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Event Backup Plans: Adapting in the Face of Major Obstacles

Event Backup Plans: Adapting in the Face of Major Obstacles

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By: Eric Hagstrom, Project Manager – Alford Media

Events involve plenty of moving pieces even when everything goes as planned. A great event crew regularly revises its plans and adapts to the many possible changes inherent in each and every show.

Sometimes, those efforts are relatively simple – at least for an experienced group of professionals – and quickly taken care of in a short amount of time. Other situations can require massive efforts in terms of protecting equipment, reconfiguring and backing up technical elements, changing the format of events, ensuring the safety of crew and equipment, and much more.

Plastic tenting helped keep Alford's equipment up and running despite Hurricane Matthew causing leaks in the facility.

Plastic tenting helped keep Alford’s equipment up and running despite Hurricane Matthew causing leaks in the facility.

An Especially Serious Weather System

One of Alford’s crews experienced a severe and lengthy disruption in early October 2016, while staging a major event for a client at the Orange County Convention Center. The timeline for the show meant our crew was in the final days of preparation as Hurricane Matthew, an especially dangerous and long-lasting weather system, made its way up the Atlantic coast. While the hurricane’s path became somewhat clearer as it passed through the Caribbean, exactly how much impact it would have on Florida’s eastern coast was unclear.

Ultimately, the storm proved to be a remarkably destructive and costly one. As a whole, Florida suffered approximately $2.75 billion in property damage due to Hurricane Matthew. Heavy winds, rain, and other factors caused power outages, impeded travel and generally made it dangerous to move outside of one’s home or any other safe place during the storm in many parts of the coast.

A major disruption didn't stop us from putting on a successful show.
A major disruption didn’t stop us from putting on a successful show.

Taking on an Unforeseeable and Major Threat

While plenty of work went into the show in the weeks and months leading up to it, there was only so much time available in advance once the threat of Hurricane Matthew was recognized. There were plenty of difficult decisions to make and not a lot of time in which to consider them. As more news poured in and we realized our show would be negatively affected, our crew sprang into action. One notable early complication in this process was the venue deciding it needed to shut down for the sake of crew and attendee safety on Thursday, one day before the show was supposed to start. It didn’t reopen until early Saturday morning.

With no way to start the event on time, our crew kept working at the hotel with direction from our client to reformat and otherwise alter what was supposed to be a three-day show, paring it down into a two-day event. Our team also had to coordinate with our client to ensure their vision for the event was still expressed in the abbreviated format. Additionally, off-site support helped address a number of logistical issues and provide a valuable perspective for the team on the ground in Florida. Eventually, the team got back into the facility at 5 a.m. Saturday and, despite a near-total lack of rehearsal time, had the event up and running in about 30 minutes.

Our project managers on the scene helped keep everyone in contact and addressed a wide range of issues, from the productivity of the team to its safety. Just a few of the steps they took for storm response included:

  • Moving quickly into a briefing about next steps to help the crew maintain focus and start working through the many obstacles facing them.
  • Readying the trucks and vans used by the team by filling their gas tanks, stocking them with food and water and parking them in a safe area.
  • Moving the radio comms system to the team’s hotel and gathering phone and room number information, to maintain contact in the event of losing phone service.
  • Providing instructions about safe operations and remaining in contact to make sure no one was isolated or harmed by the hurricane.
  • Offering assistance to local authorities through the forklifts and other heavy equipment on hand. That assistance was thankfully not needed, as the area escaped the most damaging effects of the storm.

Keeping Equipment Safe and sound

One of the biggest concerns outside of the personal safety of our team and event attendees is the continuing operation and security of our audiovisual equipment. A conference can come to a quick and disruptive halt if weather or other severe circumstances stop equipment from working. One of the most vital decisions made during Hurricane Matthew was to set up plastic tents around control boards and other equipment whenever possible, to prevent damage to the gear in case any water leaked into the facility. That decision paid off when water started trickling in, keeping the equipment – and our team – dry.

Of course, Hurricane Matthew represents just one instance of weather, or any unforeseeable circumstance, having a major impact on the planning and execution of an event. At Alford, our crews have come up against tornadoes, earthquakes, high winds, and even quarantines during events, and we regularly take a number of steps to ensure these situations, whether large or small, don’t negatively impact the event. Just some of the steps we take include:

  • Positional cross-training, so an injury or illness doesn’t stop us from bringing a highly skilled crew member to an event – whether they’re involved in audio, visual, power, a supervisory role or another task.
  • Online backup systems deployed at each event. This approach doesn’t stop with having additional, critical audiovisual components in reserve. It ensures an almost instantaneous switchover to the backup equipment, avoiding a disruption for attendees and keeping the event going strong.
  • Battery backups for critical systems are deployed in a fashion similar to audiovisual backups – they ensure the show keeps going.
  • 24/7 support provided by on-call personnel. One of our account executives or Alford leaders is on call 24/7 supporting our clients and crews.
  • Individual considerations for outdoor events and other situations where weather and other factors can play a part. That ranges from protecting the equipment from rain to ensuring it can safely be used at high wind speeds.

Sometimes, events encounter circumstances that can be difficult to overcome. The best event technology companies plan ahead and bring an experienced, agile crew who ensure the show is always a success no matter the obstacles.

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