A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: When events and festivals go horribly wrong — and they can; plan for all contingencies

Across America cities, counties, schools, businesses, committees, groups, nonprofit organizations…etc.; are actively planning and hosting events. These events can range from festivals, concerts, fairs, fundraisers, homecomings, pep rallies, car shows, parades, carnivals, parties, social events, auctions, ceremonies, …etc. and many will fail to recognize the unique risk exposures that each will present.

A special event is defined as a non-routine activity within a community, group, or organization that brings together many people and is often not covered on your commercial insurance policy.

There are numerous examples of accidents and tragic incidents occurring during such events and they occur with a great deal of regularity. If you do not think it can impact your business, organization, public entity or non-profit you grossly mistaken. Within seconds somebody or multiple people can become injured or killed, resulting in possible bankruptcy and years of litigation.

There are so many potential risk exposures that need to be considered when hosting an event from severe weather, moving vehicles, parking exposures, propane tanks, temporary electrical hazards, temporary erected stages, fires, foodborne illness, trip & fall hazards, alcohol and intoxication, heat stress, violence, and yes even a mass shootings or terroristic act.

The exposures are endless, and a great deal of effort should be put into identifying and mitigating these exposures before hosting an event.

Several months ago, I was contacted by a law firm several states away asking If I would review a fatality that occurred during a celebration in a parking lot by a very large and well-known reputable nonprofit.

As a safety and risk control consultant, my sole professional focus and mission is to identify such exposures and help recommend implementing the necessary controls to best protect the public and/or attendees to such an event.

In this situation, the nonprofit had invited the public to a festive event to continue to celebrate a milestone of their founding, and they were expecting 200 plus attendees. They had decided to have a live band, inflatables, food and were hosting a car show in their parking lot on this warm Saturday afternoon.

They had contacted the city about possibly closing a nearby road but were denied, and they also checked to determine if any permits needed to be secure to hold the event, but none were required.

Outside of some informal and impromptu meetings by a handful of staff members to divide up some responsibilities, that was about as far as the event planning went. There was not any formal event action plan developed, minutes of their meetings were never kept, and a formal risk assessment of the potential exposures were never completed.

Despite the size of the nonprofit, it appeared that they never consulted with their headquarters, the insurance carrier, or any outside public or private safety or security consultants before the event. There were never any documented safety inspections on the day of the event, management had never been formally trained on how to safely plan and run event, there were no formal means to communicate with one another during the event, additional security or off duty police officers were not hired and there wasn’t even a record of an emergency management plan developed.

Despite prior discussion amongst themselves, on the day of the event, the nonprofit failed to implement a traffic control plan to limit vehicle access into the parking lot where children and the public would be circulating about.

They had investigated renting wooden barricades for the entrances, but because of the cost they opted to use their safety cones instead. However, on the day of the event, none of the safety cones were used and nobody was ever posted as a parking lot attendant to safely control traffic in and out of the parking lot.

Unfortunately, on the day of the event a patron who utilized their community services pulled into the parking lot from the main entrance, from where the event was being held.

However, the community services that they offered on that day had been canceled, and they did a poor job communicating that cancellation, mainly relying on word of mouth and social media to announce the cancellation. They also never posted any signage on the roadway to communicate with their patrons that the services were canceled on the day of the event.

As it turned out, the driver allegedly blacked-out after pulling into the parking lot and went careering through the parking lot at a very high speed missing multiple children before striking three people and fatally killing a woman who was participating in the car show.

Evidence later indicated that the driver was homeless and was living in the van she was driving and was operating the vehicle without an active driver’s license and was not carrying any insurance on the vehicle.

The nonprofit had so many opportunities to prevent this tragic accident and failed at every opportunity.

For instance, if they had just hired just an off-duty police officer and had him/her park their patrol car at the front entrance as a deterrence would the driver had driven into the parking lot? Probably not.

If they had posted signage near the entrance informing the public that the community services were canceled would this have happened? Probably not. If the barricade or safety cones had been put into use or if they had posted a parking lot attendant at the entrance would this have happened? Probably not. If they had completed a formal event safety plan and completed a formal risk assessment would they have identified the exposure that patrons may try to enter their parking lot to utilize their canceled community services? Probably so.

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

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.

The number of incidents is staggering, and all are preventable. However tragic they may be, such incidents serve as learning opportunities and you need to be paying attention if you are a part of an event planning committee.

If you continue to operate without set standards to address the risks you are playing with fire. You cannot identify every risk, but you can adapt your plan to mitigate it.
Event planners must do a better job of planning and implementing a fully developed risk management plans 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 advance; 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.

The point is planning an event should not be haphazardly planned 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 Friend.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment