They say, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong…”

Two and a half months have passed since the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, killing three spectators and injuring over 250 people. At an event aiming to raise money for the Sandy Hook shooting, someone apparently thought it appropriate to wreak more destruction on America. I heard about the event (through social media) at around 9pm on April 15th, the day of the bombing, and after the initial worry about the runners and the spectators, my thoughts turned to someone who must be feeling quite confused and distressed: the event planner.

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I am often heard to say “things go wrong at events!!!”. It’s common to go to an event where the speaker system results in a little feedback, or people aren’t entirely sure when they’re getting their tea break. None of this, of course, compares to calamities like Boston, where people are injured and even killed. It is difficult to say whether there was any more the event planners could have done to prevent the incident yesterday – there is only so far security can go at public events – but events history is littered with injuries and worse due to a small detail being overlooked. Sporting events see far more than their fair share of accidents. There are several well documented incidents of overcrowding, rioting and stampeding in football stadiums that caused death tolls to reach the tens or even the hundreds.

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All event planners are advised to complete risk assessments prior to events, and to ensure that their suppliers have them also. However, this in no way adequately prepares for the worst, as an integral part of a risk assessment is assessing likelihood of the risk: which, for an incident such as a bombing, must be pretty low. After all, it would be very difficult, and upsetting, to consider all the possible unlikely disasters which could befall an event.

Whether what goes wrong is as catastrophic as the Boston Marathon, whether it’s an out-of-control drunken or violent guest, or even something more minor such as an important figure being delayed, this advice remains valid:

What next?…

The most important thing to do if the worst happens is to keep your head. Panicking is not the way forward: as the person in charge, people will be looking to you for guidance. Find the appropriate person to deal with the circumstances, be they venue staff, police, emergency services, etc, and then focus on keeping your attendees as distanced from the problem as possible. Follow any instructions you are given, and if you aren’t in a position to receive instructions, use common sense when dealing with unfamiliar situations. Sometimes it may be necessary to delegate to another member of your team so that you can concentrate on making sure the rest of the event is minimally affected; sometimes you will have to deal with the issue yourself.

keepcalmFollowing such events, it is important not to play the blame game. Whether it was due to another person’s actions or not, you will undoubtedly feel like you could have done more. This is not the time to comb over every single thing you did for a mistake. This is the time to be strong, keep your head high, and assist in any rebuilding efforts for those involved. Continue with your post-event activities: for example, the Boston Marathon organisers have provided projected finishing times for those runners who reached the halfway point but were stopped before the finish line, and assured then that passing this point counted as a completed race, so any serious marathon-runners could keep track. Runners were given their medals the next day, when they went to collect personal belongings which had been in the crime scene.

Finally, your reputation may have taken a hit. This will be another thing you should rebuild, especially if it is an annual event. Unfortunate as it may be, there is nothing like tragedy to unite the human race. I fully expect the Boston Marathon to be even bigger and better next year, having grown stronger in the aftermath of this disaster.

Hopefully, none of you will ever experience anything akin to the Boston Marathon bombing. However, things can and will go wrong at your event. Watch the Boston Marathon for how they progress: if they can regroup after this, then surely you can recover from any mishaps that befall you.

Note: this blog post originally featured on www.socialquirk.co.uk.

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