Navigating crisis management in the event industry is a fundamental competency for event professionals. In this fast-paced and dynamic sector, crises can occur at any moment, causing chaos for meticulously planned events and leaving organizers grappling with the aftermath. Such crises can range from severe weather conditions, such as Hurricane Katrina, which shook New Orleans in 2005 and caused significant damage, as well as loss of life and property, to security breaches, like the terror attacks at music festivals, such as the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed, and over 500 were left injured. Even as recently as May 2023 when the RIMS’ Riskworld annual conference was cut short with by nearby fatal shooting with no relation to the event. The COVID-19 pandemic has also severely impacted the event industry, leaving event professionals scrambling to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. 

These events illustrate how crises, even outside or near your event can have severe financial, reputational and disruptive implications for event organizers. Hurricane Katrina, for example, caused over $100 billion in damage and negatively impacted tourism in the city for years. At the same time, the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting’s long-term effects on the music festival industry are still being felt. And the impact of COVID-19 on the event industry has been staggering, with billions of dollars in lost revenue. 

Navigating such crises requires intricate planning, coordination, and communication with stakeholders. Event professionals must be equipped with the necessary competencies, like crisis assessment, response, recovery, and evaluation, to prepare for, respond to, and learn from crises. This blog will explore the strategies and tools that event professionals can leverage to mitigate and recover from crises effectively while ensuring the industry’s long-term success and sustainability. 

Understanding Types of Crises  

In the fast-paced and unpredictable world of events, crises can arise anytime. From natural disasters and security breaches to financial issues and health emergencies, event professionals must be prepared to handle a wide range of potential crises. 

Some of the most common crises in the event industry include severe weather conditions, accidents, medical emergencies, technological failures, data breaches, and security threats. Each of these crises can significantly impact the event, its attendees and exhibitors, and the professionals involved in planning and executing it. 

In the case of severe weather conditions, events may need to be postponed, relocated, or even canceled altogether. Accidents can result in injuries or property damage, while medical emergencies require immediate medical professionals’ attention. Technological failures such as power outages or equipment malfunctions can cause major disruptions, and security threats can risk attendees’ safety and security. Overall, understanding the various types of crises in the event industry is imperative for successful event planning. 

Preparing for a Crisis  

Effective planning for a crisis is the first step in successful crisis management. Event professionals must develop comprehensive crisis management plans that outline preventive measures, response strategies, and communication protocols. These plans must be flexible enough to accommodate different crises and updated regularly. 

“As a Public Safety and Crowd Management professional, I recommend that any crisis management plans should be written in generalities to note where your concerns are for your particular event(s),” explains Mark R. Moss, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at RA Consulting.  

Moss added that this is important because every major, and most minor facilities and properties have crisis and emergency management plans that will ultimately drive true crisis and emergency management in their facility. 

The preventive measures in a crisis management plan include screening and vetting vendors during the planning phase, conducting safety and security audits, and implementing contingency plans for potential disruptions. Response strategies might consist of the following: 

  • Establishing emergency procedures and protocols. 
  • Designating a crisis management team. 
  • Conducting periodic drills to prepare for emergencies. 

Effective communication is critical during a crisis. Event professionals must have a clear and concise communication strategy that outlines who will be responsible for communicating with stakeholders during a crisis and what information will be shared. 

Transparency is also key. Event professionals must be honest and forthcoming with everyone involved about the crisis’s impact and how they plan to navigate it. Offering frequent updates and answering questions in a timely manner can help manage expectations and mitigate any negative impact on the event’s reputation. 

Amy Peters DES, Vice President of Events at ASIS International reiterates the importance of making sure the whole staff gets a copy of the crisis management plan, as well making sure everyone is in the know. 

“Ensure that the lines of communications, as well as the methods (cell, radio) are crystal clear,” Peters said. “Establish an off-property meeting site for staff in the event of an evacuation.” 

Implementing a Crisis Management Plan 

Implementing a crisis management plan is essential in ensuring that potential crises do not result in disastrous outcomes for your organization. When a crisis occurs, there is usually a sense of panic and urgency; this is where the crisis management team comes into play. The team must remain calm, composed, and analytical while responding quickly and effectively. 

The first key element in implementing a crisis management plan is assessing the situation. This involves gathering as much information as possible to identify the severity of the crisis, the potential consequences, and the parties involved. This will help the crisis management team determine the resources, response protocols, and communication channels required to manage the crisis effectively. 

Activating the appropriate response protocol is the second step in implementing the crisis management plan. This protocol typically includes alerting the relevant authorities, securing the premises, evacuating everyone, and contacting emergency services if necessary. It is critical to have a well-defined crisis response protocol to ensure a quick and effective response in these situations.  

Acknowledging that a crisis can have severe financial implications, reputational impact, and legal liabilities is essential. The crisis management team should clearly understand the organization’s risk and exposure to such factors to address and mitigate the consequences appropriately. This may involve legal counsel, insurance providers, public relations experts, and other relevant stakeholders. 

Learning and Growing from a Crisis 

Every event carries some risk, and every crisis presents a unique set of challenges to event professionals. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught event professionals that they need to plan for crises that can impact events at every level, and that means incorporating new strategies into their crisis management plan to help them adjust to changing circumstances and stay ahead of the curve.  

To ensure that the crisis management plan is comprehensive, event professionals must effectively evaluate their response protocols, communication strategies, and decision-making processes. During crisis management situations, the ability to respond quickly, effectively, and with accurate information is essential for success. Therefore, evaluating the internal communication system’s strength is crucial because it is the backbone of a successful event crisis management plan. Additionally, reviewing the effectiveness of the plan’s decision-making process is vital, as it can significantly impact the event outcome.  

Regular post-event debriefs are an essential element of crisis management planning. It provides an opportunity to review the decisions, communication strategies, and actions taken during the crisis and revise the crisis management plan as necessary. It is important to debrief the entire team, including staff and volunteers, to gather valuable insights and feedback.  

Event professionals must also learn from other professionals’ experiences worldwide. The event industry is a global industry. Therefore, event organizers must stay up to date with industry standards, best practices, and learnings from previous crises worldwide. There are workshops, webinars, and conferences available to event professionals to expand their knowledge base, learn new strategies and skills, and share insights with others. 

The Bottom Line 

Navigating crisis management in the event industry requires extensive planning, preparation, and effective communication. From severe weather conditions and security breaches to health emergencies and technological failures, event professionals must be prepared to handle various potential crises. 

By understanding the types of crises that can occur, preparing for a crisis, and implementing a crisis management plan, event professionals can mitigate potential damage to their reputations and ensure the industry’s long-term success and sustainability. In the fast-paced and unpredictable world of events, crisis management is a fundamental competency that must be embraced to navigate through uncertain times successfully.