Emergencies at Events: How to be Prepared
An errant electrical cord causes someone to trip and fall. An attendee feels a sudden tightness in the chest. The weather jumps to 110 degrees. A storm knocks out power for several blocks. An angry ex enters the venue with a gun.
Emergencies take many forms, but they all share one commonality: you cannot predict when one will occur.
What you can do is be prepared. Event planners need to be ready to react to everything from changes in the weather to medical emergencies to acts of violence. Even during a small emergency, one that involves only a few people, the urgency of the situation can lead to event staff making panicked decisions and poor choices. Having an event emergency plan in place and preparing your team should lead to better outcomes and a safer environment for everyone.
What is an Event Emergency Plan?
An event emergency plan is a strategy of what to do in a variety of emergencies. The plan should start rather general – i.e., location of emergency exits, how to contact emergency personnel, etc. – and become more specific: What to do should someone have a heart attack, if there is a fire, etc. Are there any attendees who need special assistance during an evacuation? How will you help them, and whose responsibility is it?
When you are creating a plan for your specific event, be sure to include key internal staff, venue management, and your security team in the planning process. The plan needs to include:
· Step-by-step procedures to follow in emergencies
· Who to notify in each scenario
· Contact numbers for venue staff, security, fire, and police (your staff should have this info on them anytime they are on the floor – perhaps print it on their badge)
· Staff responsibilities (include a hierarchy of who should communicate with emergency responders and field external questions)
· Location of emergency supplies
· Communication procedures during an emergency
· Where to locate attendees should an evacuation become necessary
Creating an event emergency plan has an additional benefit. The process often reveals unforeseen safety deficiencies that might have gone unnoticed, such as a lack of equipment, resources, or training. Proper planning can help you rectify these issues before they could further complicate an emergency.
You should also include tricks-of-the-trade in your event emergency plan. For example, a seasoned event planner knows that, during an emergency at an event, dialing 911 can actually delay the paramedic response time. The best course of action is to use the house phone to call the venue’s security. They have a layout of the event and can better communicate your location to paramedics.
If creating an event emergency plan seems overwhelming, there are companies that can help – and also software that can coordinate an emergency response.
Run a Risk Assessment
When creating your event emergency plan, be sure to analyze the potential risks based on your attendee demographics and venue. This is an appraisal of the most likely emergencies to arise using factors like age, activities, location, etc. as guides. It can help you understand what your most significant risks are and how you can mitigate them.
For instance, the primary risks at an outdoor music festival are going to be different than those for an indoor AARP convention. That’s why it is not possible to create a blanket plan for every event. The outdoor festival may have to contend with severe weather, which is not an issue for the other event. At the music festival, over-indulgence of alcohol and intoxicants is a threat, but misuse of medication is possible for the older demographic, as well.
You always want to be ready for anything, but the risk assessment will help you prioritize the most likely scenarios.
Incorporate the Venue’s Safety Plan
It’s likely that your venue has established emergency procedures in place, such as an evacuation plan and location of all signage for emergency exits. This is valuable information you can include in your plan.
You could even have the venue announce where people need to head should an incident occur. An outdoor event could also couple this announcement with advice for inclement weather.
Establish a Chain of Command
During an emergency, decisions need to happen quickly. This means that everybody must know who the decision-makers are and how to reach them when they’re needed. So, all employees, regardless of their job description, need to understand their role in an emergency.
Who coordinates with emergency responders? Will anyone need to be a contact for the media? Who is the primary contact for security personnel? Everybody should have a clear role, be ready to act, and understand how to contact other staff, supervisors, venue personnel, and specific emergency responders.
Some possible requirement of your staff during an emergency include:
· Immediate emergency response, such as locating a fire extinguisher
· Alerting emergency responders and keeping them informed
· Providing first aid or assisting medical staff
· Notifying attendees of an incident and instructing them on next steps
· Managing the crowd, such as during an evacuation
· Helping elderly attendees or children and those with limited mobility or disabilities
Once your staff knows and understands the part they need to play, everyone present on the show floor can act immediately and purposefully during an emergency.
Hire Event Security and Medical Personnel
The size of an event determines the amount of security that is necessary. It may be enough only to have security personnel located at the entrance. Or, you might need a guard by every door and some personnel roaming the floor. You may even need to establish headquarters for security complete with CTV monitors.
Also, in this day and age, the presence of security personnel is reassuring. So, there’s no reason to ask security to remain inconspicuous. Plus, in an emergency, people in need of advice and assistance will search for uniformed guards. Security personnel needs to be easily identifiable so people in need can find them quickly.
If they are unfamiliar with the venue, make all security personnel get the opportunity to become familiar with the location before the event begins.
Similarly, having medical personnel on staff is always a good idea. The larger the gathering, the higher the possibility of a medical emergency. From sunstroke, to allergic reactions, to minor injuries due to falls, to emergency complications like a heart attack, to over-indulging alcohol or drugs, having a trained medical team on site ready to provide care will help keep these dangerous issues under control.
Do a Run Through
Likely, you won’t be able to gather your event staff, pull together some volunteers, and run through some simulated emergencies. However, what you can do is spend some time during your event prep meetings running through a range of emergency scenarios.
Ask what they would do if someone fell and wounded their head or a fire broke out. Make sure they know how to help, who to call, and where to go. Their responses will give you a pretty good idea of their emergency preparedness level. As you and your staff become more comfortable, your potential to minimize consequences improves – and the impact on your event could be life-saving.