EMERGENCY PREPARATION AND PLANNING FOR VENUES

We cannot foretell when an emergency event will happen; what we do know is that emergency situations do occur at our venues and events. What we also know is how we plan and prepare for potential emergencies will have a direct impact on decision making during an emergency situation, and the decisions we make will have an impact of the safety and wellbeing of our customers, event partners and employees. Our decisions could also affect our businesses; ongoing mental health of employees, physical structures and our brand.

As an event planner or venue manager, you have a responsibility to protect lives as well as your company’s reputation from disaster. Your customers look to you for security and need to know how to act in an emergency; preparing and planning for emergencies will help to protect lives and secure properties.

Chances are a disaster will strike at unpredictable times leaving only a short time to make necessary decisions; preparation, planning and practice makes the decision making more efficient and effective during an emergency. In Australia, the Australian Standard 3745-2010 Planning for Emergencies in Facilities requires all facilities to have an Emergency Planning Committee. In other jurisdictions this requirement may vary, in essence though the Emergency Planning Committee (EPC) has the responsibility to prepare, plan and create practice opportunities therefore they must understand this responsibility and act accordingly in planning and preparing for emergencies in their facility.

ARE VENUE MANAGERS AND EVENT PLANNERS DOING ENOUGH TO PLAN AND PREPARE FOR EMERGENCIES?
Are you using these Emergency Structures?

Emergency Planning Committee
This committee is at the executive level, it sets out what needs to be in the emergency plan and what training and awareness activities should be arranged for facility occupants and visitors.

In a venue consider having some of the following on your EPC – chief executive officer, event manager, facilities manager and the security manager. In smaller venues, your EPC may consist of only one person, that is ok as long as the responsibilities of the EPC are still carried out. If you have someone on your team with a disability it’s a good idea to include them on the EPC as well.

After establishing itself, the EPC creates the emergency plan, identifies possible emergency scenarios, appoints the emergency control organisation (ECO) (otherwise known as wardens) and determines practice opportunities and training. The EPC plans and the ECO responds.

Having an EPC as part of the planning process is the first step but involving staff, management, security personnel and other related stakeholders can make the planning process a masterstroke. This committee carries every member of the team along, explaining in detail the formation of procedures and creating awareness of the process. It also promotes the importance of emergency planning to the team.

Emergency management plans should be written specifically for your event or venue, it should also be written with your team in mind, think about how you can communicate this information in the most appropriate way for your team, this may be words, diagrams, videos or charts.

Now let’s take a look at the roles within the ECO

Chief Warden
A chief warden’s responsibility is to manage the emergency and activate an evacuation should it be necessary. When an emergency strikes, the response and command lie in the hands of the Chief Warden. Finding the right person to act as Chief Warden is key. Often the Chief Warden is selected from senior management and rarely are they chosen based on the key attributes necessary for someone in this position. Chief Wardens should be selected based situational awareness capabilities, decision making under pressure, ability to quickly assess mass information and decipher what data is necessary to assist in the decision-making process.

Warden (Staffs/Ushers)
Wardens are ushers or staff responsible for the safe entry and exit of all patrons from the venue. The key to providing effective wardens is to ensure that they understand how humans tend to behave in emergencies, their responsibilities, the emergency procedures and the chain and methods of communication. You can equip your wardens with these skills by training and practice opportunities.

PROBABILITY AND IMPACT
Emergency planning needs to be done in the context of risk management. Using risk management tools and processes will help venues identify the potential risks and possible consequences. The plan should address all potential emergencies with specific response plans. For example, a response to a bomb threat would be different to a response to a fire, and this should be documented to guide your Chief Warden and Wardens.

Think about this, if an emergency event has a
 Higher probability but lower potential consequences
compared to
 Lower probability but higher potential consequences

These events could end up with the same risk rating and just as valid for the venue to plan accordingly.

A successful emergency plan will prepare you for both events.

PRACTICE YOUR PLAN
You need to practice your emergency plan, not only is this the only way to test and improve the effectiveness of the plan, in Australia it is a requirement to do some form of training or practice at least every 6-months. You can either practice it internally or employ an external party to assist with the conduct of an emergency readiness tabletop exercises.

Evacuation drills, or exercises are essential, having people in their normal place of operation with wardens moving them to the designated assembly area. Communication systems and fire alarms should also be tested. Ensure practice warnings are communicated with “this is a test, or this is a drill” to minimize panic amongst the employees and visitors. Tests help identify how functional each system is and how it works prior to a real event.

Another training activity is the use of tactical decision games where groups are given a scenario and then provided with additional information as they go, each game is only 5 minutes long providing practice opportunities to make decisions under pressure. Adding real life conditions such as the room being too hot, too cold, noisy or decision makers being hungry or tired can also increase the value of the games.

HOW EFFECTIVE IS YOUR EVACUATION PLAN?
Once written the plan shouldn’t just sit on the shelf there is a requirement for individual planning and assessment; the more people the more exit routes you need, an older demographic allow more time for exits, for loud events, the alarm needs to be audible enough to surpass the background noise.

Do your systems and procedures work together? For instance, is the EWIS alarm set to override the PA when triggered. Can you override fire alarm systems when fireworks are used in your venue and stop automatic alarms being set off?

Other evacuation strategies must include how to integrate event partners in your plan. You might outsource event deliver personnel such as security, how aligned are they with your plan? Do they have specific duties or responsibilities and if they do how is your EPC maintaining that standard and monitoring their training and drills.

Communication is another important factor to consider. Who informs the emergency control organisation and by what means? Who informs the emergency services? We need to be very clear about command and control during an emergency ensuring essential services are contacted quickly with accurate information. Ensuring protocols for conveying information is clear helps first responders attend the situation as soon as possible with the right personnel and equipment.

Another important factor to consider when preparing for emergencies is “customer service.” Are your wardens skilled in using their voices and body language assertively when directing patrons towards the emergency exits? Do your wardens understand how humans may act in an emergency? Does your plan or training activities provide wardens with strategies to deal with these varying behaviours and help preserve lives?

Do you need some help with your emergency planning? At Onboard Training, we deliver emergency management courses (both online and in the classroom) for the EPC, Chief Warden and Wardens. We cover response information for bomb threats, active shooter (armed intruder), fire, loss of essential services (power, water, gas), medical emergencies, vehicle attacks, and civil disturbances. We also cover how to speak to the media following an emergency. Our training is designed to do more than just tick the box, we aim to help people take on these roles with confidence and competence. Get in touch for more information, Julie@onboardtraining.com.au or lisa@onboardtraining.com.au

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