By Slade Thompson
Most events take months to plan and careful coordination with a multitude of partners; from jurisdictions and vendors to volunteers and staff. Hoping for the best is one thing, but attempting to foresee the unforeseeable is quite another. Still, thorough preparation can make those difficult days less stressful for participants and those working behind the scenes alike. Writing down your backup plans, and even practicing them ahead of time, will help you deliver an amazing event, regardless of the challenges that you face. Despite the potential problems that might await, getting in the right headspace to deal with them is important.
The first step is to list out the various challenges that may come your way. In 20 years, Event 360 has seen a lot of situations, including extreme heat, freezing cold, tornados, protests, lost children, missing equipment, you name it. The severity can range from uncomfortable to dangerous, and you need to be ready to adjust to a full spectrum of prospects. A few pieces of wisdom we’d like to share from our experiences:
- Write down the plans and distribute them to everyone on the event so they are clear on their responsibilities. Assign an owner to each task.
- Review the plan more than once. Everyone should be well-rehearsed in their role so all you have to say is “go” should a situation arise.
- Customize your response with the resources on hand: Is there a shelter available? Can we get extra ice easily? Is participant parking convenient or are shuttles involved? Do we have an abundance of volunteers or are we running slim?
- Draft your communications plan. Knowing what actions you will take and informing participants are two very different things. Stay calm and have a draft message ready to go.
- Consider the dominos (not the pizza): think through the second and third implications of your decisions. If we delay our event, we need to get in touch with the jurisdictions, vendors, sponsors, etc. If we go forward with our event on a very hot day, are we going to impact public emergency services?
One good case study we recently saw in our industry was the Twin Cities Marathon, whose organizers had to cancel their race and 10K events due to extreme heat. While forecasts were predicting high temperatures, and they had done an excellent job with messaging to prepare the runners for the sweltering climate, it wasn’t until the morning of the event that the weather took a turn for the worse, making it too hot to safely continue. On their social media channels, the team published a table where they had brief summaries of their action plans for various circumstances, which was a great transparency, providing insight into their decision making for participants. As soon as the conditions hit their pre-established critical levels, there was no choice but to implement the cancelation plan. Kudos to that team for being well-prepared and looking out for the safety of all involved!
One element of emergency planning to keep top of mind is the pre-existing health conditions of your participants. For those of us who work on events related to health causes, an important new environmental twist is the increasing frequency of poor air quality. If attendees who are coming to the event already suffer from illness, even minor variances may be of high concern. Thankfully, free public resources for monitoring and even forecasting air quality have improved significantly in recent years.
While having a roundtable of what-if scenario planning may not be high on anyone’s list of fun activities, it proves to be immensely valuable when the need arises. The superstitious among us might even say that the more we create plans for these approaching incidents, the less likely we are to need them. Lightning strikes, equipment fails, and human error can always rear its head. Despite attempts to make our plan A impenetrable, sometimes life forces us to move on to plan B. In those moments, preparation can make a world of difference as we find ways to effectively pivot and press onward in the face of any challenge.
Slade has been with Event 360 for 17 years and has played a role in planning and executing more than 100 events ranging from a 5K for a few hundred people to multi-day events for thousands of participants.