Trade Show Emergency Checklist

Have you checked out our article about trade show disasters? How To Avoid Trade Show Disasters explains some of the BIGGEST things that can go wrong at these events. Use this trade show checklist to help prevent emergencies from happening — and to figure out how to handle them when they do.

Attendance issues

  • Develop a booth experience and break out sessions that align with the expectations of attendees. Offer something that will help them do their jobs — and live their lives — better. If you’re not sure what to do, ask the trade show sponsor for attendee profile information.
  • Plan for traffic flow through and around your booth. This will prevent congestion and back-ups that can lead to negative perceptions of your brand.
  • Make sure the design of your booth clearly identifies your business and explains what it does. The name and logo should be visible from long distances. It makes it easier for attendees to find you.
  • Develop trade show-related social media campaigns and websites. Encourage people attending trade shows to RSVP to your breakout sessions and comment on your booth activities. This will gauge interest in what you have planned. You can make adjustments if you find you have too little — or too much — interest.
  • Plan how you will communicate changes to event attendees if something unexpected occurs, for example, a speaker doesn’t show up or your booth is moved to a new location. Either partner with the event sponsor or plan for a tightly-targeted social media campaign to reach your audience.

Shipping and storage

  • Ship your booth and other materials so they arrive early. This provides extra time should there be weather, transportation or other types of delays. Alert the venue when your materials are expected to arrive and ensure they will be stored in a secure place.
  • If any of the things that you are shipping could be damaged or are valuable, use secure, watertight cases and wrap items in plastic. This provides added protection against flooding or water damage while in transit or in storage.
  • Find out if it’s possible to keep your freight containers in the general services contractor’s accessible storage. This is usually located dockside in an enclosed trailer. It provides an added level of security and accessibility. You may be required to pay extra for this service, but it could be worth it.

Emergency protection

  • When you design your booth and displays, use cooler-burning LED lights rather than hot halogens. This helps prevent fires, burns, power outages and injuries.
  • Check that trade show venues have adequate ventilation for any lighting or equipment that generates a large amount of heat. If they don’t, adjust your presentations to keep things safe.
  • Have at least one approved and tested fire extinguisher in your exhibit. Learn how to use it and train everyone on your team. Contact an expert if you’re not sure how to choose the right fire extinguisher.
  • Find out from the venue manager how they plan to handle emergencies and evacuate people if something extreme happens. If you’re not happy with the plan, challenge them to come up with a better one.

Extreme weather, health emergencies and terrorist attacks

  • Hurricanes and blizzards are usually forecast well in advance. Monitor weather forecasts in real-time and stay in contact with the venue and trade show operator to find out how they could impact the event.
  • Earthquakes and tornados arrive with little or no notice. Check with the venue to learn what plans they have to handle these emergencies and follow their directions and guidance when these things happen.
  • Stay informed about possible health emergencies by watching government websites, which will alert you to public-health incidents and what you can do to manage risk. The trade show management team will advise you on how to handle health scares during events.
  • Inform people on your team about what precautions they should take while traveling and at shows to prevent illness. The old adage is true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  • Find out in advance what plans the trade show venue has for handling terrorist threats. Should one happen, follow the guidance of local officials. Prior to the event, identify a location outside the venue where the people on your team should meet if there is an extreme emergency that results in an evacuation.


  • Learn how to contact the trade show manager in the event of an emergency. Request that they identify a single point of contact who’s available throughout the event.
  • Plan ahead by having communication protocols in place so the members of your team can get in touch with each other if an emergency occurs. It will be too late to figure this out when something unexpected actually happens.

The details

  • Find out from the trade show management company how they plan to communicate about emergencies and potential changes to the show schedule. If you’re not happy with the response, challenge them to come up with a better plan.
  • Have a legal professional review your booth space rental contract to find out what rights you have if extreme weather or other calamitous events impact the trade show. They should look out for a force majeure, a clause that releases both parties from liability should something happen that’s beyond either party’s control. Never sign a contract you’re not 100 percent comfortable with.
  • Check up on your insurance. Find out what kind of protection your company has to cover you at trade shows and other off-site events. If you’re not adequately covered, contact your agent to increase your insurance levels.
  • Plan ahead by learning what you need to do to make insurance claims, along with the timeframe for making them. It might be hard to get this information in the heat of an emergency.

Planning ahead is the best way to prevent trade show emergencies from becoming actually disasters that damage your brand.

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