As an event management company, our team has successfully produced thousands of events. We all know the saying about “the best laid plans” and as event specialists we need to be prepared for whatever comes our way. We are proud to introduce a new blog series about Real Life Scenarios. In this series, we’ll use our knowledge, lessons learned and experience to discuss scenarios that we have encountered while producing events. It’s not always glamorous or fun, but hard work always pays off in the end and we’d like to think you can learn from some of these Real Life Scenarios. Slade Thompson kicks us off and shares about his real life scenario on MuckFest® MS.

I’m not a superstitious person, but part of me blames the Fire Chief. He stopped by for a last minute safety inspection on Saturday morning just as participants were arriving. We passed. Hooray! We exchanged business cards and I shared our site and route maps with him. You know, just in case. I thanked him for his support and we jokingly said that we hoped to not see each other again.

The event kicked off and was running smoothly despite the warm weather and being one of our highest attended events in the MuckFest MS series. We had been experiencing some strange electrical issues with our event office (really just an RV we convert into what we call the Command Center). It’s the hub of event information, operations and communications.

The event was cruising along when a co-worker and I simultaneously turned to each other and said, “Do you smell smoke?” We started looking around outside and then throughout the RV in search of the source. In what felt like an instant the smoke detectors started beeping and the largest room of the RV filled with thick smoke. We grabbed our laptops, phones, radios and any other valuable or critical equipment within safe reach and start throwing it out the door. And just hours after the Chief’s visit, I found myself calling 911 asking for the fire department to return.

There we were at the peak of the event day, yards from the start line, surrounded by thousands of participants, spectators, sponsors and partners, watching smoke roll out of the Command Center. The engines arrived, the Chief stepped out and we both started laughing. Only because everyone was safe and it was all too crazy to be real. “I thought we agreed we wouldn’t see each other again today,” we said to each other.

Our team at once directed the fire department to potential fire sources and hazards, while we also kept a close eye on the start line. The next wave of participants headed off on their run. Just a minute behind schedule. Not bad.

The fire department hacked open the roof, windows, doors and the ceiling, eventually extinguishing the fire. We took a few minutes to clear our lungs, assess the damages and clean-up the debris. The Command Center was a total loss, along with most of its contents.

WhatToDo_WhenYour_CommandCenter_CatchesOnFire

We heard another wave of runners hitting the course. Back to event operations. Is the water station doing ok? Great. Is medical getting busy with the heat and humidity? Nope. Perfect. Are the obstacles and volunteers carrying on as usual? Yes, love it. Are folks at the beer garden having fun? That’s what I like to hear.

Before I could really formulate a fire recovery plan, some teammates headed out to gather a van-load of replacement equipment. They thought of everything, including tables, two pop up tents and a printer, all of which we set up outside the smoldering RV. We moved quickly to maintain some sense of normalcy. Nothing to see over here.

A family cheering on their runner was lounging nearby. One of them came to me and asked, “What’s going on? Was that some kind of drill?” “No, that was a real fire but everyone is safe.” Note to self: give the communications team a heads up and draft talking points in case anyone else asks.

Somehow the participants and spectators (and even some staff) were completely unaware of what had just occurred. Part of that was on purpose. As we’ve all probably said before, “The show must go on.” As long as there was no threat to safety, there was also no need to draw attention away from the day’s main event. We pulled in the resources we needed to deal with the fire and everyone else assisted to fill in operational gaps so that the public was none the wiser. Not a single mention on social media, mass media or even rumors among participants.

At the end of the day we gathered the entire team together. Our command center catching fire wasn’t a situation we had ever imagined. But together we had discussed, planned and experienced so many other scenarios that the specifics of today’s fire didn’t really matter.

So why let you in on our secret disaster when we could just sweep it under the rug? Because the lessons I learned are too valuable not to share.

  1. A stellar team knows when and where to step-up when things don’t go according to plan.
  2. With enough planning, training and experience you can simultaneously deal with difficult situations and carry on your event.
  3. In fact, it is essential that you have the skills and plans to do so, because the unimaginable is also eventually inevitable.

We are committed to delivering participants the unforgettable experience and outstanding service they deserve – even in spite of unexpected challenges. Hopefully your event team is prepared to do the same. If you’re not 100% sure that they are, we can help you get there.

And last, but most important, many thanks to the West Orange Fire Department for their service. We appreciate you stopping by even if it was one more time than we were planning.

Slade Thompson has been with Event 360 for more than 12 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.

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