After checking on my New Jersey family and friends, one of my first thoughts upon seeing the devastation wrought by hurricane Sandy was “what is the New York Marathon going to do?” As of this writing, the marathon is still scheduled to “go on as normal” this Sunday. However, seeing photos of the debris in the streets makes a “normal” marathon hard to imagine.
Hurricane Sandy dramatically highlights the importance of thorough contingency planning when putting together an event. Stuff happens, be it dangerous weather, unannounced construction or occupy movements. Although thinking about altering or cancelling the event you’ve put so much hard work into is difficult, SignMeUp Regional Sales Manager and former National Marathon race director Keith Dowling believes it’s necessary to come up with “the list of conditions that would shut down” your event. Before each race Keith’s team would hold a “what if” meeting where they ran through various scenarios. They developed a plan for what they would do with event participants if they needed to shut down after the race had already started. Tough to think about!
Keith’s crew segmented certain weather related conditions so they had a plan for each just in case: rain, lightning, black ice, deep snow, heat advisory and cold advisory. They also had a divergence plan that they almost needed to use one year when, being in Washington DC, the Secretary of State drove through the course with a motorcade after the race had started!
Vision Event Management‘s Chad Antcliff told me that “fortunately, or unfortunately, we’ve had plenty of experience dealing with some of the likely scenarios and are able to have a baseline for planning and tweak our plans as we encounter new obstacles.” He cited another real world example of when his planning paid off. This past September for the Brewers Mini-Marathon, there was “a thunderstorm with lightning 30 minutes before the start within 30 miles of the race site. We had to enact our evacuation plan to get everyone safely out of the conditions. Our staff utilized our megaphones, PA system and social media to alert participants about the delay and directed them where to seek shelter. After we had 15 minutes with no lightning strikes within 15 miles of the race site and got the go ahead from public safety personnel, we directed participants back to the start line. The race started at 7:25, 25 minutes past our scheduled time, but ended up going off without a hitch.”
“Contingency planning messes with your head,” said Keith, “but you never want to be caught not knowing what to do in an emergency.” Hopefully you will never need to execute a contingency plan, but you’ll be glad it’s there if you do.
How do you develop contingency plans for your event? What have you done when something unexpected happened?