We were so excited. This was the third year the Friends of DCACC (DuPage Animal Care & Control) was hosting a summer fundraiser that included a dog wash, a dog walk, as well as exhibits from rescue groups and pet-related vendors in an outdoor venue. And this was the first year that it would be combined with another shelter sponsored event. The support from the community in terms of volunteers, donations (both in-kind and cash) was more than we ever anticipated.
Remnants of the Friends Fur-Ever Festival after a 60mph wind and rainstorm ripped through it.
After months of planning and effort, the day arrived. Unfortunately, so did a severe weather front. A thunderstorm with winds reported to be up to 60 miles per hour ripped through the event, sending exhibits flying. Since we were next to the county’s Office of Emergency Management, we received word that there was a tornado sighting west of where we were and prediction of severe thunderstorms.
The first concern was the safety of everyone at the event. Volunteers, exhibitors, attendees–many with animals–were instructed to drive home before the time the severe weather was predicted to hit. If that was not possible, folks were directed to the storm shelter on the grounds until able to be outside safely.
After the worst of the storm threat passed, it rained… a lot! Volunteers and association members in their event T-shirts got completely drenched. We had a good chuckle about our impromptu wet T-shirt contest!
Of course everyone in attendance was very disappointed. The foundation coordinator and several others were practically in tears. As well, money and effort were essentially wasted. The good news was that, except for some twisted tents and damaged materials, people and animals were safe.
What was interesting for me was that the week prior, I had participated in the Cosley Zoo Run for the Animals. That day, too, was marked by high humidity and a storm threat that is typical of summer in Chicago. In fact, just as the 10K portion of the run completed, a torrential rainstorm began which flooded intersections and decreased visibility. Again, more wet T-shirts.
Could any of this been avoided by a “Plan B?” That’s a tough call. The only real alternative is an indoor event or one under a sheltered area. But for running races, parades, and golf outings, that’s often not an option due to scheduling conflicts and the cost and work involved in mobilizing event staff, volunteers, and participants on multiple dates.
So here are some “What To Do” thoughts from our experience for handling the inevitable with outdoor events:
- Do Decide Whether to “Weather the Weather” – If you decide to host the event rain or shine, do place that in your literature. People will probably not expect a rain date. It might also be wise to include a statement to the effect that the event will only be cancelled if severe weather or other conditions threaten the safety of participants.
- Do Have an Emergency Communication Channel for Event Updates - The media you choose to communicate whether an event is on or off will greatly depend on the event and the type of participants. For example, social media channels such as Twitter (through the use of a special event hashtag) or Facebook might be ideal to alert participants of event changes. However, at the animal event discussed, very few of the staff, volunteers, and participants are regularly active in these networks. In those cases, a message on a special event telephone hotline, prominent website postings, and signs at the event entrances would be the only possibilities. Even if you are using social media channels, these would be good to use in addition.
- Do Advise Sponsors and Exhibitors How You Will Handle an Event Cancellation – Granted, this was a charity event and businesses were participating for more than just marketing value. However, it is an investment. Knowing how you plan to make it right should the inevitable happen will go a long way to maintain a positive relationship should the weather not cooperate.
Do you have any best practices for outdoor events that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them by entering your comments below.
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