In this era of routine terrorist attacks, devastating natural disasters and political unrest, it’s the million-dollar question plaguing the industry: How could this threat have been avoided? From eliminating foreseeable risks to being prepared for the worst, there’s never been a more critical time for event marketers to arm themselves with the intelligence and resources necessary to maintain safe and secure events.
1. Document everything.
You’ll hear it over and over again. In the event of an emergency, especially a medical crisis, documenting the incident is vital to keeping insurance premiums in check and staff informed.
“You want to document everything to make sure your insurance is covered, your event is covered and everyone knows what happened,” says Connor Fitzpatrick, coo at event medical services company
CrowdRX. “It’s key to remember in medicine, if it’s not documented, it did not happen.” The reports can be as simple as a first aid log noting that you’re giving away Tylenol or Band-Aids. Remember to include the name, date of birth, phone number and what the attendee requested or needed. More advanced medical situations call for a detailed patient care report with an indemnity statement. “This is key to make sure your insurance premiums can be reduced as a result,” Fitzpatrick adds.
2. Find a Venue That Prioritizes Attendee Safety.
When it comes to selecting a location for your event, make sure the venue is willing to do its part to communicate key messaging to attendees. Remember: if an incident occurs, cooperation will be key.
“I’ve been to events lately, and you will see at many of these major venues, the venue itself is taking time to express to people, ‘Here’s what you do in the event of a need to clear the facility,’” says Scott Carroll, executive vp at Take1 Insurance and secretary of the Event Safety Alliance. “At outdoor events now, announcements are being made ahead of time that if there is an event that requires clearance, here is where you go. In some places, like an open-air field, if a weather event were to come through, the shelter might be—and this is what the venue would announce—go to your cars. That may be where the safest place is. At most venues, you’re told that now.”
3. Establish a Chain of Command.
Might sound like a no-brainer, but establishing exactly who is in charge of what and when can save precious minutes in an emergency. From brand ambassadors to event managers, everyone should be crystal clear about what their role entails.
“The key thing here is when it comes to decision-making, who is in charge?” says Shannon Jones, vp at Civic Entertainment Group. “The chain of command at an event needs to filter to the overall broader chain of command in an emergency situation as it relates to the company or brand.”
4. Be Prepared for Anything and Everything.
The uptick in terrorist attacks, including the Las Vegas shooting, which was executed from a hotel room and stands as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, has many event marketers on edge. And while planning for these types of crises is essential, don’t assume that past tactics will be used at future events.
“If the bad guy’s weapon of choice is a box truck, or a knife on London Bridge, or some other place where pedestrians are congregating, should there be a plan for that?” says Steven Adelman, partner at Adelman Law Group and vp of the Event Safety Alliance.
Not exactly, says the attorney. “With the current shiny object—AR15s mounted on tripods on the 32nd story of a hotel—we can’t assume that the next bad guy is going to use the same means of carnage as the last one. The weapon of choice may be very different next time.”
5. Implement an Attendee Screening Strategy.
The approach may vary depending on your budget, but implementing an attendee screening process is a highly effective security measure that can be executed before the event even begins.
“Many events these days, particularly the corporate activation events, are free,” says Anthony Davis, president at AD Entertainment Services. “So, you have an audience that has not paid an admission or whatever format you use to access them. They’re showing up and we don’t know who they are; they haven’t been pre-screened in terms of their backgrounds. I suggest [using] magnetometers wherever applicable. Sometimes that’s a challenge due to power. Then, you go to a hand-held metal detector wand. And then lastly, if none of those things are available, you do a bag check.”
6. Enlist an Approachable Medical Team.
Medical emergencies can, and do, occur at events of every variety, so having medical personnel on-site is crucial. Just as important is ensuring that the team is friendly enough for attendees to approach in the case of an emergency. Remember that uniformed first responders can be intimidating, especially in regards to drug-related incidents.
“The [medical] team should be approachable,” says Fitzpatrick. “There’s a fine balance here of being in a professional uniform where people can trust you and you immediately garner trust and rapport with your attendees, but also, being available and showing that you’re here to help them. Our standard EMT uniform is a red shirt; it’s very non-police-like. The previous way of thinking was very security focused, very police focused. But it’s important to maintain that ‘we’re here to help you’ and ‘your secret is safe with us.’ It’s important that your attendees understand that medical is a judgment-free zone.”
7. Keep Security Personnel Informed.
Hiring security staff is a great start when it comes to maintaining a safe event, but communicating your event’s layout, including areas of concern, is absolutely essential to getting the most bang for your security buck.
“Security personnel should be provided a two-sided information sheet with a site map with the locations of all restrooms; medical tents or areas; stages and activations you’re providing and the schedule of those activities; concession stands and directions to areas where emergency exits are,” says Davis. “Also, you should equip people in sensitive areas with a two-way radio that connects to your designated security manager—you should have someone on your team who is directly responsible for managing security operations.”
8. Let the Pros Do the Talking.
Bad news travels fast, so you have to be clear about who has the authority to develop crisis communications. (Hint: It’s not the guy handing out samples.)
“The people on the ground that are running the event that have that visibility with your audience are your first line of defense in communicating information on a one-on-one or group basis,” says Jones. “It’s important to explain to them and cascade information very quickly with approved language. You don’t want a brand ambassador or event staff taking it upon themselves to communicate what’s going on if there is some sort of emergency information. The cascade of information in that scenario is really critical as is deciding what the key points are and the information you want them to disseminate.”
9. Implement an Emergency Action Plan.
When it comes to event safety and security, there is probably no more important document than your on-site emergency action plan. It’s an essential guide to navigating and preparing for foreseeable risks, informing event staffers of the appropriate safety protocol and ensuring insurance premiums don’t skyrocket.
“If you ask me to try and insure an event for you, one of the things I’m going to ask you about is a site safety plan,” says Carroll. “And I’m going to be looking for [whether or not] you’ve given some thought to it. Do you understand the details of the site and what are the plans associated with what events might happen? Where is your egress, where is your ingress, where are you going to stage security?”
10. Triage Your Risks.
Every live experience is unique, so it’s important to establish priorities for taking action in a variety of emergency scenarios. If you fail to do so, you may find yourself in hot water with your employer, your insurance agency or the law.
“Everyone has a common law duty to behave as a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances,” says Adelman. “That means context matters. Your circumstances will determine what is reasonable and that’s why you have to consider and triage the risks. Every event, every show isn’t the same… An emergency action plan that exists shows that someone knew what was reasonable. A plan that exists that wasn’t implemented establishes the duty of care and also establishes a breach of that duty of care. And that adds up to negligence.”
In an industry that prides itself on producing unforgettable experiences, the last thing you want burning in your attendees’ minds is how poorly your staff handled an emergency. So, be informed, be attentive and be prepared—but don’t let the process get you down.
As Davis puts it, “For years we’ve taken it for granted that it’s a fun day, it’s a nice special event, let’s just get out and have fun. And we should still have that mentality. We shouldn’t let recent terrorist acts or potential acts deter us from producing special events. The onus is now on us to be more creative in terms of our staffing.”