Preparing for a Safe Event
The only thing harder than planning for a disaster is explaining why you did not.
Creating a safe and comfortable atmosphere is top of mind for every event planner. There are always risks involved whenever a group of people gathers together that can range from bad weather to bad actors. While it is impossible to predict when an emergency event could occur, it is possible to be prepared for any crisis.
Before you can even begin to make a plan, you need to identify emergency possibilities and who will assist you if something goes wrong. This assessment will help you better understand your risks and how you can mitigate them by having the correct procedures in place.
For example, if your event is outside in the summer, there is a risk of heatstroke. Clearly, you will need medical personal on-site, but you also need to determine how many health professionals you will need. While “heatstroke” may seem like an obvious example, even getting the apparent dangers on paper will help develop the overall picture of your potential needs, and you may also uncover some issues that may otherwise go unnoticed.
The risks you identify do not necessarily need to be situations where attendees are in danger. You could also include what to do if a key staff member is unable to make it the day of the event or if an entertainment act suddenly cancels.
At this time, you will also want to devise an official chain of command. Everyone on your staff – as well as anyone working the event – needs to know their roles in an emergency and who they go to if they need answers (and how to get in touch with that person).
Your team needs to understand their specific roles in an emergency. Who is the primary contact for security? Who is in charge of talking to the media? Who coordinates with emergency responders? Everybody should have a clear role, access to everyone’s contact information, and be ready to step in and help should the need arise.
Possible requirements of staff members during an emergency include:
Instant emergency response, such as locating a first aid kit
Notifying attendees of an emergency incident and instructing them on next steps
Managing the crowd, such as during an evacuation
Assisting those with limited mobility or disabilities, as well as elderly attendees and children
Providing first aid or locating and helping medical staff
Alerting emergency responders and keeping them informed
Event Safety Plan
Once you have this information informally organized, it is time to compile it into an official report known as an “event safety plan” or “risk assessment plan.” This document outlines every potential risk you have identified, its potential impact, and your planned response.
Frequently, you will not be able to secure insurance for an event without presenting an event safety plan. Also, this document is helpful when coordinating with on-site security and medical personnel.
Information in an event safety plan may include:
Type of event (e.g., an outdoor music festival, a corporate event in a ballroom, an experiential activation in a warehouse, etc.)
Number of attendees
Demographics of the audience (this is important because the risk assessment of a music festival filled with Gen Zers is different from a corporate event geared toward baby boomers.
Location of the event
Start time and estimated length of the event
Time of year (an outdoor summer festival presents different risks than an inside winter event, which can still be impacted by the weather)
Careful analyses of all potential risks and step-by-step responses to them (including where to locate attendees during an evacuation)
Staff responsibilities (such as who should communicate with emergency responders and answer external questions)
Communication procedures during an emergency and contact numbers for team members, event security, venue staff, police, and fire fighters (your staff should have this info on them at all times – perhaps print it on the back their ID badge)
Venue Selection Can Help
Many venues have already gone through the process of creating a risk assessment plan. For example, evacuation routes and areas to shelter during bad weather have already been determined. Selecting a venue with a plan in place will give you a head start on creating your event safety plan.
However, you likely cannot rely entirely on the venue’s plan. Your event will have its unique potential risks. After all, no two events are the same. Still, the existence of a plan may nudge your thinking toward areas with additional risks.
It is also possible that the venue plans to make announcements that instruct people where to go should an incident or inclement weather occur. If not, you may request that they do so.
Hire Event Security and Medical Personnel
On-site medical staff is a necessity for most events. The size of your event will determine how many medical professionals are necessary. A small event may only need a single worker located in a tent or out-of-the-way corner of the venue. A large event, however, may require an entire team of specialized medical professionals who can triage most emergencies.
Similarly, your event’s size will determine the necessary amount of security personnel. A single guard posted at the entrance may be plenty, or your event may require a full security team roaming the floor and monitoring live security footage. Additionally, most events require some form of security screening, ranging from bag checks to walking through a metal detector. Your level of attendee screening can also influence the personnel needed for your event.
Regardless of many medical and security personnel you hire, they should be in uniform and highly visible. One reason is that attendees are comforted by the presence of visible emergency personnel, plus they discourage bad behavior. Also, in an emergency, people need to be able to quickly find your emergency staff to ask questions or seek assistance.
Perform a Walk-Through
The day before the event, if you can, gather your staff and do a walk-through. Verify that the emergency exits match the floor layouts you used, so your planned escape routes remain plausible.
It is preferable if all medical and security staff could partake in the walk-through as well, but that is only likely to occur if you pay them for the day. If that is not an option, be sure to supply them with detailed, accurate maps of the venue and a copy of the event agenda. You could also ask that they arrive early on the day of the event to familiarize themselves with the site.
If a physical walk-through is not possible for your event team to perform, it is still possible to gauge their emergency preparedness. During an event prep meeting, you could spend some time questioning them on emergency scenarios. For example, what would they do if a small fire broke out? Do they know the locations of the fire extinguishers? Who would they call to notify about the situation? How would they manage any attendees in the area? Their responses will provide valuable insight into their emergency readiness.
The more you drill; you and your staff will become better prepared to handle any emergency. The impact on your event could be life-changing.