The power goes out in your venue as it is hosting the championship game. Authorities issue voluntary evacuation orders following an intense storm, and you are only halfway through your event. A deafening explosion is heard outside your venue, and attendees run for cover.
What happens next depends on how effectively your organization is prepared to respond.
Large venues pose unique challenges to security and emergency preparedness. The combination of dense crowds, media visibility and high economic value at such events creates great risk to people, property and reputation. But how do you ensure strong security while also ensuring your patrons and fans still have fun?
The Reality of Crisis and the Benefits of Training
Emergency managers know the importance of having a sound emergency operations plan (EOP). But many leave out one critical step: Training and exercising. All too often I have seen organizations spend a significant portion of their budget buying the latest technology and gadgets, and writing justifications to hire or contract out additional security staff, yet they fail to plan and budget to train and validate the plan.
Every crisis, every incident and every disaster is different. Through training and crisis simulations emergency managers and security planners reinforce the core tenets of their EOP that will enable leaders and responders to quickly adapt to conditions on the ground. Instilling a rigorous training and exercise program helps emergency management personnel respond instinctively – using “muscle memory.” The goal is to remove the necessity of thinking too much and, instead, empower staff to perform tasks that will be the most effective at saving lives.
One important note: not all training is created equal. The most effective training is done under simulated conditions that stress the system or the plan. Firefighters train with real fires; police officers often rehearse with “criminal actors;” military personnel train and practice combat operations in field environments and on live fire ranges – why should rehearsing and training for emergencies at your venue be any different?
Six Steps Toward Effective Training
The harsh reality is, if you don’t train and exercise your plan, then you have no idea if it will work. Here are six steps to consider when planning your training activities:
- Plan to train. Simply put, plan your work and work your plan. Identify what you want to accomplish – train for venue evacuation, for example – then set a date on when you want to complete your training. Without a deadline, other priorities will consume your calendar and putting off planning activities will be far too easy. Include key planning events, meetings and milestones within your timeline to help keep you on track.
- Develop a training budget. You may have a great plan, and you may even have a training timeline, but if you have no money then nothing will happen. Make sure your budget includes costs for developing your EOP, training activities and exercises.
- Identify key stakeholders. Don’t plan in a vacuum; include everyone who may need to know how to prepare for, respond to or recover from an incident at your venue. Be sure to include government, private-sector, non-government organizations, senior staff from your organization and someone from the special needs community.
- Train! Train your staff on the plan through workshops and discussion-based exercises. Then, conduct realistic simulations to mirror potential real threats and events on the ground. These exercises will help ensure the plan you’ve created will work under the stresses of an actual event.
- Incorporate lessons learned. Things will go wrong during your training; that’s expected. In fact, that’s good. If everything goes perfectly, then there’s a good chance you have not considered every possibility. Note where things went wrong, as well as where things went well, and update your plan accordingly.
- Rinse and Repeat. Continuous improvement is key to ensuring the best outcome during an actual crisis. Follow steps one through five over and over – until responding to an incident becomes second nature. Conduct training and exercises against multiple different scenarios and situations; this will build proficiency on the core tenets while teaching your staff to adapt to different circumstances and events.
As a retired military officer I am often asked, “How is the military able to do the things it does so rapidly and efficiently?” The answer is, we train – over and over. The military gets better through training repetition under realistic-combat related conditions. Your goal should be the same. Train until responses are in muscle memory, until actions are precise despite the potentially chaotic environment. The more you train, the faster and more effective your response will be. Period.