It has happened all too often this summer – the weather turns nasty in a flash, leaving outdoor concert goers scrambling for safety.
That was the case in three separate occasions in just over one month.
First, the stage collapsed at the Ottawa Bluesfest on July 17, resulting in some serious injuries but thankfully no loss of life.
Next, on August 13, five people were killed when high winds tore through the Indiana State Fair and collapsed the main stage. Two more people succumbed to their injuries within a few days.
Then, in Belgium on August 18, five people were killed and dozens injured when a flash storm roared through the Pukkelpop music festival.
Festival organizers can’t control the weather. But they can, and of course should, prepare proper security response plans – including exit strategies for festival goers – in the event disaster strikes.
Here are three things festival organizers can do to help secure their guests:
Plan, plan, plan … There are no short cuts to a solid festival security plan. Start planning many months in advance, bringing in security partners to help. These partners should include local EMS officials, complemented by private-sector professionals as need be. Then review the plan frequently, testing different potential scenarios and changing the plan as necessary. Lastly, execution is critical if that plan is pressed into reality.
In Ottawa, organizers put their solid plan into action immediately. “Our security staff worked with police to quickly move people away from the collapsed stage in as calm a manner as possible,” said spokesman Joe Reilly. “The first priority was to get people to safety and away from the other structures that could have presented a danger.” The Ottawa police concurred. “The evacuation procedure was a huge success and limited the number of injuries,” said Police Inspector Mike Callaghan.
Constantly watch the weather … In Belgium, festival organizers said the lethal storm that ripped through their festival lasted less than five minutes. It was a similar story in Ottawa and Indiana – vicious, short-lived weather left havoc behind.
This highlights the critical need to constantly and carefully watch local and surrounding weather forecasts throughout the festival. Lives depend on it. Canada’s Weather Network is particularly good at providing a range of weather updates and alerts via mobile and broadcast means.
Support your volunteers …Most festival volunteers are enthusiastic and very helpful. But it’s likely that most of them have never helped out in actual emergency situations (EMS volunteers notwithstanding). That’s why professional security staff, posted at key locations throughout the festival, are so valuable in supporting volunteers in times of crisis. That was certainly the case in Ottawa. Security personnel in the wine tent took control of the situation when people came piling in seeking shelter from the rain, overwhelming volunteers.
You can never take weather for granted when organizing an outdoor festival.
Solid planning, a keen eye on the forecasts and professional support for volunteers can help keep festival goers safe if that weather turns nasty.