Emergency Preparedness for Large Events

Do you have an emergency preparedness plan in place to protect your business and employees from the disruptions that may occur due to a large event? The upcoming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, like all large events, will attract large gatherings of attendees and increases the corresponding odds of a dangerous occurrence. Communication may be difficult and transportation may be next to impossible - therefore, having a well-constructed crisis management plan is imperative to responding to and managing incidents that occur under these conditions.

During the NATO Summit 2012, authorities and surrounding businesses struggled to contend with the disruptions deriving from protests, threats, transportation blockades and communication problems - are you prepared to respond to these occurrences during an upcoming large event?

Below are several key steps to take into consideration when creating your crisis management plan.

Make a Crisis Management Plan: Use Your Crisis Team

Form a special event planning committee and try to use your established crisis team as much as possible, as these individuals have worked together before, so it should be easier to create a crisis management plan for the large event. You may, however, need to bring in outside personnel for help (e.g. head of security or property managers). The team should have a leader, and you may want to use your emergency preparedness team leader for this position, as they are already trained in the event of crises.

Begin planning for the event immediately and stay on track. You may want to create a timeline to ensure that planning and implementation is unfolding as necessary to stay on time.

Local and State Involvement

Interact with local resources as soon as possible. Local resources will be able to provide you with assistance that will help your office run smoothly, as they know the lay of the land and are in a better position to offer assistance with event planning and emergency preparedness. These resources may include committees, local security, police officers, firefighters and more.

Meet with these individuals and invite them to contribute input on your crisis management plan. They may be able to offer advice that you would otherwise not have known to plan for, such as rules that must be enforced during the event, transportation blockades that might occur and potential security problems. Working with local resources will only serve to strengthen your event planning and emergency preparedness strategies, ensuring that you will be on the same page during a crisis.

Probability and Impact

When you're planning for a large event, two types of occurrences may happen: the event itself, with higher-probability but lower-potential for risk, and smaller events spurred from the larger one, which are lower-probability but have a higher-potential for risk (e.g. emergencies and protests). Successful event and emergency preparedness plans will prepare for both occurrences. Remember, your crisis management plan should address both the event and your hard-working employees who must still maintain business as usual during this time.

Large Event Planning

Your emergency preparedness plan should address the massive amount of people that will disrupt the infrastructure of the city. These items include:

  • Commuting. The commute will be brutal during the event, as the city will likely experience a high traffic volume from attendees. Address high travel times in your crisis management plan, and outline alternate routes to and from your work, or shift work hours for your employees to make sure that they do not have to travel at peak hours. Calculate how many attendees are expected at the event and be flexible, as employees may have to work from home if the event is near the office. Additionally, stay in touch with local resources in order to maintain up-to-date emergency preparedness information, as you need to be among the first to know if you won't have access to certain streets due to blockades or unexpected accidents.
  • Internet Usage. In addition to high traffic on the roads, your crisis management plans should address potentially high internet traffic. The internet may slow to a crawling pace around your area while visitors use smartphones and other wireless devices. Work with the appropriate personnel to determine peak and non-peak hours of internet usage during this time. Schedule important conferences at non-peak hours so your employees don't have to struggle with lower bandwidth or dropped calls. Your emergency preparedness plans may even include not planning any important meetings during the event at all, as communication may be difficult, and some individuals may be late or unable to attend.
  • Disruptions. Your emergency preparedness plans may also address disruptions caused by an event, which can last longer than the event itself. For example, a week before NATO 2012, the city of Chicago was disrupted because important diplomats were arriving; additionally, the torch relay for the Olympics is held in the month of May, but the actual Olympic Games are held in July. Plan for these types of disruptions ahead of time in your crisis management plan, and be prepared to address how these may also disrupt the city's infrastructure.

Smaller Events - Protests, Emergencies, Terrorism

These events, spurred by the larger event, are mostly uncontrollable by you, but must still be addressed in your crisis management plan. A comprehensive emergency preparedness plan includes strategies to tackle these types of crises, including spontaneous protests (some of which may occur in front of your office building), terrorism, emergencies, and disasters, such as fires and flooding. Be sure to:

  • Interface with security and local authorities. If you're worried about security, meet with property management and local and state authorities to learn about the types of resources they may have available. If you do choose to hire an outside security company, make sure that the company is experienced, has strong credentials, and is willing to work with outside authorities to ensure that your office is as safe as possible. You need a contact point for your crisis management plan - if you hear that there are protests occurring outside of your office building via a message from the company or a newscast, you should have a crisis leader in place who will call your contact point to figure out the next steps to take in your emergency preparedness plan.
  • Work with property management to assess the safety of your building. Plan ahead and have extra security in place at your office, if the event is nearby. Plan who is and who isn't allowed into the building, search for alternate entrances and exits, and be prepared.
  • Plan for the unexpected. During large events, take extra emergency preparedness precautions and treat everything much more seriously. This includes bomb threats, suspicious packages - anything out of the ordinary. If you see something that seems wrong, say something about it. Be on extra alert during this time, because the probability for risk is higher than normal.

Practice Your Crisis Management Plan

As the large event draws nearer, you will want to practice your crisis management plan. Either practice it internally or have an outside company conduct an emergency preparedness tabletop drill to ensure that all individuals involved know what to expect. During this drill, conduct tests of your emergency messaging system. Make sure that the message begins and ends with the phrase "This is a test," so that employees are aware that it is not a real crisis. This is the time to test your emergency messaging system, as you will need to know that it works - and how it works - prior to the actual event.

During the tabletop drill of your crisis management plan, address all event crises that may occur. Additionally, comprehensive emergency preparedness plans should include recovery planning. Determine who makes the decision about when business should return to normal and speak with all members of the crisis team (e.g. executives, security, property managers, etc.) to ensure that everyone is on the same page in regard to crisis management plan execution and recovery.

Local authorities are generally very responsive and, if they have personnel available, are usually willing to participate in the drill for your crisis management plan to provide you with valuable emergency preparedness input. They can tell you if they already have resources in place and where, and they can also let you know if they are otherwise occupied during this time.

About the Author

As the Emergency Management Consultant at Preparis, Inc., Bryan Hill helps companies utilize the industry's first comprehensive emergency preparedness platform, designed to help businesses create a capable crisis team and to improve communication in the event of a crisis. Hill, who has extensive experience in conducting and evaluating various tabletops and full-scale exercises for businesses, hospitals and other organizations, has a master's degree in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology from the University of Georgia. Hill was one of the first to receive a Graduate Certificate in Disaster Management from the University of Georgia's Institute of Health Management and Mass Destruction Defense. He is also Advanced Disaster Life Support (ADLS) certified by the AMA and holds multiple FEMA certifications. For more information on Preparis, Inc., please call (877) 544-5845 or visit www.preparis.com.