Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

November 2012

CMP Series: Minding Mother Nature

By Sarah Beauchamp, Assistant Editor
practice that Fisher said is key to any crisis response. “Whether it be joint command or a single individual,” Fisher said, “it’s important to lay out specific steps to communicate that decision.”

Equally important, Fisher said, is to be aware of your audience, and make sure that communication methods will be effective in a time of emergency. “Everybody acts differently,” Robinson said, “so there were various modes of communication used to inform the audience.” C3 and the OEMC made several announcements at each performance stage over the public-address system, displayed evacuation messages on the Jumbotron screens at Grant Park, and posted announcements on Lollapalooza’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter stream. They also employed an official event app this year through which concertgoers could receive messages about any emergencies or schedule changes. When the evacuation call was made, text messages were sent out to more than 40,000 attendees who subscribed to the app.

Those various messages were crucial for informing Reaser and her group. “My friend received a notification through the Lollapalooza app on her phone that let us know that the park was being evacuated,” Reaser said. And “as soon as the band [we were watching] had finished their song, an announcement came on over the loud speakers and told everyone to leave immediately, and to look for Lollapalooza staff and police officers for directions.”

That’s where another one of Fisher’s crisis-management best practices comes into effect. When it comes to picking emergency meeting spots, he said, “Use places where everyone knows what they are and where they are. These things can really make a difference.” Reaser and her friends, while seeking shelter at a friend’s apartment, ended up following the Lollapalooza hashtag on Twitter for more information, which is how they found out that festival organizers were letting people back into Grant Park at 6 p.m.

Dress Rehearsal

“A major critical component,” Fisher said, “is not to develop the plan in a vacuum. ... Rely on your local first responders - police, firefighters, EMS. They should be involved in helping you develop your plans, and specifically understand what they have to do.”

Even if something is implied in your emergency plan, it’s vital to write it down in detail, especially if it’s an inaugural event, or if you haven’t worked with a particular organization or in a particular city before. Specific wording was key in Lollapalooza’s emergency plan. “It’s stated that there is a joint decision between the various partners,” Robinson said, “but that OEMC can take any steps necessary to ensure the safety of the city of Chicago. That’s spelled out in the plan.”

A huge downfall of the Indiana State Fair’s emergency plan, according to Fisher, was its lack of detail. “What we found in the Indiana State Fair, prior to the stage collapse, was that they had a plan, but it wasn't very detailed, not very robust,” Fisher said. “More importantly, they didn't use it when they had a situation occur.”

Which is why practice makes perfect. “What we really recommend,” Fisher said, “is you need to develop the plans along with your partners and then train your staff - especially people who have a specific role - on what their roles are and what the plans are all together, and to conduct an exercise and test it. Test knowledge of the plan. Those exercises usually result in minor tweaks to the plan.”

The Show Must Go On

“The re-entry back into the park was very quick,” Reaser said. “Primarily because they were not checking bags and scanning wristbands. I’m guessing there were several people without tickets who were able to get in that night because of the lax security after the evacuation, but given the situation, I was fine being able to have immediate access back into the park.”

Because of the suspended schedule, Lollapalooza canceled some performances, pushed others back, and shortened others. To make up for lost time, the city allowed the festival to run a half-hour past curfew. Shows continued until 10:30 p.m. that evening, at which point organizers shut things down - right in the middle of some sets - so as not to overly disturb city residents. “It seemed like they made every effort to reschedule bands for new times,” Reaser said. “I definitely think the Lollapalooza team made the best decision they could have given the circumstances, and once we were back in the park, everyone seemed to be having a great time, even with all of the mud.”

And, in some cases, because of the mud. News sources and bloggers reported that the spirit of attendees returning to the festival was jubilant. Some people embraced the weather, dancing in the rain and sliding in the mud once shows began again. Others kept a safer distance, no longer able to access front-row seats because of deep pools of water and muck. The show went on into the night with great performances by acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Frank Ocean.

“I think the most important thing they did,” Fisher said of Lollapalooza’s organizers, “is they had a bad-weather forecast and they made the decision to shut down the show, which is a tough thing to do. But they made a decision in the interest of safety.” Robinson added: “Mother Nature will do what she wants to do. In the end, we agreed upon the evacuation in the safety and best interest of the public.” 
Sidebar: How the Disaster Conference Plans for Disaster

When the International Disaster Conference & Expo (IDCE) needed a permanent home, New Orleans was a logical choice. “After Hurricane Katrina,” said Tim Hemphill, vice president of marketing for New Orleans’ Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, “our Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness [GOHSEP] garnered a lot of national attention.”

Professionals in the world of emergency management flocked to New Orleans to learn more. “Because of Louisiana’s - and New Orleans’ in particular - body of knowledge as it comes to emergency preparedness,” Hemphill said, “this was a perfect place for this annual event to take place. It was a natural fit.”

When IDCE debuted this past January, it was jointly owned by the convention center and Imago Productions. But with next year’s show, slated for Jan. 8–10, the convention center will be the sole owner of IDCE. As a result, IDCE 2013’s crisis-management plan will be the same as the convention center’s. “We have an emergency evacuation plan in place that is coordinated with the [New Orleans] Convention & Visitors Bureau,” Hemphill said, “because it integrates with the city’s evacuation plan.”

In the event of an emergency, the convention center has public-safety officials in the lobby to assist attendees and emergency phones throughout the building. As part of the city’s master plan, Hemphill said, “there are certain hotels for people to muster at, and transportation is planned for those people to be evacuated outside of the zone of influence.”

GOHSEP tracks major storms weeks and days in advance, and alerts the convention center when a storm is strong enough that evacuation might be necessary. It hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean IDCE isn’t ready. “We practice the plan every year,” Hemphill said. “Everybody has a plan for when a storm’s approaching. Certain actions are triggered, and in the event that we are displaced from the building, then we have backup plans in place so we can

Please log in to post comments.


Connect with Convene
on Facebook & Twitter