminded that we have to be prepared every day, everywhere. Disasters requiring emergency evacuations like we saw in New Orleans happen somewhere around the world every day.”
His message to meeting planners is more specific. “You take back knowledge to your organizations as a result of your experience here and you pass on the word,” he says. “You can make a difference. You need to educate your audience that they have to be prepared. You have to give people information on the safety risk assessment and make it real. It needs to be part of your housekeeping message. That’s your mission, that’s your job.”
Read more about risk management and creating a plan.