Planning events can be great fun. Rarely does something seriously go wrong, but at times emergencies do occur. Many of these emergencies can’t be foreseen, but you can plan to manage most and minimize their impact.
In all my years of planning, I’ve seen many things happen, from a plane crash (fortunately no one died, but we had very serious injuries) to a car thief running through a barricade and being shot at by the police. I’ve seen someone stab himself, and someone fall in a pool and break a leg. Some emergencies are easily dealt with; others can be nightmarish to manage.
PLANNING FOR EMERGENCIES
Early on in the process
One of the best pieces of advice I received early on was “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” As part of the planning process I start by looking at the kind of event I am managing, and the type of audience the event will attract. Is the event held in a hotel ballroom, or are we hosting an outdoor festival? Each will have a different set of challenges.
Is the audience a group of young professionals or a busload of retirees? Here too, different risks may have to be considered. I start by looking at all the possible problems or emergencies that could occur. An older audience may have health issues and you may want to host a less adventurous or strenuous type of activity. A younger crowd may take advantage of being away from the office and live it up a little, or a lot.
Assembling a team
Assemble a committee and connect with the experts. If you are hosting an event at a resort or convention center, the venue will most likely have an emergency plan in place. Meet with the head of security; learn what their procedures are. Work with the venue’s staff to adapt procedures to your event. Insure that your whole team understands the emergency plan at the venue. This can be as simple as providing all staff and volunteers with a small card showcasing step-by-step procedures and phone numbers. We always educate our event staff and volunteers on the procedures in pre-event meetings, and a venue walk-through for all staff and volunteers is a must.
If you are hosting an outdoor event, your emergency contingency plan may become slightly more involved. You may have to assemble a team of experts, including the police and fire department, parks and recreation department, and your management team. Many more things must be considered here. Who is your audience, will you be serving alcohol, is the site easily accessible for emergency personnel, how do we layout the site to insure easy access and evacuation, how much security do you need to hire?
Learn if you need to hire a Head of Security for your event. I also like to bring in my event insurance professional at this time. Not only will they have a better understanding of what you are trying to accomplish, and will be able to insure you properly. They bring a vast knowledge of risks to the table, some you may not have considered.
Once you have your plans in place, write up instructions and distribute them to everyone! It’s great to have a plan, but worthless if no one knows about it.
Overall good advice
Although not possible for all events, consider collecting emergency contact information from your attendees. This will help you reach out to family in the event of an emergency. This can easily be accomplished via the event registration process.
Insure that you have identified the individuals who are trained to speak on behalf of the event. One wants to diminish the possibility of bad publicity in the event an emergency occurs.
Keep an eye on the weather and news reports for the city or region you are having your event in. If inclement weather is predicted, what are the triggers to cancel the event? Hosting a meeting in the Southwestern part of the United States in January may sound heavenly, but be sure to keep an eye on the weather, airports and flights. The weather may be amazing in Scottsdale, but Chicago O’Hare may be snowed in, greatly impacting arrivals and room night usage.
In case of expected inclement weather either at the event location or near major transportation hubs, consider providing computers or services for attendees to reschedule flights home. Most problems at events seem related to medical issues. Be aware of food allergies, alcohol consumption, activities that may be strenuous. You can prevent issues by providing cooling spots, ample drinking water and ability for guests to order suitable meals. Outdoor events may require a first-aid tent to assist attendees overcome by heat or dehydration.
Working with volunteers use common sense. Don’t allow volunteers to set-up in sandals. Don’t allow volunteers to climb ladders or operate equipment for which a license is needed. Provide ample drinking water for your volunteers and don’t allow them to consume alcohol while working your event.
The bottom line
Although you can’t foresee every emergency or problem, develop a comprehensive contingency plan and insure that all stakeholders and staff know the procedures. Knowledge will insure that your team is confident in their ability to manage any problems and emergencies. “Keep Calm and Carry On” is my favorite borrowed motivational motto in case of an emergency.
To learn more, listen to our Event TALK podcast “Preventing and preparing for risks associated with events.” Find the show here.