In one case, two 10-year-olds were injured when the bouncy castle they were playing in was blown 15 feet in the air during a storm. In the second instance, lightning struck a tent at a ribs festival, injuring at least 17 people. The third case involved a stage collapse that resulted in one death and one serious injury.
What do these unfortunate stories have in common? They all took place during festivals and parties. In my world, we call these kinds of festivals "special events." The special event sector includes fundraisers, weddings, graduations, public ceremonies, concerts, sporting/athletic events, political events, conferences, camps and film/TV productions.
Special events are vital to the fundraising operations of many social service and nonprofit organizations, but they are important to many for-profit organizations as well. Consider employee summer picnics or Christmas parties. They usually are intended to create community or employee engagement, celebrate traditions or milestones, or create public awareness of some mission or future event. But they also carry risks.
I am working now for the organizing committee for the Pan/Parapan Games, the second largest multi-sport event after the Summer Olympics. The event will be held in Toronto in 2015. I am part of a group that is responsible for organizing a celebration of the games consistent with the Olympic Charter. With that comes the responsibility of organizing more than the sporting events. The games also encompass many cherished rituals such as the countdown and community events, torch relays and the popular opening and closing ceremonies.
As festive as these sorts of events are intended to be, they do come with potential perils and hazards. It makes me think of the book "All Fun and Games until Somebody Loses an Eye," by the novelist Christopher Brookmyre.
But no eyes need be poked out in or at any event. With some solid pre-event planning and good risk and hazard analyses, many losses can be avoided.
Things to consider include participant and spectator safety, first aid, lost and found, emergency response protocols, traffic control, hazardous materials ... crime, alcohol consumption, parking, permits, pyrotechnics, public relations, protests and picketing.
Having a checklist like this really does help in the thinking and planning process. The extent of the risk arising from each hazard identified should be evaluated for the likelihood of the harm arising from the hazard. For each applicable issue, ensure that there are risk controls in place and, if controls are not to be put in place, at least let there be a heightened consciousness around those gaps.
One of the best validations I have received on this very idea occurred upon the conclusion of a recent special event risk planning session for a community event kick off. A participant who was new to the process approached me and said that he felt so much better having done the risk review and plan. He said he felt so much less anxious and was now ready to enjoy the event.
Having heard words like that, I now have a greater understanding and appreciation of why we risk managers do what we do. We do help everyone sleep better at night. We give the gift of peace of mind.
JOANNA MAKOMASKI is an enterprise risk management executive with experience in energy, health care, and most recently in the sporting event sectors. She can be reached at email@example.com.
August 22, 2012
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