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Public Events: The Importance of Risk Management

Originally published in IAEE Newslines, Executive Edition Q215

By Andrea Montello

An accident, mishap or crime can cast gloom over an entire event, and if litigation results, can cost a company millions of dollars. If the worst-case scenario happens at your next event, are you prepared? Have you considered all the “what ifs?” Risk is a possibility at every event you plan. It’s imperative to manage instead of react. A detailed security and emergency checklist should be part of every event you plan. A crisis plan is vital and should address the following questions:

  • Where are the closest hospitals?
  • In the case of a medical emergency, are there on-site doctors or emergency medical technicians?
  • Is there someone on staff who knows CPR?
  • Who will be in charge of communications if a crisis does occur? What are your audience communication plans? Media response plans?
  • What are the contact numbers for the fire department, police, Red Cross, and local and state government officials? Do you have an easily accessible list of key phone numbers?
  • Emergency information for each attendee is vital. Some companies put emergency contact information on the back of each nametag. The more numbers and contacts you garner, the better. When gathering attendee information, find out about any allergies. It is also important to share attendee information with others on the event team in case something happens to one of the planners.
  • Be sure to be familiar with the venue’s evacuation plans, the location of all emergency exits, access for paramedics, and contingency plans in case of bomb threats or power outages.

A crisis plan should be simple, flexible, tested and reviewed. Employees should be familiar with the procedures in place and, most importantly, practice drills should be held.

Event Manager Loretta Lowe, CMP points out that there are two sides of risk management. The legal side encompasses insurance coverage, contracts to protect liability, notification to guests of assumed risks, and well written waivers. The moral side focuses on whether you have done everything possible to make sure your guests will be safe.

Enroll in the CEM Program and attend the Security, Risk, and Crisis Management Course

The importance of risk management is one of the most important topics Lowe teaches in her San Francisco State University event management course. “My students do an assignment every semester where they look up event disasters where someone was hurt or killed. It is very eye opening and scary to see how many things can go wrong, from crowd trampling, intoxication fueled hostilities, from fist fights to guns, to weather caused disasters like the wind pulling down the stage roof at a Sugarland concert, to mechanical mishaps like stage collapses, to bombings like the Boston Marathon,” explains Lowe. “I ask the students to discuss questions like: ‘Could this have been avoided’ and if so, ‘how?’  Ultimately, they come to the conclusion that most incidents could have been avoided with a little better risk management pre-planning, foresight, risk management training and a better understanding of human nature. We are in a people business and sometimes people will do unpredictable things.”

Many event managers use the “Play it SAFE” rule when it comes to risk management. The acronym stands for Spot the hazard, Assess the risk, Fix the problem and Evaluate the results.

Lowe points out that all meeting professionals carry the legal responsibility of duty and care for the safety and security of event guests, so a risk management plan is vital.

Featured image source: By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,

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