Avoiding event disasters with contingency planning

Your event has been months in the making; your volunteer army have worked their hearts out, committing countless hours of their time to making it a success. But then disaster strikes.

The venue floods from a broken water main.
The food spoils after someone forgets to turn on the fridge.
Your drawcard entertainment has vanished without a trace.
What’s an event organiser to do?

Well, panic is NOT an option!

Contingency planning is part of core operations for many small to medium businesses, and it’s a mandatory activity for larger enterprises. But if it’s so important, then why don’t fetes and festivals have their own contingency plans?

The simple answer is they have enough on their hands trying to organise the event without ‘wasting time’ on the what-ifs. But as busy as everyone is getting ready for the fete or festival, a few minutes spent planning for the worst before the big day can save hours of frustration if disaster does strike.

A simple solution is to have every stall convenor spend a few minutes thinking about what could go wrong on their stall and what actions they could take to prevent this from occurring. For example, if stock being delivered late could cause chaos, they can arrange to have it delivered earlier, or at the very least ensure they have the mobile phone number of whoever is delivering it.

However it’s rain, and the threat of rain, that is something ALL outdoor events need to make a contingency plan for. The most important issue being – will the event proceed if it’s raining?

If it will be cancelled, when will the decision be made and how will this be communicated?  And if you are continuing with an all-weather event, two good rules of thumb are to relocate the stalls that requiring power first, and be ready to combine stalls if space is an issue. Every event has different requirements and different facilities, but it’s worth taking the time to consider the issues well before the typical last minute event panic hits.

Sometimes, however, things go wrong that are out of everyone’s hands. If this is the case, the best thing to do is STAY CALM, take a breath, and remember that you can only do your best. If circumstances have conspired against you it will not be your fault!  Just remember to keep the lines of communication open, because if you’re wondering what you are going to do, odds are that dozens of others are wondering the same thing. So make sure everyone knows what is happening.

Case Study – What one Kindergarten did when the $hit hit the fan.

Late one night in October 2008 a sewage-main burst in a quiet suburban street of Melbourne, causing hundreds of litres of raw sewage to spill into the grounds of Rowen Street Kindergarten. The next morning a phone tree swung into action cancelling kindergarten programmes until further notice. A subsequent letter confirmed that kindergarten would be closed for a week.

But with the main fundraiser happening in only 10 days, what were organisers going to do? The Family Fun Day was to be run by parent volunteers who had organised over 20 stalls and rides to be held in the large grounds of the kindergarten.

The local council (as owners of the kindergarten property) sprung into action and arranged clean up crews to handle the ruined kindergarten outside play equipment and items belonging to the Fun Day committee such as tables and barbecues.

The top layer of soil was then removed and replaced, and after environmental testing revealed the e-coli levels remained unacceptably high, a decision was made to reopen the kindergarten but without allowing outdoor play until all of the contaminated soil could be removed and replaced with clean soil.

The Kindergarten committee and the council then came up with a smart solution to relocate the Kinder Fun Day to the park across the road. This was a great relief for all involved as the close proximity meant that no notification needed to be made regarding the change of venue. The council were proactive in cutting red tape regarding access to the park.

Jodie Parton, a Fun Day veteran convening her sixth event, was pleased with how things turned out. “I was so grateful I didn’t have to worry about how the event itself would go, as I had done it so many times before. I could focus on the extra logistics required to carry this off.”

The organising committee swung into action to make sure the new venue had access to power and additional shade, hiring market umbrellas and a generator, as well as asking neighbours to allow extension cords to be run from their properties. Thankfully toilet facilities across the road at the kindergarten could still be used, and volunteer’s homes were used as drop off points for second hand toys and clothes.

When the day finally arrived the organisers were blessed with mild, sunny day – perfect fair conditions. Visitors and volunteers were rejuvenated by the change of venue and the speed and grace in which the organisers had relocated everything.  And as luck would have it, the additional space offered more seating areas and more room for the children to just run around.

Jodie says, “Everyone kept asking if we were going to do the Fun Day here again next year as it had worked out to be a great day, sadly the higher costs with hiring equipment plus the work in ferrying things back and forth to the kinder doesn’t make it feasible.”

Thanks to some prior preparation and planning, such as having a phone tree set up and mailing lists organised, the team of volunteers at Rowen Street Kindergarten turned a very sticky situation into a success!