Mud, Sweat and Tears: Event Management Meets Crisis Management

As everyone puts away the glitter and cuts off their festival wristbands until next summer, there are some crisis management lessons to take away. Adverse weather might be a Glastonbury tradition and festivals have been fighting the war against drugs since the 60s, but every year seems to bring new challenges for those organising major events.

 

What’s so special about festival business continuity?

porthleven cliffs.jpg
Beacon Crag in Porthleven makes for a dramatic backdrop, but the cliffs and exposure to the Atlantic elements are serious risk factors.

We obviously can’t talk about festival disaster without talking about Fyre Festival. The Netflix documentary showing the downward spiral from Instagram models living it up in the Bahamas to terrified American kids fighting over mattresses was truly incredible to watch. Not to mention the Event Producer who was willing to really go above and beyond the call of duty to get bottled water to the festival.

Much like putting up a tent you haven’t touched since you went camping in Wales 10 years ago, there’s a lot more to festival resilience than it first appears. At this year’s Masked Ball, one of the South West’s biggest events held on the clifftop of Beacon Crag in Porthleven, three men fell off the cliffs and were left fighting for their lives: even the location itself can be a risk factor.

 

You’re out in the boonies

alienstock woman.jpg
Rachel, Nevada, was recorded as having a population of 54 in 2010. The “Storm Area 51” viral event took the town by surprise and concerned local businesses and law enforcement.

Given how quickly an incident can turn critical, it’s important to consider that festival venues tend to be exactly the kind of places where getting the basic infrastructure right is the most difficult. Rural, remote, usually empty: these would not ordinarily be places where tens of thousands of people would choose to come and live for days at a time.

For the tiny town of Rachel in Nevada, “Alienstock” threatened to bring tens of thousands of alien enthusiasts to a place with only one B&B (the “Little A’Lee’Inn”). After a joke Facebook event, “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us”, went viral with over 2 million RSVPs, the local community feared the worst. Luckily there were ample toilets for the 2000 or so who did turn up and the military personnel at Area 51 didn’t need to defend their extra-terrestrial secrets from hordes of curious Naruto-runners.

 

Communication Challenges

female security at event
Crowd management needs to be coordinated across large areas and large teams – mismanagement can mean life or death.

 One of the charms of the countryside is mobile signal that is patchy at best and non-existent at worst. This of course causes problems when communicating with your team in the field (pun intended), who will definitely not have landlines. Multi-channel mass communication that covers all angles is best, and being able to run the whole operation on mobile phones is essential. Last year, a Finsbury Park festival unexpectedly had 40% of its staff fail to turn up: without mass notification, this kind of scenario would be very difficult to predict and rectify.

Communication to festival-goers is also not without its challenges. Mobile phones are more or less your only option and in locations where mobile signal and 4G might be hard to come by, it needs to be up to date and reliable. To use another Cornish example: Boardmasters 2019 had to be cancelled due to extreme weather, leaving Newquay full of displaced ticket holders. The cancellation was last minute, with disappointed music, surf and skate fans waiting over 12 hours to hear how or even if they’d be getting a refund. Transport links are already strained in such a remote location and the lack of crisis communication planning left a lot of young people stranded and upset.

It’s not just about having spare wet wipes and hand sanitiser (although that is always sound advice). You can’t control the weather, but the public expect you to be ready for it. It might not be your legal obligation to stop people from trying to scale a cliff-face to sneak into your event, but the court of public opinion will condemn you nonetheless, and you need to be ready to answer to your own ethical code too.

If you’re a little B&B in the middle of Nevada, how could you possibly expect to have thousands of people on your doorstep because of a niche internet joke? Resilience involves planning, but also flexibility, thinking on your feet and a clear sense of your duty of care. The Little A’Lee’Inn stepped up and planned to welcome as many galactic guests as they could, and I’m sure the positive press from doing so will keep their profits out of this world.

YUDU Sentinel is an app based crisis management platform in case of fire, terrorist and cyber attacks, or any other critical incidents. Crisis managers have immediate access to a suite of communication tools and can view and share key documents on mobiles. Sentinel is an award winning tool trusted by law firms, hotels, theatres and more. Find out more at www.yudu.com/sentinel or contact us on Twitter @YUDUSentinel.

Header image by Gemma Smith, Junior Graphic Designer at YUDU

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