You and your event-planning team are at your location. The logistics are taken care of, everything is in its right place and you’re ready to start your event. You’ve done what you’ve always done, and this event is going to be just as successful as any other. But an hour or two into the event something feels off, and disaster strikes. The event’s success, the reputation of your organization, the money invested, and even people’s safety might be in danger in the next few moments. You didn’t see this coming… no one did. Are you prepared?
We already know that disaster can strike anywhere at any time; it’s a sobering thought that we try to remember enough to remain safe and simultaneously try to forget to ease our paranoia. We have all had periods of our lives in which we tried to avoid the news after an overwhelming string of stories involving unlucky victims.
As event planners, we have an obligation to protect the people who attend our events to the best of our abilities. This means we need to bring those terrifying hypothetical situations to the forefront of our minds during the planning and implementation of our events. How do we know we are doing enough to create a safe environment?
Every method of managing emergencies comes down to a simple cycle: prevent disasters to the best of your abilities, respond to the disaster as it unfolds and then recover the best you can after the disaster has passed.
Prevention, mitigation, response and recovery should be on your mind in every step of event planning— regardless of the size, subject or location of your event.
Emergency managers recommend using physical checklists for every event. The act of using a checklist ensures that all steps are taken in their proper order and acts as a record of evidence that those steps were taken should you need it. Implement the following emergency management phases into your event planning checklists.
PHASE ONE: PREVENTION
During the development of your event, you should make a list of potential hazards that may affect it. If you don’t already have this list, you should develop one and keep it handy for use and updates. Threats can change based on location, the demographics of your attendees, the subject matter of the event, the equipment used, the weather and even the date of your event.
Being security and safety-minded should influence every decision you make while planning your event. For example, you can add security to your event by making a specific attendee list and verify the guests’ identities as they arrive. Understand the gun-carry laws of your event’s area. Determine if your subject matter could be considered controversial. Check to see if your venue has had any past disasters. Remember to add everything that threatens your event to your hazards list regardless of how unlikely it is to happen or how minimal its effects may be.
You’ve got your list of hazards. Now for each item on your list, identify the likelihood of that scenario. Then describe what you can do to minimize the likelihood of each threat. List the equipment, persons, and training needed in order to respond to each hazard.
For example, does your event staff know how to operate a fire extinguisher? Do they know where the emergency exits are? Do they know where the emergency power cut-off switch is located if cables become exposed? Also ask yourself things such as the last time your equipment has been tested or if any emergency exit signs are blocked by event structures. Remember that these are merely example questions to get started, and you should be asking yourself many more during the development of your event.
PHASE TWO: MITIGATION
If something bad does happen despite all your preparation, what can you do to make its effects less damaging? For example, you could use flame-retardant draping and decorations to slow the spread of a fire if one were to break out. Even though earthquakes are unlikely, you should secure your structures well enough to not become hazardous during one. Another hazard you could mitigate is a power outage. If an air conditioning system or the venue’s entire power source went out, make sure your team knows what to do. Mitigating the effects of disasters like these could save lives.
Another benefit to mitigation efforts is that the steps taken before an event become the saving grace for an event company’s reputation after a disaster. If you are able to showcase how effectively you thought ahead by highlighting your mitigation tools, it becomes very easy to turn negative press into good press for your company.
PHASE THREE: RESPONSE
The response phase’s success is determined before your event takes place through simulations and scenario training. By giving yourself and your employees the experience needed to execute their prevention and mitigation methods through training, you have already improved your response phase.
During a disaster or emergency, professional response personnel would be doing most of the dangerous work. But during the minutes between the emergency’s beginning and the arrival of the emergency response teams, your team is in charge. Communicate and coordinate with the venue’s personnel. Escort people to exits. Keep people calm.
PHASE FOUR: RECOVERY
Pick up the pieces, rebuild and push forward. Your team should have a public relations representative (or team) speaking on behalf of the company or organization. Dealing with insurance companies and recovering losses is a long process, but it’s one you should be prepared for.
On top of all of this, see if your company or organization has the resources to help the people involved. Offer recuperation time, mental health services and other methods for your team to bounce back and return to work. Extend donations or charity to victims that attended your event both for the beneficial public reputation and simply because it’s the right thing to do.
Following the emergency management cycle throughout your event planning process could be one of the best decisions you ever make. Share your methods with your team and continue studying new ones. Hopefully you never have to experience an emergency at any of the events you plan or attend, but by adapting your event planning to include the emergency management cycle, you and your team and your organization will survive the worst and be around to plan more successful events.
If you have any questions about the emergency management cycle, the unusual threats you may not think of, or the counterintuitive ways you can plan for disasters, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.