It can happen to you. An event evacuation is every planner’s or producer’s nightmare. You can take control and protect your attendees. Here’s how you plan for an event evacuation.
Event emergencies are often the most ignored aspect of any event, meeting or conference. However they are the most critical planning responsibilities of any producer, planner or organizer. This is Part #3 of a three-part series on handling event emergencies.
Imagine an Emergency
The moment you and your attendees hear an emergency or fire alarm, the situation becomes very emotional. Fear is a powerful motivator, and people who are afraid seldom make the best decisions on their own. That’s why you should have a carefully designed Event Evacuation Response as a part of your Emergency Action Plan.
An Emergency Action Plan is a concise document that outlines the emergency procedures, responses, chain of command and communication procedures for the event. The goal of an EAP is to reduce the risk of injury or loss of life resulting from an event emergency. You don’t need to develop a whole, new EAP from scratch every time a new event arises. Simply invest the time in advance to develop one strong, basic EAP, and you can easily change specific details to fit each new event or venue.
The Most Important Reality
You cannot expect or rely on the venue to handle your emergency at your event.
It’s Your Job
As the planner, producer or organizer, you are responsible for the safety of three important groups – your attendees, event staff and production staff. Your EAP should include actions and procedures to protect all of them.
Just like your overall EAP, your Event Evacuation Response is based on four questions.
Where are you at the venue?
Which attendees are at the location and how many?
What are they doing?
If XXX emergency happens, what should you do?
You have to take all four questions into consideration. We can’t go through every part of developing your evacuation response in this blog, but I want to give you the key things to get you started.
Step #1 – Ask the Venue
The venue should already have emergency and evacuation plans for each area of the facility. Start with what they have and then adapt them for your event. Ask:
How will we be notified in case of an emergency?
Who and how many of the venue staff might help our groups to evacuate?
Once we leave the building, where should we go?
How will you communicate with us with more information?
Step #2 – Develop Your Evacuation Response
The venue’s emergency and evacuation plans will be fairly broad and general because they have to include their own staff and every other organization using their facilities on a given day. Your responses should be specific for your groups.
For example, let’s say you have eight breakout rooms with about 60 people in each room.
If there is a fire, what should the attendees do?
If there is a bomb threat, what should the attendees do?
In each situation, what should your staff do?
Remember, you need to have different sections based on:
• The Venue
• The Attendees
• The Agenda
• The Emergency
Step #3 – Communication Plan
If your EAP ends up as a manual that no one will carry or read – it’s useless. Instead, simplify it into shorter sections that your team uses each day. That means the breakout sessions have a mini-EAP, with just a few pages and maps.
Your staff and attendees need to know you are aware and prepared, so make your security visible. Make sure the exits, medical locations and other emergency areas are very, very visible. Add additional signage if needed so people don’t have to search.
Step #4 – Evacuation Route Maps
Information is the cure for confusion. In case of a fire or evacuation, people don’t want to read. They want simple directions and to be told quickly where to go and what to do. Every area on your agenda should have emergency maps that show the location of medical locations and evacuation routes. Here are some things to remember as you develop the maps.
There should be more than one evacuation route for each location. Mark them clearly as Route #1 and Route #2. You need options based on the emergency.
A. Have a big “You Are Here” in the evacuation maps.
B. Keep the maps simple. They are for emergencies and not general event use.
C. Post maps in visible locations in each area and room.
Step #5 – Prepare Your Team
The Event Evacuation Response should be a big part of your security team training. Don’t just brief the managers – get everyone who will attend the event together in advance for a briefing. (If you have a very large event, be sure to involve the venue and any relevant local authorities.) Then provide the specifics as to what to do, whom to contact, and how to manage the attendees or guests, so everyone will understand the chain of command if catastrophe happens.
Walk the venue and let everyone become familiar with the areas, maps and what they should do in case of an emergency. Then go outside and make sure everyone understands where your attendees should go.
What happens outside the venue?
Where are the Assembly Points?
How will the local fire and police departments communicate with your security teams?
How will you communicate to attendees at every step of the process?
How do you get people back inside the building?
Calmness Breeds Calmness
This is one of the most important parts of your EAP and your evacuation response.
Never underestimate the panic factor. In an emergency, not everyone thinks clearly.
This puts the emphasis on your team. They have to be visible, like human signs along the routes. They should speak loudly, reassure the attendees and keep them moving in the right direction. And they should be calm and positive. Their attitudes and professionalism will make a huge difference. So pick your security team carefully, give them some training and reassure them that they will be safe as they help other people.
Finally, Don’t Ignore Your EAP
This is important: Your goal in developing an Emergency Action Plan is to take reasonable responsibility for a coordinated response from your team. You are not assuming the responsibilities of the local police, fire or government to evacuate people, but you should coordinate your EAP with the venue and local police, fire and emergency medical teams.
In sum, you can plan for an event evacuation the same way you plan for any other emergency. The critical point is to make it venue- and agenda-specific.
Have more than one evacuation route.
Make decisions in advance.
Have a plan and rehearse it.
Communicate, inform and reassure if the worst happens.
You Can Be Prepared for an Event Evacuation
This is Part #3 of a three-part series on handling event emergencies. For information on the basics of designing a practical, do-able Emergency Action Plan, please read Event Emergency – Are You Ready When It All Goes to Hell. To learn how to plan for medical emergencies, see Can You Handle the #1 Event Emergency? – Don’t Put Attendees In Danger.
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