A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: The risks and hazards of events — for event-planners, event-goers, here’s a heads-up

Every week all across America cities, counties, schools, businesses, committees, groups, nonprofit organizations…etc.; plan and host events. These events range from festivals, concerts, fairs, fundraisers, homecomings, pep rallies, car shows, parades, carnivals, parties, social events, auctions, ceremonies, …etc.

A special event is defined as a non-routine activity within a community, group or organization that brings together a large number of people.

Everybody loves a good celebration or event but there are numerous examples of accidents/incidents occurring during an event on a daily basis. If you don’t think it can impact your organization, think again. It is a matter of time before it does.

However large or small these events may be, risks and dangers loom and people are injured or killed every year because there was not enough planning and controls put into place to minimize or remove those risk exposures.

Examples of such tragedies can be seen in past headlines from the Las Vegas Massacre, the Boston Marathon Bombing, The Who concert stampede….etc. Such incidents are destined to make headlines and control the mainstream media for days, however, every year several smaller less notable incidents occur in our local communities that may land in the local newspaper or TV station that we don’t ever get to hear about, for instance.

• On September 28th, 2019 a man was struck and killed by a vehicle at a Louisiana Mud fest.

• On March 13th, 2014 in Austin, TX while attempting to flee police a gray Honda Civic turn the wrong way down 9th Street blowing past a barricade, and barreled into several pedestrians attending an outdoor festival. Four people were killed and 23 people were injured.

• On September 1, 2019, more than two dozen people were injured after a stage barricade collapsed during Bumbershoot at Seattle Center on Saturday night, when people started to push up on the barricade.

• Last week in Laredo TX local officials said that one person was setting up the Jalapeno Festival and was burned after flames ignited while setting a propane tank.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com

The number of incidents is staggering and each of these listed was preventable. If you continue to operate without set standards addressing risk you are playing with fire. You cannot identify every risk, but you can adapt your plan to mitigate it, essentially lessening the blow to your bottom line and image.

Event planners must do a better job of planning and implementing a fully developed risk management plans in order to fend off any potential ill effects resulting from real or perceived negligence on their part.

Cities and towns may have the resources, expertise, and manpower to plan out events well in advances; incidents still occur. Many rely on local law enforcement, risk managers and emergency management officials to plan, coordinate the even, and best control all the threats and hazards that they foresee.

They usually do a pretty good job however many of the schools, non-for-profits, organizations, businesses oftentimes fail to plan a special event properly and people are injured and sometimes killed. Many throw together a small committee of people or employees within their organization that are ill-prepared, incapable and just fail to plan accordingly and identify the risks associated with their event. Many simply loosely put together an event inside their facility or out in their parking lot.

Many fail to transfer the risk by picking up a special event insurance policy or they fail to call their insurance agent to see if the event is covered or if they can add an endorsement to their current insurance. As a result, many are liable for any injuries, incidents or fatalities that may occur during this event. Such liabilities can leave them on the hook for thousands if not millions of dollars losses and can even lead them to eventual bankruptcy.

If you are considering hosting an event or festival you should consider the following:

Planning Phase –  Determine what kind of event it is, who and how many are expected to attend. Is there a sponsor, can you transfer the risk with an insurance policy or an endorsement? You should formalize your planning phase by developing documented procedures, set goals and timelines. Will their special hazards that may require the local Fire Department and Police? Will there be alcohol served? Will you need to sign a contract? What other state, local or federal ordinances or regulations do you need to be concerned with? You should look to see if permits or licenses are required with your local government.

Event Staffing –  Will you be using your own staff, volunteers, vendors, and local authorities? What safety training should be offered to the staff? Will they performing any unusual activities that may require personal protective equipment? What equipment is going to be used and will you need to train for it?

Sanitation  Needs – You must consider the needs of your estimated crowds and be able to provide enough restroom facilities and hand-washing stations; including ADA compliant facilities.

Special Event Emergency Management –  How many people will be in attendance and should you set up a medical or first aid tent? Should you reach out to your local government to outsource EMT’s or paramedics? How will you handle severe weather? Do you have designed storm shelters? How will an emergency weather situation be communicated? What if you have an active shooter do you have a plan for that? Do you have armed security? Have you established an accident report or incident investigation procedure?

Vet Your Vendors –  Vendors should be vetted and they need to understand your expectations, rules, and regulations. They must be held accountable for compliance even if they specialize in food/beverage, rides, animals, pyrotechnics, merchandising, crafts…etc. They come with their own unique special risks and they need to be controlled. In your contract with your vendor, you should include a hold harmless agreement. You should require that all vendors provide you certificates of insurance with at least $1M in limits, and you should ask that they contact their insurance carrier ask them to add you as an additional insured.

Parking & Traffic Control  – Parking and traffic control needs to be at the forefront of any event planning and needs to be designed to best protect the public and attendees. Somebody should be assigned to oversee the planning and be on hand to oversee and manage it during the event. You need to plan to protect the public from vehicles, and avoid any through traffic scenarios by barracking access to where the event is being held. 
Parking should be designed at a safe distance and you should also accommodate for ADA parking spaces for the handicapped.

Special Event Crowd Control –  Your planning committee should review all ingress and egress procedures. They should plan for access for the disabled and how the attendees will flow into the event. Security should be considered and be a part of any event however small or large. For security, event planners need to decide if they are going to use their own employees, private or local law enforcement. If it is a first-time event, you should over plan because it’s best to error on the side of safety. For instance, some states require fire codes crowd managers, for instance in NC they require 1 trained crowd manager for every 250 persons in attendance at any event greater than 1000 people.

Night Time Events –  Night time events come with its own set of risks.   
To better control those events, you should consider adding additional outdoor lighting, additional security rounds, and establish a set end time.

Safety Regulations – There are several general safety regulations that need to be considered when planning an event. For instance, there are several electrical codes that need to be considered. If you are outdoors in a potentially wet environment all electrical cords must be GFCI protected and tested under a ground fault assurance program. Electrical cords should not be laid on the ground and in the audience’s traffic paths, or areas accessible to the public without guards. All electrical equipment must be grounded and so must all generators if they are being used. Generators shall never be refueled while operating and if light towers are being used they too must also be grounded.

Food & Beverage Concessions 
– The food and beverage industry has its own set of Fire Codes and food safety regulations to follow. For instance, there should not be any open flames within 20 feet of a tent, canopies or membrane structures. All LP gas containers must be protected and located in approved locations. Outdoor cooking that producer sparks or grease-laden vapors are not allowed. Mobile food trucks must have health inspections with certificates posted.

Temporary Structures  – Such as stages and tents have a host of safety regulations to follow. Large stages and tents may require that you obtain a permit from your local government. Smoking in tents shall be forbidden and signs must be posted. Portable fire extinguishers must also be provided.

Alcohol Concessions – If alcohol is served, the vendors must have liquor liability insurance, servers must be properly trained, and enforcement must be followed. If you aren’t serving alcohol you still need to have a plan to control non-concessions alcohol consumptions within the confines of your event.

The truth of the matter is that there are several other safety and risk management measures to consider. For instance, there are a host of safety regulations for fireworks, Animals, inflatables, and amusement rides.

The point is planning an event should not haphazardly and loosely put together. Safety and risk management must be considered throughout the entire planning process and it should be a formal process. You must consider every possible thing that could go wrong, and you should have a plan for it so that you are not caught off guard.

Be Safe My Friends.

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