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Expert Risk Articles

Live events risks

Live concerts and festivals are increasingly elaborate productions, generating enormous amounts of revenue. Accidents, cancellations and delays can seriously challenge the bottom line. But behind the scenes, risk management ensures the show can go on.

Lightning from an approaching storm illuminates a black sky as a capacity crowd of almost 100,000 people enjoy Lollapalooza, an annual outdoor music festival in downtown Chicago, US. Event promoters, working with the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications and local weather personnel, announce a complete festival evacuation.

It is a “textbook” evacuation, according to Jim Digby, who as President of the Event Safety Alliance (ESA), a non-profit trade organization dedicated to safety during all phases of live event production, helped “write the book” on live event safety. For his “real job,” Digby is production manager for US rock band Linkin Park.

Evacuation instructions are broadcast over loud speakers, video monitors and media boards throughout the park: “Weather evacuation – calmly head to nearest exit.” As one concertgoer later notes: “I was impressed they announced it before it was on the internet.”

Thirty-eight minutes later, the evacuation is complete. Lightning flashes and winds whip the empty park. Soon, however, the storm passes, the all-clear is sounded and shortly afterwards an updated schedule is released for the rest of the day. All told, Lollapalooza’s delay lasts just 90 minutes.

Good planning ensures that interruption doesn’t have to become a postponement. Usually, the show can go on.

Planning before a crisis

Insurers, risk managers, venue operators, production managers, security personnel and other stakeholders engage in dialog and have a plan in place well before the event commences in order to safely put on a live performance. Education, communication, commitment to safety, knowledge, skill and expertise are hallmarks of a good safety plan, which can be time-consuming to put together.

“There’s recoverability in the sense of security, time, money and happy customers if there’s a plan in place where everyone decides on a strategy and agrees to an all-clear when the danger’s passed,” Digby tells Global Risk Dialogue. “A permanent evacuation isn’t always necessary, just a delay. It starts with pre-planning, communication and timely execution.”

Live event risks at-a-glance

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Event intelligence

Table top planning exercises consider details such as: What emergencies are reasonably foreseeable? What will an event’s audience be like? How will crowd behavior change from event to event in the same venue? Once the possibilities have been considered, which are most and least likely to occur? Considerations like these help coordinators pre-plan and decide on action steps.

“It’s not that hard to improve a venue’s safety,” says Steven Adelman, Head of Adelman Law Group. “Big improvements may take little more than the organizational will to do something new. There is enormous value in risk management, updating and testing your crowd management methods and emergency plans, and training your staff so they know how to carry out those plans.”

“Safety of the people - the artists, the crew and the fans - is first priority,” adds Lauren Bailey, Global Head of Entertainment, AGCS. “Yes, we can be responsible for the equipment as well but protecting people is first. It begins and ends with safety. “Upfront mitigation is our main priority and our risk consulting is so vital. It’s also why we support ESA.”


State fair tragedy leads to renewed safety focus

In 2011, a temporary stage roof collapsed at an Indiana State Fair concert in the US during a storm killing seven people and injuring 58.The industry was shocked. A lack of adequate planning and communication were contributing factors to the tragedy. In its wake, Digby, Adelman and Bailey recognized the industry needed more safety awareness. With others, they formed ESA and met with State of Indiana officials to inform them of ESA’s mission as they considered reasonable practices for future events.

“North America’s first guide of reasonable practices, The Event Safety Guide, was released in 2014,” Digby explains. “Modeled after an existing work in the UK known as The Purple Guide, updated and adapted by subject matter experts, it is intended to reach a global audience and affect a live event safety ‘call to arms’. There are ample existing codes and regulations. What is required is a more stringent adherence to these as well as a comprehensive planning process.”

By promoting “life safety first” in events, ESA and its partners from a variety of industry groups, including insurers, seek to eliminate the knowledge barrier that can contribute to unsafe conditions and behaviors by promoting and teaching reasonable practices and developing training and planning resources. ESA is expanding globally, in hope of promoting dialogue and training around safety. Affiliate branches in the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and Turkey have begun. Others, such as Germany, Italy and China, are in process.

“Not every event is insured or insured adequately,” says Digby. “It’s so important, especially in the US because of the litigious atmosphere, but certainly globally, to think safety first. We’re not out to stifle creativity but to protect others against unnecessary risk.”

Live event risks at-a-glance

Insurers help to educate the event industry about safety. Many provide onsite risk engineers to assist at large events. Others suggest reputable third party vendors that provide similar services. Ideally, all parties involved in an event should include safety planning language into contracts or riders and request that other parties with whom they contract do the same.

“All events are different,” says Adelman. “No two are alike, but there are common questions to ask: What are the reasonably foreseeable risks? What tools are available to address them? How will they be applied? Is a communication plan in place with someone in charge? Do all functional leaders on the team know about and understand the plan? Have they and their teams received training?”

Although no two events are the same, most share common risks (see infographic). These commonalities should be addressed during table-top exercises. For example, from the perspective of the stage manager, are the riggings, ropes, guy wires, bracings, anchors and other fixtures secure and within load requirements for the venue? Are there exposed electrical wires that could create shorting or electrocution in the event of heavy rain or high wind? Can performers see tour and house security, as well as communicate with the command center?

On the floor, is there adequate staff to monitor and manage crowd behavior, including pushing, moshing and surfing? Even innocent people abstaining from such activities risk injury by their inattentiveness. What is the occupant load of the audience area? Is there a threat of suffocation or trampling, should panic occur? Are the barricades sufficient for this crowd in this space? Are they collapsible or fixed? Are there enough security personnel? Are they accessible to patrons on the floor to ask questions and seek help? Have they been trained to notice reasonably foreseeable risks such as intoxication, drug use, assault or excessive aggression?

Other risks can be found elsewhere. Are medical personnel deployed for personal injuries, overdoses, excessive heat or dehydration cases? Is there a clearly marked command center actively communicating to the coordinating parties and in touch with reputable weather specialists if necessary? Is an evacuation plan in place, such as the one successfully employed at Lollapalooza? Is the lighting adequate around the periphery to prevent accidents, illicit activity, or other potentially litigious risks?

Safety first

“Safety first is a mantra that everyone involved in the successful execution of an event should have ingrained in them,” says Digby, “It’s similar to a pre-flight checklist. It should be the routine we all go through to ensure nothing bad will happen.”

“People do things at live events that invite other people’s judgment,” adds Adelman. “It’s always been like that, from Elvis to Woodstock to discos to raves to crazed fans with painted faces at a sporting event. There’s a communal sentiment that is different and almost magical at a live event as opposed to seeing it on television.

“The energy can’t be reproduced. It’s special. And it’s why those of us who care about our industry preach safety, safety, safety. It’s about protecting people and keeping it safe for them to enjoy the show. This is why ESA advocates so strongly for safety,” he concludes.