By Erin De Baets
It should come as no surprise that, as an event company, we have thorough and detailed plans in place to guide us through any complications that may come up before or during the event. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a little warning (a flooded parking location, hazardously high temperatures expected, etc.) and we can convey any new information to participants and supporters in advance.
But sometimes, situations arise when the event is already in full swing. When that happens, not only are we focused on carrying out our contingency plans (keeping our participants’ safety as the numero uno priority, of course), but we also need to quickly and effectively communicate updates and changes to the participants who will be affected, possibly within a matter of hours.
In August of 2015, we were in Minnesota for the Twin Cities 3-Day, and the weather was on our radar from the start; we knew that there was potential for a summer storm to come through our part of town, and on Day 2 (Saturday), that’s exactly what happened. The sunshine held out beautifully for most of the day, but in the late afternoon, the clouds were moving right to where our camp was set up.
The 3-Day is a rain-or-shine event, and our participants have walked and crewed through cold, wind and downpours dozens of times over the years. However, when conditions become unsafe—with dangerous temperatures or lightning in the area, for example—we must be prepared to relocate the participants to safety.
I was the on-event social media manager, and I had been keeping an eye on our social channels all day. We had already started getting questions from participants (in person and on our Facebook page), so at around 2:30 PM, we put out preemptive messaging on the 3-Day blog, as well as Facebook and Twitter, to reassure people that we were keeping a close watch on the situation.
A site relocation was becoming a stronger possibility by the minute, so I was also busy drafting new messaging for Facebook, Twitter and the blog, even before the relocation decision was final, so it would be ready to go if/when that call was made.
Before long, we had an increased lightning and a tornado watch in effect, so the event management team made the decision to relocate the sleeping area of camp to an indoor location (which was ready for us just in case). With hundreds of walkers, crew members and visitors expected at camp, we needed to act quickly.
We sent out a Facebook message, a tweet and a text message blast. Since there was a lot of information to convey (the relocation address, info about bus transportation, hours of operation for the following day), we linked to our blog where we went into greater detail.
There were a few small kinks in the chain of communication, but when all was said and done, we successfully moved several hundred participants to a nearby school gym where they spent the night, safe from the elements outside. I think the most important lesson we learned was to make sure that the details and decisions being made inside the Command Center were communicated clearly to the staff and volunteers on-site, as well as through our mass outreach.
If your event has the potential for unforeseen issues (spoiler: EVERY event has this potential), it’s good to remember these things when it comes to communication:
Technology is Your Friend – This probably goes without saying, but electronic communication is the best way to get a message to a lot of people quickly. Social media, email and text messaging are all fast and efficient ways to get info out in a time crunch.
Don’t Jump the Gun – If you anticipate an issue that could require changes to your event plan, be careful about publicizing the potential problems too soon. Yes, you’d like to give your participants as much warning as possible, but more often than not, no changes will be needed, so why alarm folks unnecessarily?
Preparation Without Panic – That said, if you know for certain that conditions are going to be unfavorable (like, you know it’s going to rain), it’s okay to give folks a little heads-up without distressing them. Particularly with weather, chances are good that your walkers, runners or cyclists already know about unfriendly forecasts, but you can help them out with some tips for dealing with the potential nastiness. This lets them know that you’re keeping an eye on things and will alert them if any drastic changes become necessary.
Service With a Smile – Remember that your participants are personally and often passionately invested in the event, so make sure their concerns are being heard and acknowledged. If they express anxiety about the circumstances or ask you what the plans are, hear them out. You can assure them that you’re on top of the situation without giving any details before you need to.
Give it a Boost – Social media sites (Facebook in particular) aren’t always great about putting your posts into your followers’ feeds organically, so when there’s a message that you MUST get out quickly and widely, consider boosting the post to get it in front of more eyes. Additionally, call upon your followers to share, retweet and tag friends so that it has a better chance of being seen by the people who need to see it.
Erin works year-round on the 3-Day social media team, writing the 3-Day blog and interacting in cyberspace with participants and supporters all over the country and beyond. She has also been a 3-Day participant for 16 years and has personally lived through three event relocations.