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How to plan for Incidents and Emergencies

There are times when things do go wrong and you must have a plan in place to respond accordingly. This involves a detailed health and safety overview of the event.

When you plan your emergency response, it needs to be at the level of risk presented by event activities, as well as the potential severity of the incident.

In order to create a planned emergency response, you will need to consider key aspects including;

i. Identifying the key risks

This needs to be a broad overview of any aspect that could cause potential disruption and how you will manage it. For example, a sudden loss of power to the main stage, an act cancelling at short notice, sudden changes in the weather, a fire or structural problems.

You need to include contingency plans to deals with incidents and situations, such as those identified above.

You will also need to plan a response to more serious or major incidents in which there will need to be a response from emergency services. As part of their response, emergency service managers will need to implement their regional emergency plans.

ii. Counterterrorism

The reach of terrorism extends beyond major cities and can strike at any time, in any place.

The National Counter-Terrorism Security Office has advice and guidance for event organisers should a terrorist attack occur in a crowded place.

At the time of compiling this guide, the key public message in such an event is Run, Hide, Tell.
•Run to a safe place OR
•Tell – call 999

iii. Sharing your plans

For all events, from the smallest with low risks to the biggest festivals you can imagine, plans need to be drawn up, discussed and shared with;

  • The police
  • Fire and rescue service
    Ambulance service
  • Emergency planning within the local authority
  • And the management of ‘fixed venues’, e.g. stadiums and arenas

iv. Your emergency plan

Most emergency plans cover the same requirements, although you may need to add to this broad list;

  • How you will get people away from immediate danger
  • Who and how will you call emergency services
  • How you will deal with causalities whilst you wait for help to arrive
  • How you will respond to people who have not been hurt but are part of your event
  • Who will liaise with emergency services and other authorities – you will more than likely hand over responsibility for the emergency to the designated emergency services commander
  • How you will protect property

v. Emergency procedures

Staff, contractors and volunteers will need emergency procedures and protocols to follow. More than likely, it will include;

  • Raising the alarm and informing the public
  • Correct on-site response, such as using fire extinguishers
  • Calling the emergency services and continuing to liaise with them
  • Crowd management including evacuation procedures
  • Traffic management, including emergency response vehicles
  • Incident control
  • Providing first aid and assistance

vi. First aid, medical assistance and ambulances

The Health and Safety Executive are clear that first aid must extend beyond staff and contractors but include an appropriate response for the number of people attending your event.

Ensure you have enough medical assistance and ambulances on site to cater for the number of people expected at your event. This helps the local ambulance service to balance local capacity.

At some events, having ambulances on site may not be possible thus, as event organiser, you will need to liaise closely with the local NHS ambulance service.

vii. Clear roles and responsibilities

In an emergency, confusion and indecision are your enemies thus, clear instructions, protocols and understanding of individual roles and responsibilities are essential.

Make sure all relevant staff members, whatever they usual roles, understand what they must do in an emergency;

  • The location of exits
  • How to use emergency equipment, e.g. fire extinguishers
  • How to raise the alarm
  • And who they should receive instructions from

viii. Evacuation

Evacuating a building or venues should be carried out in a coherent, calm manner but when an emergency is declared, panic can cause just as many injuries and problems as the emergency itself.

With an emergency unfolding at a great pace, you need to be confident event marshals, stewards and staff are able to act quickly and appropriately.

You will need to consider as part of your evacuation plan;

Escape routes and exits

Plan escape routes, making sure they remain unobstructed and available

All doors and gates leading to final exits are also unobstructed and available at all times and that means;

  • Being unlocked
  • Free from obstacles
  • Open outwards

Signs and lighting

  • Signage needs to be clear – assume that everyone is unfamiliar with the event venue
  • All escape routes should be lit sufficiently
  • Emergency lighting must comply with British Standard BS 5266-1
  • A separate energy source, e.g. a generator, to supply electricity should the mains supply fail
  • Tower lighting needs to be carefully positioned to illuminate the exit but not blind people’s sight

Places of safety

The initial reaction is to remove people from immediate danger. After this, you need to ensure they continue to total safety. You will need to safely move people to this place.

Vulnerable people

Plan how and who will provide additional assistance to people with disabilities, people with learning difficulties, people with children, people with limited mobility, people with limited sight and/or hearing and their service dogs
Plan how children separated from parents will be evacuated and reunited with their parents in a safe place


In an emergency, people need clear instructions, delivered with ‘authority’. They also need to be kept informed.

Plan how you will deliver official event messages in conjunction with the emergency services.

Stopping ‘the show’

An emergency dictates that the event activities or the show must come to an abrupt but controlled stop.

Like other aspects of emergency planning, a ‘show stop’ includes;

Identifying the people who can:

  • Initiate a show-stop procedure
  • Communicate with performers and participants
  • Communicate with the audience
  • Decide how the show-stop procedure will be initiated
  • Have pre-agreed working for public announcements
  • Brief the performers and their management of what your arranged show-stop procedures are

ix. After the incident

It may be possible to re-start your event, depending on what has happened and the severity of it. You will need to make this decision by liaising with emergency services.

If agreed, you will also need to ensure that all staff are back in position and services are ready to be re-engaged.

x. Transfer of authority during a major emergency or incident

If the emergency services declare a major incident at your event, all event staff and resources will work under the command of the police. They may not declare the whole event as being part of the major event and so you may retain control of other parts of it.

xi. Testing

Depending on the size of your event and the perceived risks, before your event, you could perform a tabletop exercise with emergency services and other organisations.

It is also important to check communication systems too, including PA systems.