The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) recommends having a formal, written plan in place that identifies potential emergency conditions and what procedures will be followed to minimize or prevent the loss of life and property.
After it’s prepared, everyone involved should meet to review the plan and conduct drills or exercises to practice and refine the responses. Each person with responsibilities should have a copy of the plan. “A key component of a successful response to any emergency is knowing who your counterparts are going to be and having a working relationship in place – not meeting them for the first time at a response,” says Katrina Harris, organizer of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Emergency Preparedness & Hazmat Response Conference.
The plan should include the following components:
» A notification chart that lists who is to be notified, by whom, and in what priority.
» Notification procedures that explain how communications will reach those contacts in the most timely way possible.
» A statement of responsibilities that lists the expected actions of each partner involved in the response plan.
» What situations would trigger an emergency response? Describe them in the emergency identification, evaluation and classification section.
» Put yourself and your attendees in the best possible position to avoid emergencies, and compile and execute a list of preventative actions.
» Keep all of the information you’ll need in an emergency, including staff and attendee emergency contacts, maps and floorplans, together in the appendix.
Full guidelines are available in PEMA’s Special Event Emergency Action Plan Guide at pema.pa.gov
The risks and threats to consider in these plans can vary based on the geography, climate, civil unrest, infrastructure and other characteristics unique to a location. PEMA has identified the following common potential emergencies to be informed of in Pennsylvania, many of which could be adapted for other locations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Emergency Management Institute provides a number of free online trainings to guide response preparation at training.fema.gov
Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States. Flash floods happen very quickly, whereas those caused by melting or extended rainfall develop slowly. Knowledge of group transportation options and alternate routes in case of flooded roads is important if evacuation to higher ground is necessary.
A structural fire was reported every 63 seconds in the United States in 2015, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). U.S. fire departments respond to around 3,520 fires in hotels and motels each year, most of which originate in their kitchens.
Because attendees may be unfamiliar with their surroundings, and people have a tendency to overlook closer exits in favor of the point that they entered a facility, Greg Jakubowski of Fire Planning Associates says it’s important to describe the alarm system and point out the evacuation routes and gathering points around the building at the beginning of the event, or even at every session if breakouts are located across a property. “That message takes all of two minutes,” he says.
The Department of Homeland Security’s National Terrorism Advisory System communicates information about elevated and imminent threats in the United States, which can be monitored at dhs.gov/national-terrorism-advisory-system, where you can also sign up to receive email alerts. Similar information and alerts about foreign destinations is on The Department of State’s Travel website, state. gov/travel. The bulletins on these sites include specific precautions and response plans based on the type of threat involved. High-profile guests appearing at your event could potentially elevate the risk of protests or an attack during your program.
The National Weather Service calls winter storms “deceptive killers,” because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. Conditions can make air and road transportation to and from an event dangerous or impossible, resulting in the need for extended hotel stays or lower turnout. Travelers from areas with warm climates may not be familiar with the necessary outerwear for winter conditions; include recommendations in pre-event communications.
There are approximately 90,500 dams in the U.S., and about one third pose a “high” or “significant” hazard to life and property in the case of failure, according to the National Inventory of Dams. (Pennsylvania has 1,525 total dams, and nearly three quarters of them pose those hazards.) Dam failure can occur with little warning, sending huge quantities of water downstream with destructive force. Determine if your venue is downstream from a dam and learn about existing emergency action plans by contacting state or county emergency agencies or visiting the National Inventory of Dams’ website at nid.usace.army.mil.
A global outbreak of a new flu virus that can spread easily from person to person will also cause limitations on travel and public gatherings. With any type of pandemic, “You’re going to be somewhat at the mercy of what the local health and government officials say to do,” says Jakubowski. Even if no formal restrictions are put in place in the location of your event, your guests may be reluctant to attend because of the potential risks. If your event continues, it’s important for both you and the attendees to practice the recommended protective measures and to be able to identify symptoms to prevent the illness from spreading.
HAZARDOUS MATERIALS INCIDENTS
The roadways, railways, waterways and pipelines that transport hazardous materials across the country are vulnerable to attacks, breakdowns and repairs that can threaten the environment and public health. PEMA suggests contacting a community’s Local Emergency Planning Committee to learn about potential incidents and the emergency response plans that would be activated. These could involve either an evacuation or sheltering in place; make sure you understand how your venue would handle both of those procedures.
EARTHQUAKES AND LANDSLIDES
There are 45 states and territories throughout the U.S., including Pennsylvania, that are at a moderate to high risk for an earthquake. Inside a building, guests should shelter in place until the shaking stops to avoid falling debris, and then follow evacuation procedures once the shaking stops. If guests are outside during the event, they should remain there and stay away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires until authorities signal it’s okay to move inside.
NUCLEAR FACILITY INCIDENTS
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission lists nine of the country’s 100 power reactor sites in Pennsylvania. PEMA reports the risk of an incident as “slight,” but the potential health risks in the event of radiation contamination are high. Learn about the emergency response plans established in the area of your event at nrc.gov.
TROPICAL STORMS, TORNADOES AND THUNDERSTORMS
These destructive weather emergencies can appear suddenly and without warning, resulting in flooding, high winds and damage to property, power and utility lines. If storms are likely, outdoor events and activities should be postponed. In the presence of lightning, according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, follow the 30/30 rule: If after seeing lightning you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder, move inside. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder. Be flexible with your agenda and plan a back-up venue for outdoor activities in case of storm warnings. Severe weather can also disrupt transportation. “Keeping informed and being on text alerts or e-blasts helps us stay ahead of closures and then implement our backup plans, which can include detours or standby vehicles,” says Jenny Tis of Roberts Event Group.
ACTIVE SHOOTER INCIDENTS
PEMA does not include active shooter incidents in its list of 10 disasters most likely to occur in Pennsylvania, but the increasing frequency, unpredictable nature and tragic results of these events keep them top of mind. “Right now, that’s what keeps most emergency planners awake at night,” says Harris.
DHS’s Planning and Responding to an Active Shooter guide, along with a number of training and reference materials, is available at dhs.gov/active-shooter-preparedness. The guide reports there were an average of 16.4 incidents per year between 2007 and 2013, and they affect numerous places where people congregate. Because active shooter situations evolve quickly and frequently end before law enforcement arrives, individuals should be prepared to deal with the incident both mentally and physically. Staff should be informed of the federally endorsed run, hide, fight response plan to maximize the possibility of survival.
» Run: Have an escape route and plan in mind, and leave belongings behind and keep hands visible as you flee the scene
» Hide: Hide away from the shooter’s view and block the entry to your hiding place. Cell phones should be silenced of sounds and vibrations.
» Fight: As a last resort when your life is in imminent danger, act with physical aggression and attempt to incapacitate the shooter.