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Event Emergency – Are You Ready When It All Goes To Hell?


event emergencyThe news is filled with unforeseen protests, shootings, terrorism and medical crises. Can you risk an event emergency? If you don’t have an Emergency Action Plan, your colleagues, attendees and organization are at risk. You owe it to them to take these basic steps now – before the worst case happens.

Event 911

FACT: More than half of planners have had to deal with an event emergency during a meeting or trade show.

FACT: Over 80% don’t have an Emergency Action Plan for each venue.

FACT: About 60% of event organizers don’t even gather emergency contact information from their attendees.

Are You Ready When It All Goes To Hell?

Recent research shows that the most common event emergencies for events, meetings and trade shows are:

• Medical

• Weather

• Crime/Assault

• Death of an attendee or participant

• Fire

event emergencyThe Hospitality and Events industry is filled with conscientious professionals but their main priorities are their facilities, guests and employees. Unless you make special arrangements they will not add additional security for your event. It is up to you to plan for an event emergency. Unexpected things can and will happen to you.

True Nightmare Examples

#1 – The meeting producers had an EMS unit in place at the back of the trade show hall – but none of the company staff knew it was there. Sure enough, an attendee had a heart attack during the show. The person lay on the floor while confused staffers contacted hotel security … which then called the fire department, and then they all waited until another EMS unit from the city was dispatched. Can you imagine the impact to the heart attack victim? Can you imagine the liability to the company?

#2 – It was an important sales meeting, and the group had enjoyed an awards banquet the night before. Needless to say, some attendees were more than a little hung over. During a breakout session, one person began throwing up violently. The session leaders had no information about what to do, so they kept the meeting intact and started calling the meeting planner. Thirty people watched in horror or ran into the hall as another person got sick, followed by two more. Can you imagine the complaints? Can you imagine the questions the event planner had to answer?

You Need to Make an EAP

I sincerely can’t over-emphasize how important this is. As event designers, planners and producers, we document everything – but leave crisis management to chance. An Emergency Action Plan is a concise document that outlines the emergency procedures, responses, chain of command and communication procedures for the event. It isn’t an “extra.” It’s essential.

The Minimum Requirements

1. If an incident or situation occurs that has the potential to affect the safety and well being of the people at your event, you need to have specific plans in place and communicate them to all of the key people involved.

2. You need a simple and effective way to advise attendees of the situation and provide them with appropriate instructions.

3. You should involve the client or sponsor. They should be involved and approve the plan because they bear the ultimate responsibility.

4. You should anticipate the most likely situations, then identify the people and resources you need to handle the situations, and make sure they are informed and prepared to act.

It doesn’t matter if you have discussed emergency plans with the venue if that’s only as far as it goes. The critical point is: Do your people know what to do?

event emergency

Preparation Costs Money, But an Event Emergency Costs More

Effective emergency action plans can cost money, so most planners and producers don’t budget for them. But every time you don’t, you’re taking a Las Vegas-style gamble with literally millions of dollars at stake. With your people and your money in danger, it’s smarter to spend a little time now to greatly reduce the chaos later. Think of it this way.

Reducing risk is for the benefit of the attendees and not just to protect the company or sponsors.

This isn’t traditional risk management, focused on only managing liability. This is about people, their safety, comfort and well-being.

Successful emergency planning is a group effort that requires communication and coordination.

You start by setting priorities and focusing on the greatest risks. A strong, basic plan can be adapted and used over and over in different venues.

Here’s how to develop your plan based on four basic considerations.

The Venue

• How do people get to the venue?

• Where will they spend most of their time?

• What areas of the venue are the most vulnerable?

The Emergencies

• What are the possible emergencies that might happen based on the agenda?

• What are the possible emergencies that might happen based on the ages and demographics of the attendees?

• Is there anything about the company, organization or event that might make it a target for protest or terrorism?

• If an event emergency happens, what kind of help will you need?

• How will you contact that help?

The Response

• How can you anticipate the best responses?

• What members of the production staff or the venue staff have the responsibility for handling an event emergency?

• How do you communicate the critical information and procedures to the appropriate staff members?

• How will you communicate with every attendee or guest?

Communication Plan

• Who needs to be notified based on the venue and the potential emergencies?

• Who are the key contact people for each resource or response?

• Who is the “point person” who coordinates the response for the client, planner or producer?

Get everyone together in advance for a briefing. Don’t just brief the managers – brief everyone. Be sure to involve the venue and any relevant local authorities, especially if you have a very large event. Then provide the specifics as to what to do, whom to contact, and how to manage the attendees or guests.

Be very clear on security issues, how to handle unacceptable behavior or attendees, potential weather issues, and details on medical emergencies.

During the Event

Make Your Security Visible

Let people know you are aware and prepared. I don’t mean you need armed guards patrolling the halls, but let participants know that plans exist. Include key medical and emergency areas on the event map. Mention it in the event literature. Add additional signage; don’t make people search for the exits.

Expect the Unexpected

I know this might sound like a cliché, but don’t ever assume “It will never happen to us.” If we can learn anything from the recent tragedies in the news, it’s to be extra prepared. Every crisis is unexpected. Ask your teams to stay alert. If they see anything that seems wrong, say something – Make Fast, Flexible Responses

Here’s the bottom line. Real emergencies are always surprises, and your emergency plan can’t anticipate all of them. So build in the extra layers in your communication chain, the key contacts and the flexibility you need to act quickly when the unexpected happens. Do your EAP “homework” first, and then you can relax and focus on the success of the meeting itself.

A solid, professional Emergency Action Plan is effective prevention before dangerous, expensive and regrettable acts occur. Put people, their safety, comfort and well-being first.

More Info in Part #2

This is the Part #1 of a series of articles on event security and preparation. Part #2 helps you plan for the #1 Event Emergency – Can You Handle the #1 Event Emergency? – Don’t Put Attendees In Danger. Part #3 gives you a structure for handling every planner or producer’s biggest nightmares … fire and event evacuations – How To Plan For An Event Evacuation – Move People Safely.

If you are concerned about your event security let’s spend 15 minutes talking about your next project or challenge. Just click on CONTACT US or send an email to and get in touch.


Can You Handle the #1 Event Emergency? – Don’t Put Attendees In Danger

How To Plan For An Event Evacuation – Move People Safely

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About the Author
Andy Johnston is a multi-faceted communication professional who has a comfortable way of working with people. Andy is an Emmy Award winning communicator known for his energy, humor, creativity and his unique ability to discover the key results that must be generated – and then to develop ingenious ways to engage and motivate audiences. He has broad experience in strategic planning, messaging, creative direction, marketing, and events. One of the things Andy says often is, “How can we make it better?”
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