Planning for incidents and emergencies

You must have plans in place to respond effectively to health and safety incidents and other emergencies that might occur at an event.

This emergency plan should to be in proportion to the level of risk presented by event activities and the potential extent and severity of the incident.

Consider the key risks

Using the resources available to you onsite, develop emergency procedures to be followed by staff and volunteers in a significant incident/emergency, eg sudden bad weather, a fire or structural failure.

Include contingencies to deal with incidents and situations as varied as an entertainment act cancelling at short notice, severe weather, or the unavailability of key staff in your team.

You will also need to consider your response to more serious emergencies, including major incidents that will require help from the emergency services and implementation of their regional emergency plans (which may not be specific to the event).


The National Counter-terrorism Security Office have produced specific advice to help mitigate the threat of a terrorist attack in crowded places.

The key message for the public is 'Run, Hide, Tell':

  • Run - to a place of safety. This is a far better option than to surrender or negotiate. If there's nowhere to go, then…
  • Hide - it's better to hide than to confront. Remember to turn your phone to silent and turn off vibrate. Barricade yourself in if you can. Then finally, and only when it is safe to do so ...
  • Tell - the police by calling 999

Sharing your plans

For all but the smallest events with low risks (or those in fixed venues with established procedures), draw up and discuss your plans with:

  • the police
  • fire and rescue service
  • ambulance service
  • emergency planning
  • for fixed premises like stadiums and arenas, the venue management

The detail and complexity of any discussions should be proportionate to the risks involved. You, as the organiser, and emergency services should be clear about who will do what if there is an emergency or major incident.

Develop an emergency plan

Most event emergency plans should address the same basic requirements, to:

  • get people away from immediate danger
  • summon and assist emergency services
  • handle casualties
  • deal with those who have been displaced but not injured (eg at a festival with camping)
  • liaise with the emergency services and other authorities and, where the situation is serious, hand over responsibility for the incident/emergency
  • protect property

Emergency procedures

Procedures for staff and volunteers to follow in an emergency should include:

  • raising the alarm and informing the public
  • onsite emergency response, ie use of fire extinguishers
  • summoning the emergency services and continuing to liaise with them
  • crowd management, including evacuation, where necessary
  • evacuation of people with disabilities
  • traffic management, including emergency vehicles
  • incident control
  • providing first aid and medical assistance

First aid, medical assistance and ambulances

As well as workers, HSE strongly recommends that you include the visiting public in your first-aid, medical and ambulance needs assessment. Make sure you will have enough medical assistance and ambulances onsite and liaise with your local NHS and ambulance service so they can balance your needs against their local capacity.

Except for small, low-risk events where ambulances may not be required, and at events where they are not onsite, plans should be drawn up in conjunction with the local NHS ambulance service to clarify how patients will be taken to hospital.

The Events Industry Forum's 'purple guide' includes example first-aid and medical assessments for an audience at an event.

Have clear emergency roles and responsibilities

You should appoint people to implement your procedures if there is an incident or emergency. Make sure that all relevant staff members, whatever their normal role, understand what they should do in an emergency, for example:

  • the location of exits
  • how to use emergency equipment
  • how to raise the alarm
  • who they should receive instructions from


Emergencies can develop very rapidly. Make sure you are equipped to move the audience to a total or relative place of safety without delay. The following actions will help.

Escape routes and exits

  • Plan escape routes and make sure they remain available and unobstructed
  • Make sure all doors and gates leading to final exits, as well as site exits themselves, are available for immediate use at all times. Check they:
    • are unlocked - if security is an issue they should be staffed not locked
    • are free from obstructions
    • open outwards in the direction of escape

Signs and lighting to help evacuations

  • Consider signs for people unfamiliar with escape routes
  • Light all escape routes sufficiently for people to use them safely in an emergency
  • Emergency lighting should comply with the requirements of British Standard BS 5266-1. Use an independent power source, eg a generator, in case the mains electricity supply fails
  • If using floodlighting, lighting towers etc as temporary lighting make sure it does not shine in people's faces along the escape route, making it more difficult for them. As an alternative, 'festoon lighting' along an escape route prevents glare

Places of safety

Plan how you will evacuate people to a place of relative safety from where they can make their way to a place of total safety

Vulnerable people

  • Plan to provide additional assistance to people with a disability, people with learning difficulties, those with limited mobility and children
  • Where children are separated from their parents, in play areas etc, make arrangements for their safe evacuation clear so parents don't try to reach them against the normal direction of escape

Communicating with the public

Plan for how you will communicate official event messages to the public in conjunction with the emergency services, eg via social media

For further guidance on escape routes and strategies see the Guide to safety at sports grounds and Fire safety risk assessment guides.

Show stop

Effective response to an emergency can sometimes mean a rapid and controlled halt to a performance to prevent further risk to the audience or to initiate an evacuation.

This sort of 'show stop' involves:

  • identifying the key people involved, particularly those who can:
    • initiate a show-stop procedure
    • communicate with the performer or participants
    • communicate with the audience
  • deciding how these key people will initiate a show-stop procedure
  • having pre-agreed wording for public announcements (consider your lines of communication, eg radios, PA systems)
  • briefing the management of performers or participants in advance about the show-stop procedure

After the incident

Once the risk has been reduced to a tolerable level, you can consider restarting the performance/event.

Only restart the performance after consultation with other key agencies on site, eg emergency services. Make sure staff are back in position and services are ready.

Transfer of authority for an emergency/major incident

If the emergency services declare an emergency/major incident onsite, all the event personnel and resources will work under the command of the police. However, the police may declare one part of the event as under their authority to respond to the emergency/major incident, but leave other parts of the event under your control as the event organiser.

Testing and validation

In many cases, validation of your emergency plan may take the form of a table-top exercise, where you and others work through a range of scenarios and establish the effectiveness of your responses.

Test the communication systems, eg radios and public announcement equipment, before the event.

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Updated 2023-12-11