A great deal of nerve and little bit of luck?

March 14, 2016


The delivery of a successful event, whatever its size, hinges on the implementation of excellent organisational skills, a modicum of ability, an innate understanding of the event environment and an abundance of nerve. How many also believe that there is a deal of good fortune involved?  To take (as an example), a green field environment and then build a small town out of fabric and steel, then invite thousands of excitable (and sometimes, intoxicated) revellers to move in for the week / weekend! Hoping to get away without anything going slightly awry can be as much down to serendipity as it is to planning.


If things were to start to go more south than is reasonably expected, how much of the outcome is related to good fortune rather than preparation?


It is certainly true that the planning of safety at events is improving but there is still some way to go in the planning of reasonably foreseeable emergency situations.

This is a complex topic, not because it is difficult to comprehend, but due to the multiplicity of aspects in which to engage, plan, fix, work, implement, train and deliver. In many cases there are, layers of deference or apathy (more likely due to a fear of, rather than a lack of understanding) that can mar the event from build to breakdown.


Emergencies can and do happen, they may happen at any time in the event cycle and in any place, with or without warning. However, to get to this stage they will have met and passed a crisis point and depending on how well an event is prepared this point will define how well it mitigates any adverse outcome. I think we would all agree that we need a planning framework to produce effective response plans for events. The question is, what should such a living plan look like, and how do we get this to a level of delivery concomitant with the event safety plan.


A disaster or crisis can be influenced if responses to stem the tide or to reduce damages by antagonising the causes of a crisis are known and possible to execute.” (Stephen Gundell)


It is fair to say that in some cases emergency planners are not great at explaining themselves; and they are also guilty of overusing acronyms and visuals, expecting a lay person to understand what they are talking about.  These must be clarified, agreed and laid out at the start of the emergency planning process to ensure that everyone understands the terminology being applied throughout the plan and more importantly if its is enacted.


There is a need early on in the planning process to identify key elements and to delegate roles and responsibilities. Alongside this it should be identified what threats or risks would cause the activation of a plan, and who takes responsibility for the decisions that need to be made.


It is this last statement that needs early consideration as it affects all other decisions. Who in the event management team do we turn to when we need urgent and succinct direction and decision making processes?

If we are fortunate enough to have a well-resourced event control room, who is the person in charge? Let’s think utopia for a moment and imagine that we have the following people present:-

  • Event Director

  • Medical Dispatcher /manager or other

  • Police

  • Fire Officer

  • Event Safety Officer

  • Security

  • Local Authority staff

  • Loggist

  • Site or Venue manager


Who would it be your choice?


Confusion over primacy is not an option especially in an emergency. In an event where an incident takes place, someone has to take charge, without delay and without the need to pour over plans to determine who or what roles everyone is responsible for.


Over the years terminology has not really changed very much, but the requirements and responsibilities placed upon those that bear the IC insignia is ever increasing in the litigious world we live in. Perhaps in order to remove any risk of confusion there should be a bilateral agreement to stop using code words, (except in the most sensitive environments). And codes do not stop at words of course, there are colours too, have you ever stopped to wonder if the colour coded systems are fully understood. Platinum, gold, silver, bronze, red, amber green, orange, black, purple, silver are commonly used at larger events for emergency management, notification and procedure selection, and it has been this way for some years now.


In the event context, as the police powers and attendance are shifting, is it time for multi-modal systems to be exclusively for the use of professionals that are normalised to a hierarchical response format, leaving the rest of us to use unmistakeable plain language to give clear instructions.

The only way we will ever know if we have got the primacy clear is to test it, through scenario training in a controlled environment. This immersive learning process is essential to ensure that plans work, can be implemented and that everyone knows what is going on. It also gives the event team a chance to put faces to named roles, and to help clarify a number of potential pitfalls, for example:-


  • If you have to evacuate, where do you evacuate to? Is there enough space to do this or is invacuation a better proposition?

  • Who will become the incident commander? Should there be one?

  • Who will be called to form an emergency liaison committee? Does the event require it?

  • Where would the event manager go in the event of an incident?

  • Who is going to manage the forward control point until the emergency services arrive?

  • Who, of all the people, is going to keep a log of everything that has just happened?

  • What and how do you communicate to the public?


So, rather than concentrate on 101 EOP/SOP/IAD’s (whatever), should we not act as an industry to standardise an emergency plan framework and set some core competencies for those that we thrust in to such difficult positions? Perhaps then we may have an integrated approach that is adaptable and realistic in its outcomes and would work across events of all sizes and perhaps one that would be recognised by all CAT 1 responders.


In conclusion, it is clear that there is need for a robust emergency plan framework but I believe that in the near future we will need to sit down as industry and take stock. There is nothing necessarily wrong with code words if they are understood and yes, colours help quickly identify the necessary state of an event, but we don’t need a rainbow to get us there. Having a good event safety plan is one thing but ensuring that key people are identified and trained to respond will save lives and reduce time to recover, in the end, as with health and safety, successful emergency management is very much enshrined in positive provision of information, training, instruction and supervision.

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