Special Events

When Disaster Strikes, Fight Back

Accidents Happen On New Year's Eve 1998 in New Orleans, two men were killed and a third badly burned when an explosion ripped apart a truck transporting fireworks. The men were trained fireworks operators, working for Classic Fireworks of the New Orleans area.

"Still no one knows what caused the explosion," says David Spear, owner of Classic Fireworks and chairman of the National Fireworks Association's Public Display Committee. "Five government agencies showed up to investigate the cause, but nothing has been found out."

Spear followed his conscience after the accident. "Be objective when it comes to the big picture," he advises. "I refused to ignore the affected families. We started a scholarship fund in one of the victim's names. This was against the advice of our attorneys, who said this might come across as an admission of guilt. But I didn't care. And no one filed suit against us."

Spear urges readers to "look closely at your insurance-workers' comp and general liability. Visualize a tragedy, be it poisoned food or a fire. Call your insurance agency and ask, 'What if something happened? Is coverage in place to cover impacted individuals and their families?' Search for areas of exposure and get them covered."

David Spear can be reached at 504/893-8800.

Tornado Troubles The Salt Palace Convention Center was in the last day of setup for the Outdoor Retailer Convention when a tornado ripped through Salt Lake City last August.

The convention center had set up two tents to accommodate exhibitors. The tornado killed one person and injured several hundred people in the tents. One of the tents was demolished; structural engineers deemed the other one uninhabitable. The tornado caused a quarter million dollars in damages to the facility.

"One of our biggest problems immediately after the tornado hit was people wanting to get back into the tents to get their products out," notes Allyson Jackson, director of sales and marketing for the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Fortunately, the emergency crew worked so quickly that the show was delayed by only one day, Jackson says. "The exhibitors that were housed in the convention center volunteered to share their space, so those companies that lost everything in the tents were still able to exhibit in the show, which was phenomenal."

To deal with a disaster such as this, Jackson advises having "a current and ever-evolving emergency plan that everyone is aware of. Figure out who will deal with the media in case of an emergency, who will direct the employees, who knows first aid, who can check gas lines and so on. Everyone has to understand his or her role."

She also stresses the importance of alternative communication methods in case of power outages. "The cell phones did not work. Luckily, we had beefed up our radios in reaction to a previous incident."

Allyson Jackson can be reached at 801/534-6325.

Handling a Hurricane Hurricane Floyd, which swept the East Coast of the United States last September, destroyed Mark Zettler's offices in Hackensack, N.J. The publisher of Balloons & Parties Magazine and president of Life O' The Party, which supplies balloons, party decor and entertainment, is grateful to the SEARCH Foundation, which provided financial relief to the devastated business. (SEARCH-Special Event Industry, Aid & Response for Care & Hope-is a nonprofit organization providing support to special event industry members and their families afflicted with life-threatening illnesses or other catastrophes.)

"I really encourage readers to make a donation to SEARCH," Zettler says.

He offers the following tips:

* Back up all your computer records on a regular basis, and keep your orders and backup records in a safe place.

* If your business is located in a flood zone, get flood insurance. "Unfortunately, none of our office equipment was covered by our insurance. Only the P.A. equipment was covered."

* Don't jeopardize your own safety during a disaster. "I sat in three feet of water while the electricity was still on, trying to save files, equipment and props. I could have been electrocuted-that was stupid."

Some of the props that were floating through Zettler's demolished office were for Richard Aaron, CSEP, CMP, of New York-based Mallory Factor, who was planning an event atop the World Trade Center's Windows on the World when the hurricane hit. Aaron recommends taking the following steps when there's a chance a hurricane or other disaster threatens your event:

* Have a backup communication plan if telephones fail.

* Contact the venue in advance and include its personnel in all contingency planning.

* Review all cancellation issues and costs with all event vendors. What is the client going to pay if the event is canceled? Will the venue give credit if it is rebooked within a certain time frame?

* Provide a full set of options to your clients-they need to know what their choices are.

* Establish a "reality orientation" for your client when individual safety is an issue. Sometimes people can get so upset that an event might not go off as planned they forget that people's lives may be at stake.

Mark Zettler can be reached at 201/441-4224; Richard Aaron can be reached at 212/350-0000, ext. 329.

Water, Water Everywhere London-based The Special Event Co. recently organized a program of events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of The Reedham Trust, a British charity. The crowning event, a reception for 450 guests, took place in a tent on the playing fields of an orphanage located at the foot of a range of hills.

"The guests included scholars from all parts of the globe-most were extremely elderly," explains managing director Sally Webb. "As often happens in England, we were subjected to torrential rain for a three-day period before and on the day of the event. The guests made their way over the tracking into the structure, champagne was flowing, and the buffet was announced open until...

"Unbeknown to us, every 50 years or so the underground spring that carries the surplus water from the hills breaks its banks. Up from the floor in the middle of the reception rose a fountain of water so high it bounced off the ceiling with such force that the lining came straight down. The structure flooded within minutes. Many octogenarians reached for their heart pills, and we were unsure whether to call the fire department or the Coastguard!

"Fortunately, opposite the fields was a local authority vehicle department, and we persuaded them to mobilize all their vehicles, including the road sweepers, and ferried all our guests into the local church hall. In the meantime, food was put back on the catering lorries and a nearby hotel-which fortunately had a vacant banqueting suite for the afternoon-took pity on us and handed over the space and any spare porter and waiting staff to reassemble the entire event.

"Quite astoundingly-as much to us as the client-the entire reception was up and running again within an hour and a half. And in true Titanic tradition, the jazz band kept playing!"

Sally Webb can be reached at +44 171 357 6081.

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