Emergency Preparedness Planning & Lessons from Recent Natural Disasters: Part 1

This is the first of a two-part blog; read part two here.

Earlier this year I hosted a webinar on emergency preparedness planning for events and this topic continues to be a hot-button issue for sport leaders. We are working with several clients on event-specific risk management projects and as we head into the summer sport off-season (wait, there’s an off-season?) we are fielding even more questions. Whether it is related to potential injuries, the threat of litigation, travel abroad for international competition, or a general need to standardize event guidelines, sport organizations are more actively looking at emergency planning and the high-level risks associated with hosting their events.

The Emergency Preparedness Plan

An emergency preparedness plan (EPP) is an organization’s formal commitment to mitigate the damage of potential emergencies as well as ensure people are safe. It focuses on event specific risks that are considered to be emergencies – the ones that constitute a danger of catastrophic consequences, that could result in serious harm to people or cause widespread damage to property. Examples include severe collisions, violent weather, medical alarms, the use of harmful chemicals, or a collapsing structure.

When an emergency takes place…

  • People panic: when people panic they have a tendency to rush their judgment or take actions without considering the consequences;
  • Event participants can become distracted, confused, distraught, or even harm themselves or others; and
  • Damage occurs (physical, mental, property) that impacts an organization’s finances, insurance, legal capacity, human resources, or reputation.

The EPP serves to prepare a sport organization for these potential negative outcomes, through several proactive risk mitigation strategies. The professional approach that we have developed at the SLSG is aligned with our existing risk management work and ISO standards, so that it can be integrated with any existing policy or organizational risk registry. It is the result of an assessment of your event risks via an event risk management audit, and it is applied to the events that you commonly host or sanction.

The EPP clearly communicates the intentions of your organization in terms of participant safety and well-being, the manner in which safety objectives are achieved, the scope and events to which the EPP applies, and the responsibilities of your organizations leaders. The EPP communicates to your board and staff who is accountable to, and responsible for, the implementation of the plan and the ongoing maintenance and distribution to ensure that your organization is updating its standards in line with changing environments. The EPP further provides general safety guidelines related to equipment, hazardous material and event protocols that are specific to your sport. It is supported by your event risk registry (done during the audit) and your emergency response plan (ERP), which outlines specific on-site response protocols and procedures for staff and volunteers to reference at an event.

With a sound EPP in place, your organization can effectively respond and mitigate those potential negative outcomes noted above. As a result, you achieve the following:

  • A calm and measured response to a serious incident, so chaos and panic are minimized or omitted;
  • The transfer of an injured participant party to qualified medical personnel, to receive the treatment and support that they need as seamlessly as possible;
  • The prevention of any snowball effect whereby one incident/injury occurs and results in another, or multiple;
  • The event is able to achieve minimal disruption and safely continue;
  • Corporate continuity in service and operations; and
  • Positive affirmation occurs between staff, partners, participants, sponsors, potential media and other stakeholders.

During my webinar, I polled participants as to whether their organization had an EPP, ERP and/or a risk registry for its events. Forty five percent of participants indicated that they utilized two of the three tools, 25% indicated that they had only an ERP, and 30% had none. This is reflective of a lack of emergency planning by sport organizations. I have also reviewed many ERPs and found them to be lacking in comprehensiveness, applicability, and currency which limits their function as a useful on-site tool and leaves the organization vulnerable to further losses (legal, reputational, and business interruption).

I also shared a recent example of the work that we have done with Water Ski & Wakeboard Canada (WSWC). With WSWC we took a multi-step approach in developing their EPP, from research and development (their events, procedures and documentation as well as event standards across various sports) to intensive consultation, to the production of two standardized ERPs (for Championship versus non-Championship events). We also created a crisis communications plan and various templates and guidelines to elevate the standard of care employed at WSWC sanctioned events. As a result of our success with the EPP, we are now completing an additional phase of event guideline standardization to assist WSWC event managers in raising their safety standards as well as emphasizing a safety-first culture within their community.

The impact of the EPP has been a revelation for WSWC. In our webinar, Jasmine Northcott, CEO of WSWC shared, “at first it was scary for some and everyone just assumed, ‘we’re fine, we’ve been doing this for a long time, we’re used to accidents in our sport, we can handle it,’ to now where the conversation has shifted and it’s more like, ‘wow, look at the areas we can address to make our sport safer and more inviting to the newcomers to our sport and make it a place where people want to stay.”

In part two of my blog on emergency planning preparedness I look at two recent Canadian natural disasters and the lessons they provide sport managers in their event risk management work.

jer@sportlaw.ca  @sportarchitect

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