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Be Prepared for Events Emergencies

January has brought a vivid reminder that special events planners are often the first line of defense in emergencies.  Last week started with a woman having chest pains and ended with another having a seizure. This week, a guest’s parking lot fall required six stitches and a colleague’s office space heater caught on fire. The unexpected is always lurking just around the corner. In December, our region was raked by tornadoes. (Who would ever anticipate tornadoes in December?) As events planners, it is imperative that we know what to do when the unforeseen happens.

Now is the perfect time to renew staff training in first aid and other emergency procedures. And don’t forget to include student workers, members of your ambassador corps, and volunteers.

Get certified in first aid, CPR, and AED (automated external defibrillator) use. Many schools offer American Red Cross training through their risk management programs. Certification is good for two years. We attend as a group because it helps reinforce instruction. Over the years I’ve experienced emergencies small and large ranging from a man who smashed his finger in a car door to finding an event participant unconscious in a parking lot on an August afternoon, a victim of heat stroke.

Know severe weather procedures. Event staff should know where shelters are in each venue. Plan how you will direct participants to them. Once, while we were under a tornado warning, our audience of foreign visitors who had no understanding of the risk, wanted to go outside to watch since they had never seen a tornado. Fortunately, a well-trained special events staffer had a script that could be read from the podium that explained the danger. Her clear instructions about what to do kept the curious visitors inside and safe.

A recent severe weather drill exposed a serious flaw in a new building’s emergency plan: While the plan looked good on paper, the spaces that were designated as shelters are too small and some are behind locked doors. Without an emergency practice, we would not have discovered this until too late. A new plan has since been drafted.

Hold fire drills. Practice with your campus safety office to ensure everyone knows how to evacuate and what to do once that happens. Where do people meet? How do you account for everyone? Evidence shows that in an emergency people will try to exit through the door they entered. Unfortunately, this may not be safe or accessible. Be certain staff know alternative ways out.

Review Your Set-ups. Consult with emergency management personnel such as your campus safety office or risk manager to review venue set ups with an eye toward ensuring the arrangement of chairs, stages, catering, displays, and gear is not an impediment to people being able to evacuate.

Know the physical address of each venue. College campuses can be confusing places in terms of way finding. It is imperative that event staff know how to assist emergency responders in locating the building. Often, GPS directs to a generic address for the entire campus. This will delay response. We issue lanyards with the address of the buildings we are using so event staff need only read this information from the back of the card. If the campus map posted on your web site uses building numbers, it also helpful to provide this information when calling 911.

Meet with campus safety to discuss emergency procedures. Always keep them posted on large events and identify concerns in advance. This is especially important when hosting visiting dignitaries, elected officials, celebrities, or a speaker or group that might attract controversy. Make a plan for various scenarios and keep it up-to-date. Be certain all staff are aware of what has been decided.

Don’t forgot the big ones. Be certain that you have emergency plans for major gatherings such as athletics contests and commencement. Large audiences and in some cases, non-campus venues, demand emergency planning on a much bigger scale, a drill that is often overlooked because it involves coordination with multiple law enforcement agencies, emergency responders, facilities personnel, and events planners.

Empower Staff to Respond. No one should ever wonder if it’s ok to call 9-1-1. Let your staff and volunteers know that they don’t need to check with someone else before calling for help. Better to call and not need it, than waste critical minutes in an emergency. For large events, we hold a mandatory emergency briefing with staff and volunteers right before doors open. We point out all exits, be certain everyone knows the facility’s address, and discuss possible disruptions such as impending bad weather. Most importantly, we tell people that if they think a situation is an emergency, it is and we empower them to take the appropriate steps to get help.

 

 

 

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Super Bowl LII Is A NSSE Lesson

 

Some people will watch Super Bowl LII to root for their team, others to catch a glimpse of puppies with Clydesdales, but I’ll watch to admire an exquisitely complicated and perfectly orchestrated NSSE (National Special Security Event)

A major public event that attracts a large attendance, includes dignitaries, or that has historic, political, or religious significance may be designated by the Department of Homeland Security as an NSSE. Many of America’s marquee events that could be attractive targets for terrorism or other disruptions fall into this category. Typically, such events are of a size and scope that is far beyond the scale of local resources. A NSSE determination is based on a SEAR (Special Event Assessment Rating). This system assesses threats and incorporates a risk analysis and then ranks the event on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being the highest priority. Super Bowl is definitely a SEAR 1 event.

Once designated an NSSE, federal and local agencies work together to construct a security plan that covers everything from traffic and crowd control to hotel security, tactical units, communications, volunteers, evacuation plans, access, and much more. Work is done in committees. The Minneapolis Super Bowl Host Committee and Minneapolis Police Department have been working for two years in conjunction with federal agencies to develop security plans including snipers on rooftops and the largest influx of federal agents in Super Bowl History. Most guests will never see the extra layers of personnel and resources assembled to keep them safe but security personnel and systems will be everywhere.

Campus event planners need to be aware of what constitutes an NSSE because we frequently host events that might qualify. Occasions such as presidential debates, visits by international leaders or religious officials such as the Pope, or high-profile sporting events like an NCAA championship game are all candidates. An NSSE’s heightened and complicated security arrangements are not business as usual meaning that we need to learn how to appropriately engage in security planning. Security on such a massive scale forces planners to give up some autonomy and requires that we cannot adjust plans at the last minute (as we often do) without first conferring with those in charge of security.

Recently, a group of lighting professionals were working at an NSSE. The crew had been instructed the night before by the event planner to dress in show black without logos, bring their backpacks, and set up underneath the bleachers inside of the secure perimeter. The problem was, she never told security officials of her last-minute directive. While the crew were waiting in the designated place, an officer spotted the unknown men and an alert went up the chain of command. Security quickly responded, detaining the men while an investigation took place. The situation was soon resolved but it was unnerving to reflect on the fact that the men had been in the sights of snipers. The moral of the story is, during an NSSE, event planners are no longer the final authority but part of a much larger team. We must be forthcoming with information, be aware of the potentially dangerous consequences of our decisions, and be fully engaged in planning and briefings.

If a major security event is on your horizon

  • Begin planning early by contacting local law enforcement;
  • Take part in committee meetings;
  • If you are not included, speak up and get involved;
  • Follow directions;
  • Never change plans without first consulting the security team;
  • Attend briefings as appropriate so you know what’s going on.

To learn more about NSSE designation requirements, go to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, http://www.dhs.gov

 

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Drive Events Like A BMW

Enrolling in BMW Performance Driving School was my New Year’s treat to myself and it didn’t disappoint. It was challenging, adrenaline-pumping fun, and most of all, instructional. But before the panic braking, sliding, timed laps, and stability control exercises, we started in the classroom with a clear set of objectives. They were 1. Safety; 2. Have Fun; 3. Learn Something.

Before we ever approached the cars, we talked about fundamentals like proper adjustment of mirrors and seats, posture in the driver’s seat, how to hold the steering wheel, and learning to look much farther down the road than most drivers typically do. At day’s end, the pièce de résistance was being a passenger on a hot lap driven by a professional race driver who incorporated all of the techniques we had learned into an exhilarating, heart pounding, thrill ride around the track. I’ll never forget it.

On the way back to the hotel it occurred to me that the lessons of performance driving school are 100% applicable to special events management. Here are some ways we can put those course objectives into practice to create our own unforgettable special events in 2018:

  1. We’re all well aware of the news and that crazy people can wreak havoc on gatherings anywhere, anytime. But imminent threats aren’t always from active shooters or terrorists. While we must have those plans, you are much more likely to experience unexpected severe weather, a medical emergency, or the need to evacuate due to a fire. As we begin 2018, all events should be reviewed for the fundamentals, beginning with safety. Resolve to develop a comprehensive safety plan in concert with campus emergency management professionals. Practice it. Be certain all staff members know what to do in case of emergency. Learn panic braking before you need it!
  2. Have Fun. This year instead of retreading events, resolve to ensure the trip to your campus, or to your recruiting or fund-raising reception or whatever the occasion might be, is fresh, interactive, and truly fun. People have limited time and the choice to attend your event means something else won’t get done. Make your events worthwhile by inviting an infusion of new ideas, volunteers, and willingness to make things exciting, an experience they’ll never forget.
  3. Learn Something. Isn’t this the reason we do events in the first place? Special events are the perfect opportunity to deliver carefully crafted messages about our schools to people who have opted to spend their time with us. Crafting events that deliver great learning may require looking farther down the road than we typically do. Does the horizon reveal a milestone occasion in your school’s history? Is there an important discovery that will be announced soon? Start planning now to celebrate and educate by building great events around these natural hooks. Our guests are groups of interested persons who want to be part of our universities. Take full advantage by being certain the purpose of each event is clearly communicated. Everyone should understand the reason for being there when they accept the invitation, but most important, should be able to articulate it at the end of the day. Just like BMW Performance Driving School.

Best wishes for much success in 2018!

 

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Plan For the Worst

The past few week’s floods, hurricanes, and wild fires are a reminder that event planners need emergency plans that are comprehensive, up-to-date, and easy to implement. Of course, the time to plan for a catastrophe is before it happens, but few of us actually do so beyond a vague notion of what we would likely do. Planners’ organizational skills are high value in a time of crises but success relies on preparation. While we all know how to contact security, call 9-1-1 or where to shelter when severe weather sirens sound, event planners need to work with colleagues to develop bigger-picture emergency plans.

College campuses are hosts to hundreds of events annually, many of which are held by off-campus groups, organizations, companies, and even religious congregations. Such meetings are often managed from a variety of offices ranging from continuing education to conferences, special events, and individual colleges. Having a plan for communicating with meeting planners and event hosts when disaster strikes is imperative and often overlooked. Planning for the worst means deciding when and how events will be cancelled in case of major emergencies of the scope that close campus. These are things like tornadoes, floods, epidemic sickness, fires, or in our case, a shooting during the work day. It’s fairly easy to halt routine on-campus activities, but what about things like athletic contests, concerts, meetings, and bookings from external organizations? People from far out of the local area (speakers, for example) may already be en route and unaware of the situation.  Incredibly, even though our campus was closed after the shootings, off-campus clients who had reserved event space still wanted to hold their functions, something that was impossible because campus had been emptied and was on total lock-down.

Before a bad situation arrives on your doorstep, gather a team to create a plan for how events will be cancelled in case of emergency. The first step is to be certain you and your staff are signed-on to emergency notification systems via text, e-mail, and voice. Use multiple numbers and addresses for each person to be certain messages get through.

Begin by creating a campus-wide events crisis management committee composed of people who can get things done then meet to develop a protocol for crisis event management.

A comprehensive campus plan should identify:

*Who has the authority to implement the plan?

*How communication will be handled.

*Who has log-in access to scheduling software and is capable of running it under stress. Can it be accessed remotely? Know the cell numbers for several people who can do this.

*A check-off system for recording whether each group was successfully contacted. Require confirmation from each representative to verify the message was received.

*Names, cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses of key people on campus including A/V and IT, campus safety, catering, facilities, grounds, and space schedulers.

*Overall campus emergency procedures.

*Your duty station. Where will you go? Where will you work from?

*Venues. Know what capabilities are in your inventory in case an assembly point is needed for the president to make an address, to host the media, shelter people, or hold a vigil or memorial service. Know who is responsible for scheduling and unlocking each space and have his or her cell number. Know the capacity for seating, AV, catering, handicapped access, and parking.

*Put the plan in writing and keep it on your phone and computer. Because staff come and go, cell phone numbers change, and office duties get rearranged, update it monthly and distribute it to everyone on the team.

*Review your reservation procedures. All event reservations should be in writing and include full contact information. Be certain contracts contain cancellation language. Get signatures for even the most routine meeting.