Contingency and Emergency Planning

Information courtesy of the HSE.

You must have plans in place to respond effectively to health and safety incidents and other emergencies that might occur at an event. This emergency plan should be in proportion to the level of risk presented by event activities and the potential extent and severity of the incident. Consider the key risks Using the resources available to you onsite, develop emergency procedures to be followed by staff and volunteers in a significant incident/emergency, eg sudden bad weather, fire or structural failure. Include contingencies to deal with incidents and situations as varied as an entertainment act cancelling at short notice, severe weather, or the unavailability of key staff in your team. You will also need to consider your response to more serious emergencies, including major incidents that will require help from the emergency services and implementation of their regional emergency plans (which may not be specific to the event).


The National Counter-terrorism Security Office have produced specific advice to help mitigate the threat of a terrorist attack in crowded places. The key message for the public is ‘Run, Hide, Tell’:

• Run - to a place of safety. This is a far better option than surrendering or negotiating. If there’s nowhere to go, then…

• Hide - it’s better to hide than to confront. Remember to turn your phone to silent and turn off vibrate. Barricade yourself in if you can. Then finally, and only when it is safe to do so ...

• Tell - the police by calling 999

Sharing your plans

For all but the smallest events with low risks (or those in fixed venues with established procedures), draw up and discuss your plans with:

• the police

• fire and rescue service

• ambulance service

• emergency planning

• for fixed premises like stadiums and arenas, the venue management.

The detail and complexity of any discussions should be proportionate to the risks involved. You, as the organiser, and emergency services should be clear about who will do what if there is an emergency or major incident. Develop an emergency plan with the help of Stagesafe.

Most event emergency plans should address the same basic requirements, to:

• get people away from immediate danger

• summon and assist emergency services

• handle casualties

• deal with those who have been displaced but not injured (eg at a festival with camping)

• liaise with the emergency services and other authorities and, where the situation is serious, hand over responsibility for the incident/emergency

• protect property Emergency procedures Procedures for staff and volunteers to follow in an emergency should include:

• raising the alarm and informing the public

• onsite emergency response, ie use of fire extinguishers • summoning the emergency services and continuing to liaise with them

• crowd management, including evacuation, where necessary

• evacuation of people with disabilities

• traffic management, including emergency vehicles

• incident control

• providing first aid and medical assistance (First aid, medical assistance and ambulances) As well as workers, HSE strongly recommends (and the Local Authority licensing department will almost certainly insist) that you include the visiting public in your first-aid, medical and ambulance needs assessment. Make sure you will have enough medical assistance and ambulances on site and liaise with your local NHS and ambulance service so they can balance your needs against their local capacity. Except for small, low-risk events where ambulances may not be required, and at events where they are not onsite, plans should be drawn up in conjunction with the local NHS ambulance service to clarify how patients will be taken to the hospital. The Events Industry Forum’s ‘Purple Guide ’ includes examples of first-aid and medical assessments for an audience at an event. Have clear emergency roles and responsibilities You should appoint people to implement your procedures if there is an incident or emergency. Make sure that all relevant staff members, whatever their normal role, understand what they should do in an emergency, for example:

• the location of exits

• how to use emergency equipment

• how to raise the alarm

• who they should receive instructions from

Evacuation Emergencies can develop very rapidly. Make sure you are equipped to move the audience to a total or relative place of safety without delay.

The following actions will help.

Escape routes and exits

• Plan escape routes and make sure they remain available and unobstructed

• Make sure all doors and gates leading to final exits, as well as site exits themselves, are available for immediate use at all times. Check they: o are unlocked - if security is an issue they should be staffed not locked o are free from obstructions o open outwards in the direction of escape Signs and lighting to help evacuations • Consider signs for people unfamiliar with escape routes

• Light all escape routes sufficiently for people to use them safely in an emergency

• Emergency lighting should comply with the requirements of British Standard BS 5266-1 . Use an independent power source, eg a generator, in case the mains electricity supply fails

• If using floodlighting, lighting towers etc as temporary lighting make sure it does not shine in people’s faces along the escape route, making it more difficult for them. As an alternative, ‘festoon lighting’ along an escape route prevents glare.

Places of safety

• Plan how you will evacuate people to a place of relative safety from where they can make their way to a place of total safety Vulnerable people

• Plan to provide additional assistance to people with a disability, people with learning difficulties, those with limited mobility and children

• Where children are separated from their parents, in play areas etc, make arrangements for their safe evacuation clear so parents don’t try to reach them against the normal direction of escape Communicating with the public

• Plan for how you will communicate official event messages to the public in conjunction with the emergency services, eg via social media. 

Show stop

Effective response to an emergency can sometimes mean a rapid and controlled halt to a performance to prevent further risk to the audience or to initiate an evacuation. This sort of ‘show stop’ involves:

• identifying the key people involved, particularly those who can:

o initiate a show-stop procedure o communicate with the performer or participants

o communicate with the audience

• deciding how these key people will initiate a show-stop procedure

• having pre-agreed wording for public announcements (consider your lines of communication, eg radios, PA systems)

• briefing the management of performers or participants in advance about the show-stop procedure

After the incident

Once the risk has been reduced to a tolerable level, you can consider restarting the performance/event. Only restart the performance after consultation with other key agencies on site, eg emergency services. Make sure staff are back in position and services are ready.

Transfer of authority for an emergency/major incident If the emergency services declare an emergency/major incident onsite, all the event personnel and resources will work under the command of the police. However, the police may declare one part of the event as under their authority to respond to the emergency/major incident, but leave other parts of the event under your control as the event organiser.

Testing and validation

In many cases, validation of your emergency plan may take the form of a table-top exercise, where you and others work through a range of scenarios and establish the effectiveness of your responses. Test the communication systems, eg radios and public announcement equipment, before the event.

A developing emergency case study

Incidents and emergencies can occur suddenly. However, in many instances you will have to respond to an incident that develops over a period of time and requires an escalating scale of response.

The scenario in the table below shows how an incident may grow from a relatively localised minor issue to a large-scale emergency affecting many agencies.

The scenario does not mean to imply a failure on the part of the event organiser to tackle things quickly. Rather, it demonstrates how an incident could develop and outlines the types of action and planning that may be required.

The incident could have been contained at any point during the development, but, for the purposes of the scenario, we assume that efforts prove ineffective at each stage.

Case study: Example of a developing incident

Setting: Early morning on the second day of a two-day music festival in a rural setting

Incident progress Action taken Emergency plan
A steward reports smoke coming from a car in the car park. They also report someone running away from the scene back into the event site
  • Additional staff despatched to the scene to investigate
  • Steward’s report logged
  • Event staff, including volunteers, need to be properly briefed on what to do if they witness an incident
  • It is unlikely that every member of staff will be given an event radio, so the event organiser needs to consider how such a report will be made quickly and effectively
  • There needs to be a central point to which staff can report and which initiates responses called ‘event control’ in this scenario and often in real life situations.
Staff on the scene confirm that a car is on fire in the car park
  • Event control despatch onsite fire resources to the scene
  • For a small event, this may only mean hand-held fire extinguishers
  • Summon offsite emergency assistance
  • Make sure that appropriate fire-fighting resources are deployed around the site and that staff are trained in their use
  • Critically, people should recognise when an incident is beyond their control and not place themselves at risk
  • Establish with the emergency services what kind of response time might be required for offsite resources to be despatched
Fire spreads to adjacent vehicles
  • The fire is now well beyond the capability of the onsite emergency response
  • Focus switches to establishing a safe cordon around the incident
  • As the incident develops, it is important to obtain accurate and regular information
  • You will need to send a trusted deputy to manage actions on the ground while you remain at the event control
  • If everyone heads to the scene of the incident, it is difficult to make, or even consider, strategic issues in the face of overwhelming immediate operational concerns
Fire threatens a number of live-in vehicles within the car park
  • Staff have to sweep through the car park and make sure that all people sleeping in vehicles are woken and removed to safety
  • The situation has now become very serious and you need to be able to rapidly deploy a large number of people and resources. This may mean waking people who are off-shift or redeploying staff from other functions
  • The role of a central communication and decision-making hub ‘event control’ is critical
  • Awareness of the incident will rapidly become widespread across the site
Fire and rescue service arrives with one tender but is unable to gain access
  • Special resources are required to clear vehicles parked in the access lane to the car park
  • Make sure that all risk areas of the site are accessible to emergency vehicles
  • Agree access routes with the emergency services
  • Implement plans to remove vehicles blocking emergency routes
LPG cylinders in live-in vehicle ignite
  • Exclusion zone established around the incident
  • Assess in advance how car parks are set out and separate camping and live-in vehicles from ordinary car parking
Major incident declared by fire and rescue service
  • Fire and rescue service is responsible for identifying the inner cordon and for the health and safety of all those operating within it. Police are co-ordinating the response
  • You transfer authority for the management of this ‘major incident’ to the police
  • You remain in control of all areas of the site not immediately affected by the incident
  • Identify someone to liaise with the emergency services as they deal with the practicalities of the incident
  • Make available site resources to facilitate response – this could include putting staff at the disposal of the incident commander to assist with crowd management
  • At this point, you are going to have to determine, in conjunction with the emergency services, what happens on the rest of the site
  • Immediately cancelling the show may simply result in a rush towards the car park, which is the very thing you need to avoid
  • While the emergency services will have their own plans for dealing with serious fires, casualties etc, you will still have a critical role to play in supporting that response and in discharging your duty of care to people who remain onsite
  • You may need to consider mass evacuation of the site, or a significant proportion of it
  • You will need methods of quickly and effectively getting information to the public and staff at the event – and a process for quickly determining what will be said
Location declared a crime scene by police following the report of someone running from the initial incident
  • Particularly where there are casualties, the police have a duty to investigate whether a crime has been committed and attempt to identify the suspect, who may still be on the event site
  • You will have to co-operate with the police in their investigation
  • Witness statements, incident logs and other key evidence may need to be gathered
  • By this stage, the incident will inevitably have attracted media attention (along with the inevitable camera-phone footage and messaging broadcast from onsite)
  • This will lead to pressure on the event organisers and emergency services for statements and an increasing requirement for information for concerned relatives and friends of those onsite
  • If there have been serious injuries or even fatalities, the mechanism for handling these enquiries should be carefully considered. Media releases are usually co-ordinated by the police
  • A media plan is an important element of any large-scale emergency plan
Car park inaccessible to departing patrons
  • With the car park unusable because of ongoing fire and police operations, there are huge implications for people stuck onsite
  • What can you do to enact contingency plans for alternative routes offsite, transport or even accommodation for people who can no longer leave the site?
  • Co-ordination with the local authority may be needed to enact contingency and civic resilience plans. This could include setting up emergency shelters for displaced people
  • The response period to the incident will by now be causing fatigue and other problems for you; you need to consider deputies or relief teams

Note: The above scenario is fictitious but not far-fetched. Such an incident could develop to the extent that Highways and Environment Agencies are involved in dealing with the aftermath and the incident extends over many days.

It illustrates how you need to have a flexible and adaptable emergency plan reaching into all areas of site planning, staffing, resources and briefing. At each stage the key factors are effective communication (internal and external), and a command structure which allows joint decision-making with an ever wider number of organisations.