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Understanding, Planning and Management of Major Events

by Goc O’Callaghan

The complex nature of major events requires intensive planning and management in order to deliver the event without issue. Extensive management plans must be written and collated into an over-arching event management plan or event handbook. The detail of each plan should be communicated to and understood by each person or stakeholder that are integral to the safe running of a major event. In order to achieve this training must be given which is put into practice prior to the event via testing and exercises to ensure the level of knowledge is required. By conducting training and testing exercises, risks can be mitigated in a practice environment meaning that should a situation arise during the event, the key persons or stakeholders can react appropriately to reduce or remove the risk.

An event management plan is a living document, intended to be updated on a regular basis to align with any changes made to the proposed running of the event. The event management plan should reference an operating schedule in which multiple policies are included, for example, Challenge 25’s for the provision of the sale of alcohol. By starting an event management plan with a comprehensive contents list, the document can be written over time as the event evolves.

During the process of writing the plans and implementing them through training prior to integration at the event, there are a few key points for consideration which may impact on each element. Stakeholders will have their own individual interests which in turn could lead to a bias in knowledge, for example, the London 2012 Olympics had identified terrorism as the major events biggest threat which given the area of specialism of the author (terrorism) it was no surprise that it was identified as the biggest threat.

It is seen often in events, that the communication and understanding of all of the written plans, policies and procedures is not understood. Failure to involve and integrate key persons or stakeholders from the start, leaves knowledge gaps which often lead to communications issues. By involving key persons or stakeholders in the development of plans and integrating the team from the start provides opportunity for a greater understanding of the event and how it should be run, which in turn means better communication and risk mitigation. Conducting a complex exercise development provides another method of pre-empting issues that may arise during a major event. By dividing the exercise into 5 stages, the complex exercise development provides detailed training and opportunity to find holes in the event management plan and the time to make changes ahead of the event going live. Focusing on risk assessment, initial plan development, plan consultation, training, testing, and exercising.

Additional potential points of failure include insufficient budget planning and force majeure. Fyre Festival marketed as an idyllic festival on a paradise island, completely failed as an event. Despite warnings from multiple stakeholders and professionals in their field, the organisers failed to take advice during the pre-production phase of the planning and consequently ended up with a disastrous event. This shows a complete breakdown in communication (by the organisers opting not to listen), the budget did not stretch to cover even the basic infrastructure requirements and as a result the event became world-famous for being a complete disaster. In contrast, the Lost & Found festival in Malta, which is “all about your island adventure!” has successfully run for 6 years without issue. By partnering with key stakeholders, including the Ministry of Tourism, Malta Tourism Authority, Ministry for the Economy Investment, and other life-style organisations, Lost & Found is successfully providing a festival experience set against an idyllic backdrop.

Nassim Taleb, a Lebanese-American essayist, mathematical statistician, former option trader, risk analyst, and aphorist “states that we should be mindful that the unexpected is always around the corner and that we must be prepared for it.” Taleb is cited as being the person to conceptualise ‘black swan’ events. Taleb suggested three key attributes that the classification of a black swan event:

  1. Have the potential to exhibit drastic, wide-reaching consequences;
  2. Have a nature of unpredictability; and
  3. Typically be accompanied by “hindsight bias,” meaning that once the event has passed, many individuals tend to rationalise that the event was actually predictable (due only to the fact that they are now aware of what the outcomes from the said event are). (Corporate Finance Institute, 2020)

Preparing for a major event and ensuring the avoidance of a black swan event requires detailed planning and an extensive exercise programme to rehearse the event. Using an exercise progression of “crawl, Walk, Run, live” the development of the aim, concept and major theme of the event provides a structured framework in which to hypothetically test the likely success of your event based on the identification of a range of good practice opportunities.

Identifying the aim at ‘crawl’ stage allows for the practice of interoperability and reporting, ensuring communications and decision-making is made. At the ‘walk’ stage, the practice of interoperability is used for the identification of issues and where a fix is required. At the ‘run’ stage, practice CT in the content of the Olympics, this is a tried, tested, and successful methodology. Once live, the practice of interoperability continues, and incorporates national response and strategic communications.

The development of a concept, at ‘crawl’ stage requires standard operational management of the introduction of standard incidents; the more minor or easier to identify incidents that are likely to occur at a major event. Progressing to the ‘walk’ stage, major incident responses are integrated into the exercise progression, requiring a higher level of interaction and innovative responses. At ‘run’ stage major multi-agency (and possibly multi-national) exercises are required. Using the Olympics as an example, this could be a terrorist threat during the games, multiple incidents happening concurrently and the requirement for the Government (COBR) to participate. In a live scenario, this would require national crisis management.

In the major theme of the event, at crawl stage normal agency activities and shared procedures are expected. At ‘walk’ stage planned scenarios, terrorist activities, major infrastructure collapse and extreme weather disruption come into force. At this amplified level, in a ‘run’ scenario, at all systems are pressure tested, unknown scenarios may occur and may develop, including but not limited to CBRN and IT systems being hacked. During the live event, consequence management is required, a reactive response to situations that have arisen. It may be necessary for multiple COBR meetings to take place in parallel but in turn this will allow for the Olympic Games to continue. The successful delivery of a major event still provides learnings. By conducting a hot debrief immediately after the event, the ‘rawness’ of the event experience can be shared. A few days later conducting a cold debrief will have the benefit of reflection and rationalisation. Combining the learning from both the hot and cold debrief into interim reports, feeding into a final report will provide useful information once the planning for the following event begins.

To conclude, major events require a structured framework in which an event management plan must exist, where the key persons and stakeholders are integrated from the start, a series of complex training sessions and testing exercises must be conducted prior to the event taking place. During the event, communication between key persons and stakeholders is integral to mitigate risk by being reactive to situations and ensuring the successful delivery of an event. Post event, debriefs and reports are required and should be used as a starting point for the planning of the delivery of the next major event.


References:

  • AMP Lost & Found Festival 2022. (n.d.). AMP Lost & Found Festival 2022. [online] Available at: https://lostandfoundfestival.com/ [Accessed 19 Jul. 2022].
  • Corporate Finance Institute. (n.d.). Examples of Black Swan Events. [online] Available at: https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/knowledge/finance/examples-of-black-swan-events/.
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