Previously event contingency planning was just about weather. Now, the landscape has changed and we need to be concerned with other hypotheticals. None of us are immune to being hit by an extreme situation that is out of our control, but we can be well prepared for it. As Mike Nishi of the Chicago Marathon says, “It’s hard to plan for an emergency, but even harder to explain why you didn’t.”
We gathered some advice from race directors at the endurance industry conferences we attended earlier this year (industry pros like Mike Nishi, Dave McGillivray, Peter Ciaccia, and others). Emergency planning was a hot topic and we walked away with some really valuable ideas. Here are 6 tips for handling emergencies at your event:
1. Develop common terminology to collaborate with city officials and vendors. You want everyone on the same page as to the severity of an incident and how it will be handled.
2. Create an incident command center, staffed by your best people (if not police/medical professionals). All incidents will be reported to the command and decision makers will have all the info they need to act quickly.
3. Import all stakeholders into one system, which should include participants, volunteers, event staff, etc. There are a few reasons for this: 1) You don’t want to be searching around for someone’s info during a critical time; 2) This is a great way to create dynamic communication where, with the click of a button, you can email specific groups (or everyone); and 3) This system should be your hub for institutional knowledge. Whatever your volunteers and event staff deal with out on the race course should be tracked and stored in this system, retaining the knowledge for next year.
4. Get critical info in real time so you can analyze and make a decision in a heartbeat. Since you can’t be everywhere at once (and don’t want to be a bottleneck in an emergency situation) that means you need to empower others field and filter out information. The people in your inner circle should know everything from start to finish, and be very clear on who is responsible for what.
5. Turn your incident tracking into a post-race report. Document and assess what happened on race day. This should happen immediately after the event—pry it out of your volunteers, staff, and vendors the good, bad, and ugly. Even if each person simply gives you 10 bullet points on what went well and what didn’t, that debrief is crucial to keeping your event perfectly organized year after year.
6. Communicate with runners/spectators pre-race. In fact, over-communicate. That doesn’t mean give away your trade secrets, but be very clear on any logistical/operational aspects (e.g. gear check policies, parking, staging areas, etc.) Especially if something has changed from the previous year, communicate it repeatedly. Participants need to know what to expect when they arrive on race day and it will help your overall flow.
This is just a start. Don’t be afraid to ask your peers for advice or help! We’re all in this together and participants’ safety and happiness is a top priority for everyone. Reach out to other event directors for advice, and share your knowledge as well. We can learn from each other and it will only result in improving the preparedness and professionalism of our industry as a whole.