Let’s face it—events don’t always go as planned. The reality is you have to expect the unexpected with every occasion. While the best case scenario is just a minor headache, would you know what do to in case of a true emergency, like if the power goes out or a fire sparks? How about if people get sick on-site? What about when the entertainment or speaker doesn’t show up or if a huge sports championship game falls on the event date?
Though there are many ways to manage the risks of live events through insurance and safeguards, acceptance is the most important. Planners must accept responsibility for event risks, and then develop and manage plans to help protect their clients, especially when it comes to guest safety.
Hanson Ansary, president and CEO of Chicago-based Global Management Services, can’t stress enough the importance of a thoroughly developed Emergency Action Plan (EAP). “You cannot sustain an event business without having EAPs,” he says. “Some are generic and common sense, but you must have them, especially when high-profile events are taking place. Without a plan, you are exposing yourself to high risks.”
Proper documentation is important since it not only spells out a game plan for event personnel, but can also protect planners in the case of a legal dispute. Here, we explain how to develop an EAP and the best practices to consider for a variety of unexpected scenarios.
HOW TO DEVELOP AN EAP IN NINE STEPS
There are two types of crises when it comes to events: those that jeopardize the event and those that jeopardize guest safety. Only the latter is a true emergency.
True event emergencies are then further split into two categories: those that are manmade, such as acts of terrorism, and those that are natural, such as fires, floods and power outages. In creating your plans, it’s important to prepare for both kinds of scenarios.
While the basics of most EAPs are transferable from event to event, Ansary says it’s still essential to tailor plans to each and every production as so:
» Start with a template. “Approximately 75 percent of the content will be boilerplate information and protocol, while 25 percent of the document will require customization for the event,” says Ansary.
» Run a risk assessment by considering event format, location, weather, hours and resources. The most dangerous time of an emergency is during the first 30 minutes, so you should be as prepared as possible to take the lead.
» Understand the nuances of your location and involve venue managers.
» Contact local professional and municipal organizations for support as needed (for example, fire, police and sanitation departments).
» Define the plan. Make sure to include roles and responsibilities, evacuation routes and basic directives.
» Establish zones and a hierarchy for radio communications.
» Draft and distribute the EAP via email prior to the event.
» Review the EAP at on-site meetings and team briefings.
» Monitor implementation from load-in through load-out.
ROLE-PLAYING DIFFERENT EMERGENCY SCENARIOS
While event crises can be daunting, the good news is that, with contingency and emergency plans, the day can be saved. Now that you have your EAP in place, let’s consider some of the scenarios that could actually happen and how to best deal with each of them.
These, of course, are the least important in the grand scheme, but are certainly some of the most common types of event crises. From technical problems to missing talent, preparing for these snafus is vital to the memorability of an event. If the guest experience can be spared, apply problem solving and quick thinking with your support team, and then execute and recalibrate. If the guest experience cannot be spared (for example, if the talent is for sure not going to make it), then honesty is the best policy. The best way to communicate major changes in event programming is with a brief announcement.
When your event conflicts with another main attraction, there are a few ways to handle the issue. If it’s not too late, try to switch dates. If it is too late, perhaps because contracts have been signed or invites have gone out, then make the most of the situation. If the conflict is local, the best thing to do is to reach out to the other event organizers with a teamwork approach. Are there possible ways to work together, particularly in aligning schedules so guests can attend both events? Or, if traffic is a concern, try to route respective attendees to minimize the impact.
Individual medical emergencies are very common. Having an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) scheduled to be on-site is imperative for large-scale events, especially anything outdoors when heat or severe weather is forecasted. For these large outdoor events, medical tents should be set up and clearly marked for guests to easily find. Regardless of event size, though, you should always have First Aid supplies in the event kits (and make sure water and juice boxes are included for possible cases of dehydration). If a guest is injured, one person should always stay with the injured party to provide personal support while others get help. Documentation of these occurrences is important, too, so have incident report forms readily available to obtain contact information and witness statements in the case that legal proceedings happen.
Unfortunately, this type of emergency is also quite frequent at events. The first thing to do if there is a missing child is to get as much descriptive information as possible from the parent or guardian reporting it. “I recommend asking for a photo of the child, ideally from earlier the same day,” says Kevin Turk, producer with Chicago Special Events Management. “I’ve had teams searching for children based on an incorrect description of clothing because the parent was so flustered.” This is also why a PA system for announcements is essential. If the situation is reversed, and there is a found child, make sure to not feed him or her while seeking out guardians since there could be possible food allergies.
Preparing for fire emergencies is standard protocol in the events industry. Planners are often required to file for assembly permits, rent extinguishers, hire certified fireguards, install additional exit signage and lighting and define evacuation routes and “point of safety” locations. Making sure there are ample routes to escape quickly is of utmost importance since it can become a matter of life or death. The best practices include ensuring that there are stairs beyond just elevators, installing barriers or fences that are collapsible and letting staff know that doors should never be locked (but should be controlled by security). In particular, outdoor events should include “blow-out gates,” which are areas that appear secure but that event personnel can easily break in case of emergency. Also, follow-through is important. If an evacuation is activated, it must be fully executed, even if the emergency is under control. This is because reverse flow can be even more detrimental to guest safety.
Be prepared by monitoring weather leading up to an event and while on-site. “On the event day, if there is high risk, I assign a staff member that is dedicated to monitoring the radar on-site and sending updates to me every 3-15 minutes, depending on severity,” says Turk. Of course, contingency plans are a must and there should also be deadlines on making weather-related decisions and calls. Even if it’s just mild rain, don’t forget to install caution signage for wet floors, which can be hazardous.
Understanding venue infrastructure is important when considering electricity and power. “With outdoor events, you have less risk of losing power because you’re not on one grid. If one generator blows out, the other 18 won’t,” says Turk. But indoors is another story. Many venues have emergency lights installed, but raw venues like warehouses may require installation of temporary emergency lighting. It’s also imperative that security guards have flashlights on them at all times, especially during nighttime events. If an outage does occur, whether indoors or outdoors, use all tools available for light, including cell phones.
Acts of Terrorism
The worst imaginable event emergency involves an act of violence. In current times, the risk of a bomb or an active shooter is a very real concern, particularly with high-profile events and attendees. In those cases, you’ll want to engage with city and law enforcement officials and hire extra security if it is recommended, including the use of metal detecting services. Background checks on event personnel is also a good idea to cover all bases.
In the case of an active shooter, planners should be prepared by understanding all possible exit routes in the venue. For example, if there is a shooter on the second floor of a space, and an event is happening on the third floor, then routing guests upstairs to the sixth floor to shelter-in-place might be safer than going down into a possible line of fire. These are all scenarios where law enforcement can help.
While planning is essential, this does not stop inevitable emergencies from occurring. If something does happen, do your best to stay calm and rely on the plan you’ve made. It’s important to have confidence and trust in your emergency manager and spokesperson so that you feel comfortable with them leading the way. As Ansary says, “Never think [an emergency] is not possible. Anything is possible. So always be prepared.”
THE 5 GOLDEN RULES OF PREPAREDNESS
1. Engage suppliers. Understand the policies and procedures of all vendors and fold into a Master EAP.
2. Appoint an emergency manager. “This person should be the most equipped to take the lead as a decisionmaker in case of emergency, regardless of their position within the company,” says Ansary.
3. Divide and conquer. In general, it is important to have a hierarchy of what is going to happen and who has what role. This way everyone knows and understands their responsibilities. For example, with a team of three: One person can monitor the immediate threat, one person can contact support and the authorities and one person can lead the charge with guest control.
4. Designate a spokesperson. To avoid chaos, Ansary says, “It is critical to have a spokesperson. We identify someone who is going to be the go-to person for crowd and community communications during an emergency.” To this point, planners must make sure a PA system is always in place—for large events, one that is equipped to override other stage systems, if need be.
5. Integration. Planners must take an integration stance when it comes to emergency planning. It is a must for each and every event, no matter how busy life gets.