Event Planners: How to plan for emergencies and disasters during your event
Event Planners: How to plan for emergencies and disasters during your event

Event Planners: How to plan for emergencies and disasters during your event

Recent natural disasters such as hurricane Irma have given event planners much to consider when planning an event. How to plan for emergencies and disasters during your event could be life saving during a major storm or earthquake.

Preparing prior to events

1. Mentally walk through your event with the planning team and vendors, and envision everything that could go wrong. For example: Will the dust in the dirt parking area cause visibility or breathing issues? Should there be a thunderstorm; are there areas for attendees to find safe shelter? If you have staging, will the structure be able to withstand high winds? If it rains, can we have the event?

2. In cooperation with the venue, first responders and event leadership develop an emergency action plan based on the issues you have discovered. Insure that all staff and event volunteers are trained on the procedures and know what to do. This will also help with event set-up, securing evacuation routes and overall event safety for your attendees.

3. Monitor the weather continuously in the weeks leading up to the event, and closely right before and during the event. For outdoor events we monitor National Weather Service broadcasts for up-to-date information allowing for immediate action and evacuation in the event of an oncoming storm, monsoon or sand storm. Also know your audience. If your event is hosted in an environment that tends to be rainy, attendees may be less inclined to panic when it rains, and the event may go on as planned. In our area, people are not used to drive in rain and outdoor facilities are not equipped to manage rain well, so the response will be different.
4. Define clear roles on the event management team. What is the chain of command? Who makes the call when emergency procedures need to be implemented? Under what circumstances can the chain of command be bypassed to make a call on the spot? Work closely with the venue and first responders on establishing a chain of command and insure that all event staff and volunteers are trained to understand its workings.

5. Have in place the tools to communicate quickly with event attendees in the event of an emergency. Event software such as Event interface allows planners to text registered attendees with updates, emergency information and other pertinent event information.
As an event planner, there are a number of different types of disasters that you might face. There are predicted natural disasters like hurricanes and those that crop up with little notice like fires, riots, earthquakes, and tornados. There are also issues that can arise with your event such as a communicable disease break-out or terrorism incidents.
The timing of the event also makes a difference. Does it hit a few months before your event leaving you with a small window of opportunity to plan elsewhere? Or maybe it occurs immediately before your event, leaving people stranded at airports. Or worst case scenario, you’re there at the event when it happens.

Considerations and scenario planning

When creating an event planning disaster plan you need to consider the following issues for each of the above scenarios. Treat each type of disaster as a chapter in your event planning document and cover each of the what ifs below.

1. Where is your event? What potential disaster is possible or likely based on area and time of year?
2. What is the geography of your location? Is it an island or a peninsula that may make evacuation difficult?
3. Is the majority of your attendees local or traveling to reach you?
4. What are local authorities bound to do? Will evacuation be mandatory, if so, what makes it so? Often, evacuations for hotel guests are mandatory even if they’re not for locals. I was on vacation in Key West at the time of Hurricane Ivan and non-residents were evacuated a day before residents. In a destination like that with only one way out by land, they take evacuation very seriously and sheltering isn’t always an option for guests. It’s important to know what local authorities will expect of you and your group.
5. Understand cancellation policies with your venue. Also, know if your venue is a shelter in the case of natural disaster. It’s important to understand this as those with dire needs could be placed above your attendees. In Florida, older residents and those with medical conditions are given preference for some shelters.
6. Consider cancellation insurance. This came in extremely handy to the American Association for Cancer Research when severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) hit Toronto. However, it’s important to note many insurance companies no longer cover conferences canceled due to things like SARS. Know your coverage before you assume you are protected from disease outbreaks.
7. A list of medical needs for your attendees. This includes anyone who needs additional evacuation assistance, medicines, and other special consideration.
8. Consider who your attendees have with them. More and more people are using conferences and trade shows as mini vacations taking significant others and families with them. In this case, you’re not just responsible for attendees but their travel companions as well. This could mean young children.
9. Decide who will make the final decision. In natural disasters in particular, there’s a lot of information and differing opinions. We almost didn’t evacuate because indecision is a huge factor when weighing the options. Decide who has the ultimate say in implementing the plans.

Your Disaster Planning Document

• Emergency contact information for all attendees and staff members.
• Communication plan of how you will notify everyone should a disaster occur right before your event.
• Evacuation information for the area. For instance, if you’re on an island it’s important to have a contingency plan for evacuating or sheltering in place. Keep in mind small islands also have small airports.
• Limited resources will occur in an evacuation situation. Things like gas, lodging, food, water, and others will be gone quickly. What will you do when they are?

After the disaster passes, your concerns do not fix themselves immediately. Electricity can take weeks to be turned back on, gas can be hard to come by even for people who want to leave, water and food shortages can exist because trucks are unable to access the area, and businesses can be closed. Factor in all possibilities giving thought as to how you will access food, water, and get people out afterward.

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