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Plan Safely and Be Smart When Hosting Special Events


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Plan Safely and Be Smart When Hosting Special Events

Plan Safely and Be Smart When Hosting Special Events

Safety at special events — always a top concern for park districts — has gone into overdrive since the mass shooting at the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill. “The open nature of special events means we can have lots of people in a large area,” explains Paul Timm, PSP, Vice President at Facility Engineering Associates. “As a result, issues such as access control and monitoring become very difficult.

“There’s already an increased level of fear in our society regarding the possibility of violent incidents,” he points out. “And now there’s an even more volatile patron mindset since (and as a result of) the pandemic as well as having agency staff more stressed since (and as a result of) the pandemic.”

But as security awareness and technology improve, so does special event safety, Timm observes. A see-something-say-something mindset helps with reporting suspicious behaviors. Mass notification capabilities continue to improve as more and more agencies incorporate social media into their communication platforms. Collaboration is also better now as we involve emergency responders and local entities, such as villages and school districts.

Liz Visteen, Superintendent of Recreation (and Safety Coordinator) at Park District of Franklin Park, agrees the top priority is safety. “Number one for us is always the safety of our staff, volunteers and the public. The word ‘safety’ covers a lot of territory these days, especially with the recent event in Highland Park. You never think it will happen in your community, but it can happen anywhere, and it’s important for us to be ready. Preparing for a safe event means having an updated Emergency Response Plan specific to your event and ensuring all staff and volunteers know their roles in the event of an emergency.”

Visteen also recommends focusing on communication. “Talk with your local police and fire departments about emergency access and placement of tents and attractions. For our larger events, we try to schedule a walk-through, so we know our areas are accessible to emergency vehicles.” Lastly, she suggests, ensure your vendors provide your agency with the proper paperwork — certificates of insurance, health permits from the village and all other required documentation.

She adds that PDRMA’s resources, like the Security and Emergency Planning for Outdoor/Public Events (4018), Special Events Safety and Organizational Checklist (206) and Event Helper are a huge help in managing risk for their special events. “These are excellent tools that ensure you have all your areas covered — they’re good resources for planning events.

“Before July 4,” Visteen adds, “I would have said the biggest challenge in planning special events has been COVID. Although restrictions have now relaxed, we did cancel several events earlier in the year because of high positivity rates and the inability to move those events inside safely. But since July 4, all park districts are on high alert regarding threats of violence. At our large special event several days after the Highland Park parade, I made sure all staff knew what to do and where to go in case of any threat of violence.

“I use the Special Events Safety and Organizational Checklist before every event,” she says. “I am new in my role as Safety Coordinator, so I plan to use all the resources PDRMA provides for planning a safe event. If you have a concern or a question about an element of your event, reach out to your PDRMA Risk Management Consultant; they’re available to help or advise whenever you need them.”