Anyone who has worked in this industry for more than a day has come to accept that live events are unpredictable by nature. Unexpected obstacles can and will arise, whether it’s technology that crashes at the worst possible moment or brand ambassadors that are more interested in their phones than doing their jobs. And for the most part, event marketers are equipped to face these challenges without batting an eyelash.
But what happens when it comes to the elements you can’t control, like severe weather or a medical emergency? Ensuring your event safety protocol is in order for these kinds of scenarios can mean the difference between a successful event and a nasty lawsuit—or worse. Fortunately, the Event Safety Alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting “life safety first” in event production and execution, is here to help.
The Alliance’s third annual Event Safety Summit, held Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, in Lititz, PA, was chock-full of insights on best practices in live event safety and security. Attracting attendees who serve a wide range of roles in live events, the
summit aims to change the culture of safety by increasing dialogue and producing actionable solutions for risk reduction. Operating under an E Pluribus Unum theme, (Latin for “out of many, one”), the event underscores the need for the industry to unite its efforts to achieve this common goal.
With plenty of topics to choose from, we strapped on our helmets and dove headfirst into the Event Safety Summit to bring you the most up-to-date information on modern event safety. Following are the tips, trends and takeaways you’ll need to know to protect your attendees, your staff—and your ROI.
When it comes to medical crises, every second counts, says Connor Fitzpatrick, coo of event medical services company CrowdRx. In his session “Alive and Well at Live Events,” Fitzpatrick stressed the importance of arming events with specialized on-site medical support. In addition to keeping medical incidents out of the press, he says, the goal is to provide the patient with quick access to the highest quality of care without overwhelming outside resources like local emergency rooms.
Determining the kind of medical personnel to bring on-site will depend on both your budget and what kind of support you seek. Paramedics offer advanced life support services including advanced airway management and resuscitation, while EMTs offer basic life support services like CPR and glucose administration for diabetics. Both offer quality medical care, but neither can make major medical decisions on their own. That’s where a doctor comes in handy, says Fitzpatrick. An on-site doctor can eliminate the time it would take a paramedic or EMT to transport the patient to the proper medical professional.
Establishing a designated on-site medical facility is another way to ensure quick access to medical care. A simple 10-foot by 10-foot waterproof tent that offers good lighting, accessibility and is clearly identifiable is a good budget-friendly option. The alternative is a fixed medical facility that offers an advanced level of care and is equipped with beds, cabinets, clear entrance and exit routes and integration with the local healthcare system. If 5,000 or more people will be attending your event, says Fitzpatrick, you should always opt for the fixed facility.
Your staff should also be prepared to properly dispatch a medical incident by calmly providing their name, exact location (right down to the seat and row, if applicable) and the nature of the injury or illness. Following dispatch, staffers should be prepared to comfort the victim, control the crowd, assist emergency responders as requested and provide a clear path to the patient. Detailed documentation of the incident should also be reported. “If it was not in the document, it did not happen,” says Fitzpatrick, adding that accurate documentation will help inform future event planning.
Pro Tip: The overconsumption of alcohol, as opposed to drugs, is generally more difficult to remedy. When it comes to executing live music events, advanced medical care will more likely be needed. At a country music show, alcohol is more prevalent than at an EDM concert where drug use is more common.
THE LIFE SAFETY CODE
In his session “There’s a Code For That?” Paul Villotti, vice president of FP&C Consultants, provided an overview of the Life Safety Code, a set of fire-related regulations widely adopted in the United States that is systematically revised every three years. First and foremost, says Villotti, a “safe” venue does not mean there is zero risk, but rather that risks have been minimized to what is acceptable by society. No matter how cautious you are, he says, there is no such thing as a risk-free environment. All you can do is be prepared.
So how do you minimize risk? A good place to start is training your staff to handle fire-related hazards including a flammable liquid spill near a main exit, a fire in an unoccupied room or a fire in a concealed space. Choosing a venue with a built-in sprinkler system is also paramount. There have never been multiple lives lost as a result of fire within a sprinkler-equipped building, says Villotti.
Exit safety is also critical. A venue’s exit system should allow attendees a minimum of three and a half minutes to escape the building in the event of a fire if the building is not smoke protected, and 10 minutes if it is. In addition, you should ensure an appropriate ratio of exits to attendees. The Life Safety Code requires one exit for up to 50 people, two for up to 500 people, three for up to 1,000 people and at least four exits for more than 1,000 attendees.
Pro Tip: If you’re in charge of your venue’s décor, be sure to use interior finishes and decorations that have a low flame-spread rating, and limit the use of exposed foam and plastic. “Once plastic ignites, it’s just like gasoline,” says Villotti.
There are 26,000 severe storms in the United States every year, making a venue-specific weather action plan a vital component of any live event. In their session on weather safety, John R. Scala, Ph.D, a meteorological consultant with DJS Associates, and Kevin Kloesel, Ph.D, a meteorologist at Oklahoma University, stressed the importance of preparing for inclement weather well in advance of an event. “Anyone can identify a threat when it’s right in front of your face, but by then it’s too late,” says Scala.
The most important weather elements to keep track of are heat—the number one cause of weather-related deaths—lightning and flooding. But when it comes to keeping tabs on these threats, relying on a mobile app to get your information is a mistake, says Scala. “Your phone is not a meteorologist. If you rely on it, you’re going to be in trouble.”
According to Scala, having meteorological expertise at your disposal may not just save your event, it could save lives. Scala suggests ditching your radar app and partnering with an experienced meteorologist who has more sophisticated hazard detection and monitoring tools, and understands how storms change and evolve—information that can’t be anticipated by an app.
If hiring a meteorologist isn’t in the budget, there are still ways for event organizers to help keep attendees safe in the event of severe weather. First and foremost, if lightning is present, you simply cannot hold an outdoor event. At 120 million volts per strike with temperatures at up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s a deadly weather phenomenon that leaves no room for error. Keep in mind that in over half of lightning fatalities, rain was not observed. Just because it’s not raining doesn’t mean lightning isn’t a threat, says Kloesel. And remember: if you hear thunder, lightning isn’t far behind.
Pro Tip: “Violent weather is not unexpected,” says Kloesel. Severe conditions are predictable if you’re paying attention.
Photo courtesy: Nicholas Karlin Photography