Event Risk Management – 2019 Coventry Half Marathon
Previously, I’ve talked about staging events in public spaces and how it is a contemporary issue (Mega-Events & Public Spaces). However, have you ever thought about what kind of risks these events may involve? Not only for the participants but also for workers, spectators – for literally everyone involved in it.
To stage an event, the organising team has to use its creativity and previous experience to really analyse all the possible scenarios. There’s literally no room for disasters, if it rains you need a plan B, if the power goes out you need a generator, if you are using a road you need to close it and ensure that not even one car enters, etc… etc.. etc… You get the picture, right?
If someone asks you to name one type of event that is typically staged in public spaces, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Is it the Olympic Games? No, right? At least not for me, I actually thought about a Marathon or Half Marathon.
So, today, I decided to recycle one of my master coursework for the Event Risk Management and Legislation module. Mainly, it consisted of positioning myself as a freelance event risk management consultant. The purpose was to attend an event and produce a short analysis and assessment of the key risks, to stage a similar event in a new destination or country. At the time, I chose the 2019 Coventry Half Marathon.
Before analysing the strategies implemented by the organisation towards the mitigation of risks, first, we should have some contextual information regarding past crisis that affected similar events.
An essential basis for risk management is the procedure of collecting data of “past events, to measure and observe patterns in order to help make decisions” (Piekarz et al. 2015:45). The development of a frequency table will improve the research because it identifies potential hazards and risks and provides the foundation for a deeper analysis and assessment. Furthermore, it helps an organisation put in place some control measures to prevent these from occurring.
So, by gathering secondary data, I developed this frequency table (Table 1).
Table 1: Frequency Table | Source: Researcher
Let’s have a quick look at it.
Firstly, the most common information available online regards major incidents – more severe accidents and fatalities; making it difficult for a researcher to study minor situations. Several authors have argued that this happens because the media normally uses such stories in connection to tragedies, to significantly impact audiences (Piekarz et al. 2015). For example, from this sample, 29% represents sudden death cases, and another 29% represents events that were cancelled due to bad weather, like the 2018 Coventry Half Marathon.
One incident worth mentioning, later you will understand why, is the 2018 Plymouth’s Half Marathon, where a woman drove her car into the race path and was stopped by a number of spectators. She argued that on previous years the organisation warned and provided advice to residents about what to do with their cars and that a race marshal even helped her drive through the route so that she wouldn’t interfere with the runners. However, in 2018 the organisation didn’t follow the same procedures, which lead to this incident. Consequently, posing a variety of risks for the runners and spectators.
The 2019 Coventry Half Marathon:
- Took place on the 24th of March 2019;
- With a 21.33 km route around the city;
- Started at 8:30 am and finished around 1:30 pm;
- With an average of 4,000 runners;
- Five toilet stations and five water stations along the route for participants;
- Runners were advised not to use headphones during the race “to ensure any medical alerts or marshals’ instructions could be heard” (Let’s Do This n.d.);
- The first aid team was St. John Ambulance;
- And the event had 33 road closures, which opened as the last runner passed by.
By conducting primary observation, a number of hazards and risks were identified.
A hazard can be defined as “anything which has the potential to cause harm to people“, being the “source of the risk” (Bladen et al. 2012). Such as people, external environmental conditions, cars, among others.
An “event risk is any future incident that will negatively influence the event” (Bowdin et al. 2012). Like collision with barriers, between runners and spectators, medical emergencies, and others.
According to the UK Health and Safety Executive website, a good practice is a generic concept for controlling risk standards that have been judged and accepted as satisfying the law in an appropriate manner, by demonstrating “that risks have been reduced ALARP” (as low as reasonably practical).
Heng’s boomerang effect is important to mention because it refers to when a control measure is implemented to deal with a number of risks, and as a result ends up producing another number of risks (Piekarz et al. 2015).
A practical result of a risk assessment process is “the implementation of suitable and sufficient controls” (Piekarz et al. 2015). In that regard, the Jigsaw of Controls (Figure 1) is a very good analytical tool, that examines what an organisation decides to do with risks, how resources are employed and how control measures are implemented (Piekarz et al. 2015).
Figure 1: The Jigsaw of Controls | Source: Based on Piekarz et al. (2015)
Now, let’s analyse some of the event’s procedures, using this. Starting with an easy example – Cold weather.
Cold weather can be harmful to the runners, representing a risk. Therefore, the organisation should implement some control measures, such as providing the opportunity for runners to warm up before the race starts. Following a risk reduction strategy, where the measure “can reduce the risk likelihood or the severity of its impact” (Piekarz et al. 2015:92). Employing hazard management to reduce the risk, which means using a soft control measure of employing appropriate and competent staff for the procedure of warming up the runners before the race. In respect to the Coventry Half Marathon 2019, this was implemented and followed with a trainer giving instructions for the runners to warm up before the race started (Figure 2), therefore demonstrating a good practice.
Figure 2: Trainer at 2019 CHM | Source: Researcher
Another issue regards street furniture or barriers because it can cause a collision between a runner and that physical obstacle. However, research shows that “collisions and crashes are always a possibility in racing conditions” (Piekarz et al. 2015:107); inevitably, the organisation has to take the risk, because it is an integral part of the activity. Nevertheless, hazard management should be employed, by using signalisation to show where such physical obstacles are. As the purpose of control barriers is to: help manage and influence crowd behaviour; to line up routes; and to provide physical security.
Even though precautions were taken this risk generated another set of risks, reflecting the boomerang effect, such as collisions between runners and spectators. For this situation, the organisation should implement some control measures that aim to reduce risk. By researching and applying tools, in order to establish effective and safe practices and appropriate equipment, such as control barriers separating the race and walk paths. In respect to the event, the only places with control barriers were the start and finish line, reflecting a good practice. However, during the race, there were no fences or barriers separating both paths. Thus, showing a bad practice, as this poses a risk not only for runners but for the pedestrians too.
Regarding the possibility of collision between runners and cars, the organisation should employ control measures aiming for risk reduction. By doing research, applying tools and appointing appropriate and competent staff. To establish effective and safe practices and appropriate equipment, such as signalisation stating that roads are closed. Which according to the UK Health and Safety Executive event guide, an organisation should “keep people and vehicles apart” and signs have to be secured by “sacks containing fine granular material“, as well as being supervised “for traffic entering and leaving the site“. Therefore, the organisation should have informed volunteers supervising those roads. Furthermore, the Department of Transport also states, that organisations should release a statement to the local community sharing which roads will be closed and the duration of the closures – which the event did showing good practice.
Figure 3: Signalisation at 2019 CHM | Source: Researcher
Clearly, the signalisation (Figure 3), as you see here, was one measure implemented – hence, a good practice. However, this signalisation had no supervision, causing the boomerang effect, of generating the risk of a driver crossing the race path, either way, resulting in a bad practice. As you can see in Figure 4, while nothing damaging happened, this still poses a risk for runners, and the organisation should have been more precautious, by positioning volunteers there to supervise.
Figure 4: Car entering race path | Source: Researcher
A Half Marathon is an event with a high probability of a runner tripping, falling and injuring themselves. As a result, the organisation can have control measures of risk transfer and monitoring, by appointing appropriate and competent staff, documentation, trained staff, teamwork and communication. Therefore, establishing a policy where runners have to put on their individual numbers their health and emergency contacts and checking if the runners follow this policy. As well as, contracting a third-party medical team to provide assistance, and informing staff of the possible risks. The resources used should be hazard management, insurance and establishing effective and safe practices. Plus, providing appropriate equipment, since according to HSE (2009:11), the event organisation “should provide the materials, equipment and facilities needed to ensure” safe practices. According to Home Office (2006:22), such medical team should have facilities “available at the finish” of the event and “throughout the route of a sporting event”. Regarding the Coventry Half Marathon, St. John Ambulance was the medical team contracted to provide assistance for the event. The event organisation provided a space for the medical team as an emergency centre, with all the necessary equipment (Figure 5) and appropriate volunteers. Plus, “a secondary unit just past the half way mark” (Let’s Do This n.d.) and additional first aiders were roaming the Race Village, which is considered as a good practice since all the necessary requirements were followed appropriately.
Figure 5: St. John Ambulance volunteers positioned in the finish line | Source: Researcher
So, what do you think? Do you think the list of possible risks finishes here?
Well, no this is just a sample of numerous risks and analysis I did. But I think you get the idea behind event risk management.
There are a few points worth mentioning. First, the media can affect the way incidents are communicated to the outside world. Second, when planning such events, an organisation should be aware of all the local, national and international legislation and regulations. However, there are a variety of different event safety guides that can help with the planning and delivery of the event. One critical aspect for these organisations is to think, map and develop a number of possible procedures if any risk occurs. As well as implement a number of control measures, to mitigate as much as possible any risk or tragedy from occurring.
Next time, I’ll explain how to analyse a critical causation and event path, which is also very useful.
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