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How to Manage and Reduce Risk at Large Events

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A crowd crush is of little worry to most attending an athletic event or concert. Yet 46 crowd-related disasters killed at least 20 people between 1999 and 2021, including 10 people who were killed at the Astroworld Festival near Houston in November 2021. What causes these tragedies, and how can they be avoided?

Following the incident at Astroworld, Texas governor Greg Abbott created the Texas Task Force on Concert Safety (TFCS) to review the incident and “develop meaningful solutions that will keep Texans safe while maximizing the joy of live music events.” In April 2022, the TFCS issued its report with recommendations for:

• Unified On-Site Command and Control
• Permitting
• Training
• Planning and Risk Assessment
• Centralized Resources

Below we’ll look at the recommendations from the TFCS, as well as other strategies that event personnel can utilize to mitigate a crowd incident.

First, it is important to distinguish between an event and an incident. An event happens during a specific period and is usually planned. An incident is spontaneous and has a negative outcome. However disruptive an incident is, it can be planned for.

Regulations

Following local, state and federal laws is essential for the success of any event. While there is no federal law on crowd safety, the National Fire Protection Association’s 101 Life Safety Code is considered the standard. This code recommends having one crowd manager for every 250 occupants at an event and establishes crowd density recommendations. These recommendations apply to places larger than 10,000 square feet, where the crowd density should not exceed one person every square yard (about 2.6 feet by 2.6 feet). Unfortunately, not every state has adopted the NFPA code. Some states use older versions, modified versions or do not adhere to any code at all. This inconsistency results in varied safety standards across the country, so it’s important to review your state regulations to ensure compliance.

Risk Management

Event risk management involves identifying, assessing and controlling threats to an event. The first step in any risk management process begins with identifying a risk assessment team. This risk assessment team should include key stakeholders from event management, local law enforcement, local emergency services, emergency management, facilities and transportation. This team is tasked with defining the essential functions of the event and any potential threats and hazards. The risk assessment team then prioritizes the risks by determining the vulnerability, likelihood and consequences of the threat or hazard. Risk prioritization focuses the efforts of the risk management team. From there, the team can develop strategies to reduce the impact of these threats and hazards.

Planning

Dwight D. Eisenhower is quoted as saying, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” The quote is generally considered to mean that you will probably have to deviate from your plan. But if you have taken the care to develop, discuss and put a plan in place, it will serve you exceptionally well, no matter how much deviation you are obliged to take.

Every event, regardless of size, should have an Event Action Plan. An EAP coordinates all components of an event, including event goals and objectives, as well as tasks or steps that need to be carried out to reach the goal. Planners often use Incident Command System forms in the development of an Incident Action Plan, as part of an EAP. These assist in the transition from event to incident operations, should the need arise.

Also important are the personnel responsible for carrying out each task, milestones for task completion, resources required to complete the tasks, and safety measures for the event. An EAP outlines the command and control of the event, weather planning, event staff and volunteer assignments, public safety roles, access control and traffic management. EAPs should be distributed so that all relevant parties have access to the information necessary to conduct their roles, but they should not be publicly distributed to prevent access to sensitive information.

Another plan essential for event safety is an Emergency Operations Plan. An EOP assigns responsibility to organizations and individuals for carrying out emergency actions. The EOP should address all event-day and non-event-day threats and emergency issues that might arise from natural, technological and human-caused hazards. The goal of an EOP is to ensure life safety, establish an effective response and minimize the impact of the incident. The EOP also coordinates venue and event personnel and government authorities to promote an effective response and resolution.

In addition to EOPs and EAPs, it is important that each organization and department carefully think through their role within the event and potential incidents. An EOP and EAP should serve as the foundation for additional tactical planning. Each organization must understand its roles and responsibilities in an event or incident.

Training

Staff and volunteer training is essential before an event. The benefits far outweigh the costs. Training can improve performance, boost morale and increase event efficiency. The staff working the event are vital to the event’s success, security and safety. Providing training and resources will give personnel the tools to be effective. Training on incident management will assist in recognizing threats and help eliminate or reduce vulnerabilities. Too often, event managers and public safety officials don’t include event staff in their incident planning. This omission is done in the belief that they are unable or unwilling to help. Nothing could be further from the truth. Event staff and volunteers can play a crucial role in incident management if they are trained in what to do before or during an incident.

Core training consists of venue knowledge, as well as familiarization with policies, procedures and basic crowd management and movement plans. Other training beneficial to event safety includes conflict resolution, first aid and CPR, threat identification and effective alcohol management. Having a trained staff allows event management to increase their “eyes and ears” and increases the likelihood of a quicker response to an incident. All training should be clearly defined and documented.

Managing an event can be challenging. The goals of some events are simply to put on a fantastic concert or athletic event. However, it is incumbent on event managers to practice effective risk management, proper planning and effective training to ensure the safety of all.

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