Event Offices, are you making old choices, or bold choices?

#eventpermit, Industry Events

October 09, 2019

Our team recently attended the 64th International Festival & Events Association Convention in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.

The convention’s theme – Bold Choices – was the perfect impetus for thinking outside the box and contemplating the question “are we making old choices or bold choices?”. Attendees were encouraged to pursue innovative solutions to issues that are affecting the vitality and sustainability of the event industry.

Many of the issues raised by attendees during the three-day event aren’t necessarily new to the industry in 2019, but they certainly remain significant. Here are three of the standout topics that we heard loud and clear from Event Office staff.

Managing a New Era of Emergency Response Planning

Natural and human-caused disasters affect thousands of people each year. They have the potential to cause catastrophic loss of life and property, and unfortunately, are usually unexpected and can quickly overwhelm an event. It’s therefore critical that each event organizer have an emergency response plan that reflects the event size and location, and ensure it is vetted by local emergency services. Each plan should address different types of emergencies, including natural disasters (e.g. flood) and human-caused disasters (e.g. gas leak, shooting).

Bold Suggestions for an Event Office:

  • Develop an emergency plan template that includes responses for common emergencies that may occur in their community, e.g. flash flooding, vehicle-based attacks, or infrastructure failure. This framework can then be used and modified by each event to meet permitting requirements; this is especially valuable for events with limited resources and emergency expertise.
  • Work with the Emergency Services Department (and other community service providers) to host regular emergency response training sessions for event staff and volunteers, city staff, and other residents. For example, the City of San Francisco developed their Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) in an effort to train community members in different emergency situations. The program is free and includes hands-on disaster skills that will help individuals respond to a personal emergency as well as act as members of a neighborhood response team.
  • Provide each event with a mobile-based GIS mapping solution that includes emergency response resources such as egresses and exits, muster stations, municipal Emergency Operation Center (EOC) locations, and routes to local hospitals.
  • Work with Operations departments or other groups to provide events with publicly owned and maintained safety infrastructure (e.g. barricades such as concrete jersey barriers and heavy equipment) that help reduce the risk of a human-caused event.
Measuring the Economic and Socio-economic Impact of Events

Event Offices are often strapped for funding to support event production (in-house events) and to cover the administrative cost of permitting, event support and oversight. Using data to demonstrate the benefits of events on a community’s economy and well-being is just one way that Event Offices are justifying their need for more resources.

Measuring quantitative data such as the number of events, attendees, tickets sold, accommodation occupancy, dollars spent, volunteer hours, sponsorship revenue, etc. helps gauge the economic impact of an event. But the qualitative data is just as valuable. Understanding the socio-economic ripple effect of events on a community validates the importance of maintaining a full calendar of events and an appropriately funded Event Office. For example, student volunteers are more likely to graduate and contribute economic value back into their community over their lifetime. Events are also a motivating reason why many people relocate their home or business.

Bold Suggestions for an Event Office:

  • Develop an online economic survey tool (there are many free and low-cost options such as SurveyMonkey and SurveyPlanet) that can then be used by all events, not just those with deep pockets and budgets for research. Event Offices could also develop standard reports to help analyze and present the results to key stakeholders.
  • Partner with local agencies and non-profit groups (e.g. Chamber of Commerce) to develop a volunteer program that tracks all volunteer hours in the community through a central database. Information collected could help inform the Event Office and the greater community on the health and profile of its volunteers and gauge how volunteers are giving back to the community. With their permission, volunteers could be contacted periodically to determine their level of education, household income, place of residence, etc.
  • Employ the assistance of the Communications Department to develop a pre and post analysis of brand awareness of their community as a direct result of the event. For example, measuring the number of retweets, reposts, and mentions through social media, in addition to more traditional media mentions through articles, editorials and news stories.
Cost-cutting Solutions for Resource Strapped Event Offices

In most states, provinces and territories, event production and permitting is a non-legislated function of local government. This means they aren’t required by law to provide these services, however, event production and/or permitting oversight is viewed as valuable service in most communities.

Unfortunately, with this being an unlegislated function, funding is often a challenge especially in smaller communities with smaller events. In fact, many Event Office staff at the convention mentioned that not only is the permitting process too onerous, it syphons the resources otherwise needed to produce community events.

Bold Suggestions for an Event Office:

  • Stop producing events and instead transfer event production to community and service organizations (such as Rotary International) that have fewer funding restrictions than local government, and an opportunity to leverage creative fund-raising programs, e.g. crowdfunding, fundraisers, private donations, and corporate sponsorships.
  • Streamline permitting process to free up resources for event production by Event Offices, e.g. online applications, centralized approval system, electronic permits, online payments, special event policy with processing guidelines
  • Develop a resource-rich website to help events self-service their needs and reduce the number of calls, emails and meetings spent supporting events, e.g. templates, tools, guidelines, best practices, links to other resources and permits

Sometimes we all need to take a step back and analyze our challenges with a fresh perspective. Are we trying to solve them with old solutions that are no longer as effective as they may have once been; can we borrow solutions from others who have overcome similar issues; and is there an opportunity to make bold and innovative choices that tackle our challenges in a way we hadn’t previously considered?

If your Event Office is experiencing challenges that you’re trying to overcome with bold new ideas, please share by joining the conversation on Twitter and using the hashtag, #eventpermit.

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