5 Actionable Tips to Prepare Your Events for Worst-Case Scenarios
In 2018, the United States recorded 340 mass shootings and 108 natural disasters (hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, severe thunderstorms, wildfires and more), making it feel like emergencies are everywhere. Whether emergencies are more prolific than they used to be or not, the reality is event organizers must be ready for an emergency of any type to occur during their event. As such, emergency preparedness has gone well beyond hiring a team of security guards to stand at the door.
Event organizers must be prepared to keep their participants safe both inside and outside of the event. They must now be ready to do things such as stage large-scale evacuations during an event, plan for last-minute event cancelations, and even prepare for cyberattacks or technology malfunctions that can impact safety.
Leigh Long, marketing manager at The XD Agency, an Atlanta-based experience design agency, recently wrote about experience design in the age of mass shootings on the company’s blog.
“Emergency planning requires having the hard conversations, anticipating challenges, planning as thoroughly as possible and giving teams the tools, techniques and training so they can keep their wits about them in case of an emergency,” she writes.
Here’s how to prepare an effective emergency plan:
Include Emergency Planning in Your Event Planning Schedule
Event organizers must make time in the planning process to think about all of the potential emergency scenarios, including those that could happen anywhere and those that are more likely to happen in their event’s location. For example, is the event in a place that may be more susceptible to certain weather events, such as hurricanes or wildfires?
Planning tools such as SmartSheet include time to prepare an Emergency Action Plan in the planning timeline so organizers know when to establish their plan. Within a comprehensive plan, organizers can map out each potential emergency scenario and create plans for cancellations, evacuations, medical responses and more. It’s critical that event organizers know who to communicate with and how, where to go, and what to do in a moment of crisis.
Samantha Flowers, meeting and event manager at Special D Events, an international event planning firm, says the on-site emergency action plan ensures that staff members are ready and have the details they need to act quickly.
“A good plan ensures staff members will be familiar with all building exits adjacent to the event space and will keep a copy of the plan with them at all times,” she says. “They also must have their cell phone on their person at all times and have their cell phone charger on property.”
She continues, “Details in the plan would include a phone tree with cell phone numbers listed in the order in which calls should be made if a crisis is identified; a predetermined designated meeting place; a layout of the event space, and [numbers for] the nearest hospital, police station and pharmacy.”
Another tool that can help event organizers quickly design and build their own unique emergency plan is BCP Builder, an online business continuity template created by Laura Toplis, a business continuity coordinator for the New Zealand Ambulance Service.
Toplis identifies 12 several key areas a good emergency plan should address:
People – their safety should be a top priority.
Infrastructure – could damaged infrastructure restrict access to the venue?
Venue – is all maintenance up-to-date?
Supply chain – does the event have any single-source suppliers? Could you spread your risk by using more than one?
Reputation – how much damage would an incident cause to the event’s reputation?
Resources (IT, information, equipment, materials) – consider the age and maintenance of the event’s resources.
Finances – does the event have sufficient finances and cash reserves to survive a disruption?
Business impact analysis – list the products, services and activities undertaken by the organization in order of priority.
Threat analysis – are there any high-likelihood threats that are specific to the event?
Crisis team – who would be the best people in the organization to respond to a crisis?
IT backup – is the event information backed up?
Fallback site – is there an alternative location to operate from?
Appoint a Crisis Team Ahead of Time
It’s important when an emergency does happen on-site that people know who is in charge and prepared to respond. An emergency plan identifies a team of crisis responders — information that is then shared with the full staff ahead of time.
The crisis team’s responsibility will be to assess the situation, determine whether to involve appropriate local emergency officials, address the situation, develop a communications plan, delegate responsibility and execute the plans.
Have the Hard Conversations
Thinking through emergency situations isn’t fun for anyone, but it’s essential to talk through worst-case scenarios both inside and outside of the event before they happen.
While outside factors are often to blame, Long says taking a hard look at the event itself and identifying potential problems is critical.
“While a frightening number of shootings are wholly random, many are also targeted. Are there any disgruntled people event security needs to be aware of? Are there any controversial subjects being discussed or polarizing attendees expected? Prepping security in advance for these situations is of paramount importance,” she writes in the blog.
Train and Equip Event Staff
Emergency preparedness is about having the tools to maintain situational awareness and keeping your wits about you. Event staff should be trained to know when to evacuate a building versus shelter in place due to a storm. They should know how to react in the event of a fire at the venue or a shooting inside or outside the venue. The more they train and prepare, the better they will be at addressing an emergency.
“In addition to certifying staff in basics like CPR and first aid, educate them on what to do in case someone opens fire,” Long says. “In the face of fear and pumping adrenaline, we don’t always think clearly, but [training] improves our odds.”
In addition, Flowers says each organizer should have an emergency tool kit on-site.
“We supply each organizer with a tourniquet and train on how to use it, [as well as] an EpiPen,” she says. “This topic is something that we talk about regularly and while we hope to never have to use these skills, if we do, we are ready to be the help, until the official help arrives,” she says.
Plan Crisis Communications
Kelsey Dixon, co-founder and president of Davies + Dixon, a digital marketing and communications firm that serves the events and hospitality industry, points out the impact social media can have on an emergency event.
“Crises can cover a lot of ground, and social media amplifies all of it, so it's important to stay ahead of it,” she says.
At a recent event, Dixon said she was made aware of an active shooter about 10 blocks from the conference center.
“Once attendees caught wind from the news, they went to Twitter using the conference hashtag — most tweets were merely informational, others layered into fear,” she shares. “We used Twitter and the event app to keep attendees updated on the situation. We retweeted information directly from the local police department for accurate and timely information using the conference hashtag.”
To prepare for communications during an emergency, Dixon recommends event organizers do the following in each plan:
- Think about how social media may impact communications (good and bad).
- Prepare draft responses for each scenario as a foundation upon which to build (they should never be copy/pasted, always tailored).
- Establish a hierarchy on who from the company is involved, which is almost directly dependent on the severity of the situation.
There is no quick fix for emergency planning. Each event needs its own unique plan that encompasses the specific challenges a particular location, venue, topic or audience may bring. Hopefully, most event organizers will never need to use their plans; however, having a plan in place will make both attendees and event staff more comfortable while participating in the event.