The Devil is in the Details – Event Planning and Preparedness

Event organization is all about planning and preparation, no matter what type of event you are hosting.

Jessica Kym, Sport Accessibility Strategist for ViaSport
Jessica Kym, Sport Accessibility Strategist for ViaSport

Jessica Kym is the Sport Accessibility Strategist for ViaSport, and has organized large scale events like the Vancouver 2010 Torch Relay, the Rick Hansen 25th Anniversary Relay, and the Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games. With these events, Jessica has planned for her fair share of emergencies and is sharing her key tips to a successful (and disaster free) event with you!

What is the most important thing an event organizer can do to ensure they are ready for any emergency?

Preparation and practice! You need to make sure you know exactly what could happen, and make sure everyone on your team knows what to do if an emergency does occur. Remember that common sense is important to responding to a crisis, but don’t assume that everyone involved will inherently know what to do, who to call, or how to handle the situation. Assumptions can be the downfall of any emergency preparedness plan, so make sure to practice your plan with everyone who may be involved in resolving a real emergency situation!

For the Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games, how did your emergency plans change with hosting so many athletes with intellectual disabilities?

Our entire event was very athlete centered – we wanted to make sure that all our participants had a safe and fun experience. The key for us was making sure the right support was available whenever it was needed. As the health and well-being of our athletes was paramount, a 24 hour medical clinic with an on-call doctor was available to all athletes and coaches. The on-call doctor also had access to every participant’s medical history, just like you can get with ePACT!

Additionally, a huge support staff of volunteers was available on venue to assist with any situation that came up.

What did you do to ensure your athletes were safe and secure during the Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games?

We made security and accreditation a key focus for our athlete village at UBC. We established a number of accreditation checkpoints around the campus to make sure that our field of play and athlete village were secure. A strong accreditation plan and plenty of signage around UBC ensured that no athletes would get lost around the sprawling UBC campus. Things like signage may seem trivial, but they have a huge impact when running large scale events!

We were also fortunate to derive the majority of our volunteer security team from the local police force, so they had extensive experience in handling security for large scale events. This knowledge was invaluable for us, as they would bring up scenarios that were overlooked and already know the best way to respond. The takeaway here is to reach out to groups with the right expertise to assist your event – they’re usually more than happy to lend a hand for community initiatives.

Beyond the athletes, what other stakeholders needed to be considered in your planning?

Spectators are an incredibly important group to plan for! Large events like the Opening Ceremony, that were near capacity, made it necessary for us to carefully plan seating and evacuation methods to accommodate for different customer groups. There were a large number of spectators looking for wheelchair accessible viewing areas, and this factored significantly into our event and emergency plans.

You also need to remember your volunteers, who work tirelessly to make the event a success. Ensure you have the right information for these volunteers, including who their emergency contacts are and any pertinent medical information in case of an incident. Also engage them in your emergency plans before the event to enhance their safety in an unexpected situation.

What is the most challenging emergency situation you’ve had to deal with in your career and how did you handle it?

During the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay, we had a few segments interrupted by protestors in Quebec and Victoria. In one instance, we switched the torch route to minimize the protestors’ impact and to ensure a safe environment for the torch bearers. We had a strong security plan and a great team to carry it out, which made all the difference. They effectively managed the situation to ensure our staff and torch bearers were protected from start to finish. It really is a prime example of planning and practice paying off!

Do you have any advice for event organizers out there?

The devil is in the details! Don’t assume that just because you have a general plan that it covers any emergency situation that can happen. A general plan isn’t a substitution for a specific one, so plan for every situation, no matter how unlikely you may think it is. Reach out to other event experts and find out what they have experienced, and research similar events and the challenges they faced. Organizing a successful event requires a lot of hard work, preparation, and planning!

ViaSport British Columbia is a not-for-profit organization created in 2011 as a legacy of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Its mandate is to increase awareness, opportunity and participation in sport across the province–at every stage of life and in every community.

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