Race directors are used to dealing with sprained ankles and over-exhaustion, but there’s a lot more that can go wrong at events. As the Boston Marathon showed us in 2013, it’s important to be prepared for absolutely anything. So if you’re wondering about emergency race planning, you should also be wondering how to plan for everything else that could go awry.

But how do you handle something that hasn’t happened yet? Don’t worry. Here are the tasks to add to your race director checklist to help you prepare for the unexpected.

Assess the Risk

The potential problems and the methods you take to defuse them will depend on a multitude of factors. Before diving into an in-depth emergency management plan, create an event profile. You’ll want to record the type of equipment you have and the number of participants, spectators, exhibitors, and personnel including staff and volunteers. Then create an audience profile: what kind of people are they? Are they old, young? Children? Mobility impaired? This will help your team and emergency responders determine appropriate procedures.

Make a Plan

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* Image from Emergency Preparedness Guide prepared for the Chicago Marathon

And put it down on paper. It’s important to do this early on in your race planning so that you have time to fill in any critical gaps. Your emergency plan must be a collaborative effort between all parties including local hospitals, police, and firefighters. Familiarize them with your course, event timeline, and audience profiles, and establish common terminology for particular incidents (what does ‘code red’ mean to you?). Then, establish a chain of command. Choose someone to serve as emergency coordinator and as the head of medical and crowd control.

Now, plan your responses to potential scenarios. How should individual team members respond? Who do they report to, what do they report, and at which point should they report it? Establish evacuation routes and emergency shelters, both on and off the course, and take into account the ease of evacuation for children or those with disabilities.

While your plan should be very in-depth, it should also be as easy to read as possible. When everything is going wrong, the last thing you want to do is skim through ten pages of small text! Clearly organize your document and turn your response procedures into simple graphs and flowcharts. At the end of your plan, include a complete contact directory of your team members and all local emergency services.

Put Everything in One Place

Have a command center on-site, staffed with your best people and some police and medical staff if possible. The people in the command center are responsible for the big decisions: all incidents, big and small, should be reported here. You’ll want to keep copies of your entire emergency response plan in the command center and have access to a combined personnel and participant database. This master database is necessary for you to easily find emergency information for anyone and everyone that could be at your event. In addition to emergency contact numbers, consider asking participants and staff for additional medical information, such as current medications or allergies.

Information Everywhere

While it’s important for your staff and emergency responders to have access to your emergency plan, it’s important to share some information with participants and spectators, too. Distribute detailed event maps that go beyond the course to include barriers, emergency entrances/exits, shelters, lost-and-found centers, medical tents, and first aid and fire supplies. For both participants’ sake and your own, make your staff members easy to spot in a crowd (we hope you like neon!).

Sharing the event map and marketing exits isn’t enough, however. You’ll need a way to communicate en masse: think bullhorns and PA systems. Establish additional backup communication systems and have staff members program emergency numbers into their phones beforehand.

Practice, Practice, Practice

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* Image from New York City Marathon

Don’t just talk the talk! Quiz your staff on emergency procedures, guide them through drills, and conduct a briefing right before the event. Double-check medical supplies to be sure they are fully stocked and test and test again the rest of your equipment. Be sure you have an emergency generator on hand and that all doors and gates open outward and easily.

The tips in this article are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to emergencies in race planning. The firsthand experience of race directors is invaluable, so talk to them and share your own suggestions in the comments below!

To learn more about ChronoTrack, contact us.