Almost everyday throughout the United States there are large venue entertainment events that are attended by hundreds or, in many cases, thousands of spectators, sport teams, athletes, event associated personnel and media representatives. Not only do the sheer numbers of attendees pose a challenge to fire and emergency responders but the event type, venue and location can present its own set of hazards.
Numerous hazards exist that could affect the safety of attendees at these types of events. Overcrowding of grandstands, skybox and luxury suite areas with confusing exit access pathways can create panic in the event of emergency situations that can lead to injury and death to spectators. Panic can even occur if there is not an actual hazard but a perceived hazard. To combat these conditions, attendees should be regularly advised of emergency and evacuation procedures in the event of an emergency occurring. Procedures should be relayed in the form of announcements or televised video presentations on monitors, LCD screens or other video devices with easy to understand wording and graphics to inform occupants.
Safety announcements should contain emergency procedure information such as exit paths, exits and areas of refuge within and on the exterior of the venue. Other information such as first aid stations, severe weather notifications and in cases of venues with sound decibel issues (auto-races, music concerts, etc.) visual events or cues that will occur should also be included. Announcements should be broadcast at regular time intervals before an event in order to inform patrons arriving at different times and be broadcast numerous times during the event to continue to remind patrons of safety procedures.
All areas of the venue designed for the seating or standing of spectators should be posted with clearly defined occupant loads and penalties if those loads are exceeded. Areas should be regularly patrolled by fire and emergency personnel during an event to ensure occupant loads are enforced and maintained. Personnel should also be trained to look for hazards such as food service hazards including Sterno warmers, food warming and cooking units and concessions. Aisle and exit obstructions and other inherent hazards of the venue should also be patrolled. If any hazards are found, the condition should be immediately corrected. If warranted, fines and penalties should be assessed after the event has ended.
Plans should also be made in addressing situations occurring involving criminal activity such as assaults, intoxicated individuals, theft and other crime related incidents. Planning and involvement of law enforcement personnel is essential in controlling and mitigating these types of incidents.
COORDINATION Venue Staff and Incident Command
Another issue affecting emergency personnel is a lack of emergency preparedness and planning by venue owners and operators. The lack or inconsistency of plans can create disastrous results if in the event of fire, natural disaster, structural collapse or terrorist attacks.
Fire and emergency personnel must be involved in pre-planning for events and training of venue staff and security personnel of their roles in the event of an incident. Emergency planning should be conducted well in advance of the event and must be thorough to address any type of incident that could occur. As a matter of training, venue staff and security personnel should also receive National Incident Management System (NIMS) training and be a part of the venue's incident command staff.
A command post should be set up to control any incidents. The command post does not necessarily need to be set up at the venue, provided training and planning are sufficient to maintain an effective incident command system. (The author believes the command post should not be at the venue due to fire, natural disaster or terrorist event possibly knocking out the command post as well). The command post should be staffed with all agencies that will be involved if an incident and action planning should be unified.