5 Focus Areas for Handling Event Emergencies

In preparing for emergencies that affect mass participation events such as a marathon, race directors and their medical staff members need to account for the unexpected. Extremes in weather, as well as the potential for outside threats, need to be given consideration before race day in order to adequately prepare. Through the recruitment of local expertise from various agencies in one's community during both the planning stages, and on race day, the added stressors of such extremes can be minimized, if not eliminated. In this guide, we want to provide some tips to help you prepare for such experiences.

1. Have a good chain of command

Bring together all major organizations (e.g., race organizers, fire and police departments, emergency management, Red Cross) to coordinate preparation and response for the event and surrounding areas impacted by the event. By having an ‘Event Committee’  you can establish responsibilities between all parties who should be aware of, or involved in your event. This will not only help things run smoothly on the day, but it will also keep officials happy with your event for future races if they see youre proactive and keep everyone involved. Here you can establish what issues relate to which parties:

  1. Medical Team should be prepared to deal with any issues in the following areas: Exercise Assoc Collapse, Heat Illness, Cold Illness, MSK Injuries, Cardiac, Medication/Stimulant use, Hyponatremia or Underlying medical issues. Establishing their mode of transport for different parts of the course and their positioning throughout should also be accounted for.
  2. Police should be alerted about the event if there are large numbers, of any security risks, and particularly if the event is high profile. They will carry out their own observations and work but they will benefit from your plans and preparations being shared with them. 
  3. Fire authorities should be contacted about your event, with access information and a risk assessment so that they know what to expect if they are called. Independant traders at your event should have their own fire risk assessments 
  4. Traffic Management should be robust particularly if the race has road closures. Identifying zones, diversions, providing course maps and advances lists of the road closures available for the public to help build event awareness. 

2. Have a solid communications system

Making sure everyone has the right updated information at all times can save a lot of hassle and promote safety. 

  1. Radios. If your event uses radios between staff and stewards, make sure they have signal across the whole area you are racing in. If there are patches of offroad and trail as part of your event, make sure this is accounted for in your tests. There will likely also be areas where stewards need to stand which are off the route slightly, for example on a road leading onto a course closure to alert drivers before they reach the junction- so make sure you check these areas too.
  2. Mobile phones are always a necessary back up or first choice solution for some types of communications. Provided they are charged (which should also be checked for radios), it’s important every member of staff has one incase they have a problem with their radio, or a participants emergency contact needs to be called. 
  3. Good signage is key to preventing participant injuries on rough terrrain, but also to preventing confused traffic and more serious vehicle accidents. Advanced signage about the event and any closures will also increase awareness and help communities feel informed, reducing any on-the-day surprises. 
  4. Announcement systems can be useful for larger events where you need to reiterate the starting rules. Eg large speakers throughout several locations at the starting area

3. Plan as much as you can for bad weather

Any race organiser will know that the success of your event is at the mercy of the elements.

British weather can be temperamental to say the least, which makes meticulous planning part and parcel of the organisation process – especially when failing to prepare for any eventuality could spell disaster for organisers and attendees alike. See our guide on Cancelling your Race and what Measures to Take for more on how to manage extremes on cancellation.

  • Marquees will increase your expenditure, but if your event is completely outdoors without nearby shelter, registration, bag drops and ‘info points’ will require cover to run smoothly without water damage. Your staff also need some shelter as they won’t be keeping warm by racing! 
  • Communicate and Alert racers with ‘what to expect’ emails and social media posts prior to the event. Encourage warmer clothing, appropriate footwear, safe travel measures and overall caution. 
  • Logistics and Layout. Mapping out where the various elements of your race will take place, where hired vendors or paying exhibitors will set up shop, and how any essential equipment will be transported onto the site is vital so that you can guarantee everything is effectively coordinated. Come rain or shine, clear and frequent signposting will be particularly helpful for both attendees and onside staff – reducing the risk of chaotic crowds if and when supporters and participants flock towards areas that are protected from sudden downpours.
  • Know your location inside-out. Beyond the venue and course itself, you’ll benefit from knowing a bit about the orientation of your venue and how thats affected with different weather. From knowing where the sun will hit during the race start for photography, to investing in wind blockers for events in notoriously blusterous areas, you can fine-tune the conditions of your event and pre-empt some weather-related disruptions.
  • Explore onsite storage. A waterproof storage solution could be the lifesaver your event needs so that nothing’s left out in the rain. Hard-wearing plastic lockers ensure weather resistance, providing attendees with somewhere sheltered and secure to store their belongings or even a change of clothes, should the need arise – and they could also prove highly useful for any vendors or exhibitors looking for a similarly weatherproof solution to their storage needs.
  • Think about food and drink. Make sure your catering options are practical and, more importantly, disaster-proof. Whatever’s on the menu, a steady supply of fresh drinking water and food is essential – so take the necessary precautions to guarantee your guests are hydrated and well-fed throughout. Food and drink can actually be a saving grace for event organisers when it comes to managing attendee satisfaction, in the event that the weather does take a turn for the worse. If the heavens open, make sure onsite vendors are ready and waiting to distract attendees from wind and rain with hot snacks and a combination of hot and cold beverages – perhaps even offering event-goers a free drink to keep their spirits high.
  • Power up. Light and sound have the power to make or break your event in the eyes (and ears) of attendees. If you are hosting an evening race, adequate lighting can be vital, to ensure the convenience and safety – especially when it comes to illuminating walkways, exits and parking spots. Power stations may be needed for food vendors, sound systems and other electronics, depending on the scope of your event – and to avoid any dreaded water damage, it’s worth communicating with onsite staff in advance so they know how to react in heavy rain.

4. Have ‘Planned response actions’

Knowing what to do in an emergency is a combination of experience and planning. For each type of scenario envisaged, you should try plan set of actions (planned response actions) to be taken by all those who are allocated responsibility. These planned response actions include:

  1. Evacuation procedure (when to evacuate, how to evacuate, where to evacuate to)
  2. Calling 000 for ambulance, police or fire
  3. Opening entrance ways
  4. Use of emergency equipment e.g. fire extinguisher
  5. Calling the medical team, alerting them and describing to them the scenario

For this to go smoothly, these ‘Emergency management plans’ require people and people require training. The training needed by the team of people in charge of an event on the day can include:

  1. The Key personnel roles and responsibilities
  2. Emergency exit locations and paths
  3. Assembly point locations
  4. Fire Fighting equipment locations

Having a dedicated team can help in carrying out some of this training, to the temporary event staff at your event, to take some of the work load off. 

Manage press last

If there are reporters, PR staff or other news personnel, make sure you deal with them last. There are several ways they might choose to interpret situations that they see unfold in front of them, but don’t let this get in the way of your problem solving until its solved. Commenting on a situation in the heat of the moment can add more stress than needed and use up valuable time in handling a situation. Speaking to them in a calm manner as soon as the emergency has been dealt with, can be important in managing what is said about the situation to risk manage profile. But only focus on this once you are able to give the full picture. 

In Conclusion

So… managing emergencies isn’t easy. But with robust plans, risk assessments and training for your staff, you can take some stress out of a situation by having already thought about it and prepared. Keep having regular meetings with your core event team to make sure that you are on the same page and you can add improvements iteratively to your plans. Manage expectations with your audience, your staff, and yourself to ensure you can face anything that comes your way!   

 

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