Why Contingency Plans Are More Important Than Ever

Scott Wood, the tournament director of the Cognizant Founders Cup, says he and other Ladies’ Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tournament organizers want their events to go off without a hitch. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have to be prepared for unexpected occurrences. This is where a well-thought-out contingency plan comes in very handy.

Having a contingency plan for any event is crucial.

“I think it’s safe to say all tournament organizers, not just LPGA-owned events, begin their planning with an eye on the `what ifs’,” Wood said. “It’s very important to have fully vetted contingency plans in place before you go `live’ at any event. This has certainly been the case the past 15 months as the global pandemic started to spread and ultimately shut us down for several months. In the case of major tournaments we hold, we’ve seen them go to no fans, limited staffs, and full testing onsite, which have worked out well and allowed our players, caddies and organizers to continue playing safely.”

According to Sally Mainprize, owner of Iron Peacock Events, “risk management has unfortunately become a way of life for planners and they must do their due diligence to protect event participants.” She also exclaims that “at a minimum, contingency planning should start when the event planning begins and be included every step of the way. In truth, planners should have contingency templates already created that can be filled in with details and tweaked for almost any event versus starting from scratch.”

“Even earlier, when planners are researching the event destination, questions need to be asked about likely risks concerning weather, unrest, health risks, political strife, etc.,” Mainprize added. “I think more and more we may see planners gauge the likelihood of risks in a given destination and raise the question of “if” the destination should be considered based on its risk level.”

A Plan for all Situations

Event planners must consider a range of threats that may severely impact on the financial viability of the event, said Leo Issac, owner of www.leoissac.com, which provides information resources, tools and learning activities for sport administrators. “Many of these threats,” he added, “will arise well before the event. Contingency planning must therefore include what action to take if such threats happen.”

“Some aspects of the contingency plan need to be in place in the early planning stages,” says Issac. “For example, a choice of venue may depend on anticipated funding. But what happens if such funding is not forthcoming? Persons who most need to be aware of the contingency plan are the board of directors of the organization that takes ultimate responsibility for the event.”

“Every event, and organization for that matter,” said Jackie Reau, CEO of Game Day Communications, “should have a crisis contingency plan along with a crisis communications plan.” A few important reasons include: preparing staff to effectively and quickly manage a crisis with a calm manner; guiding staff to respond in a unified, professional manner; and managing distribution of critical, often sensitive, information to internal and external stakeholders, i.e. sponsors and media.

Reau claims, “The contingency plan is often developed by an outside communications firm in partnership with the organization’s leadership team to ensure all areas of potential concern are addressed, followed by a plan with solutions and how to best communicate them effectively.

The best way to begin a contingency plan is to brainstorm all potential crises and how they would impact a planned event, what the resolutions are, and how to best communicate the resolution to stakeholders in a timely manner.”

Before you plan your event, start brainstorming ideas that could go wrong/

A Living Document

“Once the contingency plan is in place, it should be reviewed a few times per year to update it, especially before a major event,” said Reau. “The leadership of the organization should be aware of the plan and know their role in activating it. For example, the medical director should know his or her role in responding to a medical emergency and how to best provide a resolution and communicate this resolution to stakeholders.”

For those who own or manage a sports event, a “standard operating procedure should be the creation of an emergency action plan (EAP),” said Matthew Robinette, a board member of CMA Solutions and director of visitor experience at Richmond Region Tourism. “EAPs provide events with the plan of action just in case,” Robinette explained.

“When I create an EAP I am looking to identify which organization has what authority, to establish lines of communication internally and externally, what the first response will be, identify a specific individual to manage media relations, and how finances will be managed.”

Robinette also mentions that an EAP needs to be completed early so it can be integrated into those of the venue and local authorities. “An emergency action plan is critical because it reduces confusion and minimizes panic both within the management team and the participants.”

Contingency plans should be proactive and not reactive, although as Robinette explained, these are emergencies and crises which, by their nature, require reaction. Clear discussions will outline exactly which organization makes the call to implement a contingency plan. Once a contingency plan has been started, the EAP provides the structure of the organization, the roles and responsibilities of staff, and the integration of leadership from all stakeholders.

Event owners should also ask partners they are working with to schedule production calls with decision makers from the venue, hotel and local first responders. EAPs from the event owner and the venue should be discussed and ‘married’ to ensure which entity decides when a contingency plan should begin.

“If this past year has taught us anything, we have learned the important of thinking outside the box and the need to have a backup plan,” said Dan Gallagher, sports account director for the Atlantic City Sports Commission. “Being able to pivot at the drop of a hat in order to preserve your event is vital in securing the success of your event.”

He added, “Your contingency plan should be developed hand in hand with your initial plan, working on parallel tracks. It is important that your venue, sponsors, rights holders, volunteers and attendees are aware that a backup plan is in place if it needs to be deployed.”

The Great Outdoors Creates Unique Challenges

By their very nature, outdoor sporting events are unpredictable, mainly because managers are sometimes dealing with elements which are out of their control. As most outdoor sporting events are heavily reliant on a venue which can host their event comfortably, sometimes the best consistency plan is simply an alternative set of dates.

Gallagher says how, “Technology continues to evolve, allowing us to better predict the weather. Partnering with local agencies such as police, fire department, and other emergency services well ahead of the scheduled event is a must. These local agencies have the best lay of the land and are your ears and eyes on the ground. When hosting an event in a new location, they will prove to be imperative as you navigate the destination.”

Outdoor events can be especially trick to plan since weather is unpredictable.

“The footprint of any sporting event is typically the first piece of the puzzle in the preparation of a contingency plan,” said Gallagher. “Having a venue that can meet your requirements securely and safely is the first step in ensuring the event’s success. The layout, securing temporary structures (i.e. tents, generators, etc.), and how attendee information is disseminated are paramount.”

Be Ready for the Worst

In the unfortunate event safety issues or threats arise it is important to have a clear and concise plan of action. Gallagher mentions how, “The health and wellness of your attendees should be your main priority. Therefore, having a clear communication method with a safe, harboring location is significant.”

On the challenges a sporting event with a large footprint creates, Reau said it’s important to have an event plan map to scale. “Using the map, I would suggest creating zones within the event and assigning captains to manage their zone in an accessible manner by foot, bike, or golf cart.”

When facing threats of violence, Reau said it is important to work with local police officials to alert them to any concerns or threats immediately, and to consider adding private security for an added level.” A contingency plan for a health concern at an event should be led by a medical director or a medical advisor. It may be important for a medical team or teams to be onsite for the event with an ambulance.

According to Wood, the level of difficulty in developing and then implementing a contingency plan depends on host site location and neighboring communities’ accessibility.

“For instance, when we play in downtown Los Angeles, it’ll take emergency services longer to respond versus playing in a less populated areas like Toledo, Ohio. Golf course layouts differ from site to site and we’re constantly working to improve our emergency planning procedures year after year,” Wood explained. “Since we are not a traditional stadium and we create temporary fan experiences such as hospitality structures, concessions, parking, etc., we start with traffic flow/emergency services patterns in mind. The longer we stay at the same host site, the better, more efficient our plans become.”

Experts say that every event should have a well-thought out contingency plan for the big day.

In Gallagher’s opinion, no stone should be left unturned when preparing a contingency plan. “It is better to have a plan and not need it, then it is to need a plan and not have it.”