There are, unfortunately, a multitude of ways in which a public event can become unsafe for participants. Whether it be a natural disaster, human error, or violent attack, planning for public event safety can mean the difference between injury or inconvenience in the case of an emergency situation.
The following five steps will help guide you in taking all necessary precautions during the event planning process to (1) prevent an emergency incident; (2) secure crowds should such an emergency occur; and (3) otherwise attend to the safety of both guests and personnel.
1. Know Your Numbers
For many events, the actual number of people attending fluctuates widely, even for single-day occasions. Those who plan to attend the whole time, arrive late, or leave early can have a huge effect on the number of persons occupying your venue at any one time.
It is essential to remember that an overcrowded venue can be as dangerous as an overt attack, making number-based planning critical.
Understanding these numbers also entails considering which, and how many, persons may be particularly at risk in the event of an incident or evacuation. Make sure to answer the following questions to help guide your planning process:
- Will persons with mobility issues, including those with physical disabilities, the elderly, and children, be able to exit the venue independently?
- Would unforeseen incidents like the shutdown of elevators, blocked access ramps, or other issues leave disabled persons vulnerable and in need of extra assistance in the case of an emergency evacuation?
- Will any guest be at particular risk of physical harm as a result of celebrity?
- Will any animals be present who may put crowds at risk if left unattended?
Before your event takes place, speak with all planners to ensure that such issues are addressed, and that a safe exit is guaranteed for all participants.
2. Know Your Venue
Most event spaces not only have viewable permits on file but will also work with event planners to ensure that those utilizing their spaces are made aware of the venues’ past usages. By becoming acquainted with previous events, you can better plan for contingent situations and understand potential issues.
In particular, it is important to answer the following questions:
- Is your event unusual for the space or similar to those that have taken place in the past?
- Will usual safety routes be compromised in any way by physical obstacles or lighting issues?
- How can you ensure that such routes are both accessible and visible?
It is also essential to consider whether or not any large events will be concurrent with yours in the area that may impair exiting the larger city or town. Especially crowded areas can lead to additional safety concerns in terms of risk of attack and ease of large-scale evacuation.
3. Know Your Resources
While you may be providing private security for your event, it is often useful to keep in contact with emergency response services in the area. Such organizations can be immeasurable resources in terms of communicating potential safety issues, ensuring that their forces are properly staffed to deal with any potential issues, and even helping you remain in accordance with local ordinances.
Establishing a line of communication with local authorities in advance of an event is particularly useful when holding events in unfamiliar areas or when planning particularly divisive events, such as political rallies or protests.
4. Know Your Crowd
- Is there a performer who may excite your crowd?
- Is there content in any presentations (slideshow, video, speaker, etc.) that is potentially divisive or likely to rile up your audience?
- If food is provided, is there a plan in place for food service to avoid people rushing the table or forming unsafe queues?
Dietary restrictions and food consumption is another area of concern with large events. Make sure that food offerings are clearly labeled, especially if you are aware of certain food allergies among event attendees.
5. Know Your Exit Plan
Everyone involved in the planning of your event and crowd management on the day of should also be briefed on contingency plans. This will ensure that guests can be guided from enclosed spaces without becoming panicked by a lack of direction. This type of traffic direction also ensures that crowds utilize efficient and clutter-free exit routes. Make sure to have the following two key components in place prior to your event:
- Clear instructions for staff on where and how to guide guests in the event of an emergency
- Backup escape routes in case preferred exits are unusable
Such exit plans can be more widely disseminated through the use of certain print and electronic sources. An Incident Command System or ICS can greatly ease this process both in terms of planning, access, integration of resources, and ensuring a chain of command.
By following these five steps, you will help ensure the safety of your staff, your guests, and the community at large. Remember to comply with local ordinances and check OSHA guidelines for event planning and crowd control.
Ultimately, planning a safe public event means that it will be both fun and memorable for all the right reasons.