Brutal heat waves. Unexpected tornadoes. Powerful thunderstorms. Is it just us, or has the weather this summer been abnormally wild?
All this inclement weather reinforces the importance of contingency planning in your overall event strategy. Your Plan B can’t just be a side thought; it has to be part of your Plan A.
Always Put Safety First
When preparing for or reacting to bad weather, your first priority must be keeping participants safe. Sometimes this means making a difficult decision, even if that leads to lost revenue.
For example, organizers canceled May’s Madison Marathon due to heat concerns (though participants were allowed to run the half marathon). With forecasts calling for extreme temperatures, it simply wasn’t worth the risk. Kudos to the organizers for placing participant safety first.
Here are six more tips for formulating your contingency plan for inclement weather.
- Work with the local fire department and emergency medical services to ensure you’re all on the same page with regard to your contingency plan.
- Consider all the bad things that could possibly happen so you’re prepared for anything. If a lightning storm strikes, where would participants go? If the heat index hits dangerous levels, will you have enough water, ice, sports drinks, etc.?
- Have a robust operational plan in place so that your staff and volunteers know exactly what to do under every possible scenario. This means making the effort to educate everyone on their responsibilities.
- As we wrote in May, there’s plenty you can do in communicating with participants. Before the event, “make sure participants are ready to deal with whatever weather is on the way” (e.g. bring that water bottle because it’s going to be hot). During the event, use signage along the route and Facebook/Twitter to relay key contingency-related information.
- Regarding the above point: Take the responsibility to monitor the weather, before and during the event. We love Weather Underground for its accurate and geographically precise weather updates. Also, we always check out the local TV stations, which give us better insight into how people in the area are likely to react to a particular form of inclement weather.
- Starting this month, you can sign up with the National Weather Service to receive customized text-message alerts when dangerous weather approaches. This is good news. But it’s also one more reason to stay on top of the weather. After all, if participants start getting alerts from this or other sources and your organization is lagging in its communications, they might panic.
- Clearly define decision-making powers. Who makes the call when the situation demands a timely decision? And if participants’ safety might be at risk, who can bypass the chain of command to make the call on the spot? For example, if one section of the route is getting dangerously crowded, a staff member on the scene might need to act immediately rather than waiting for approval from a higher-up.
Ultimately, proper contingency planning is all about enhancing the experience for event participants. And when your participants have a satisfying experience, they’re that much more likely to come back next year.
“Patrick and Sarah’s Experience Hub” blog posts are featured monthly. Directors of production projects Patrick Riley and Sarah Coniglio have many years of hands-on experience in almost every aspect of event operations and production.