HAP Blog

How Emergency Managers Should Prepare for Mass Gatherings this Summer

August 02, 2021

This summer, emergency managers across the country have noted the return of outdoor gatherings. Car shows, festivals, concerts, sporting events, and other activities are starting back up. Some are new events as folks look for a reason to get out of the house, while others are longstanding annual traditions that took a hiatus last year but now are coming back.

More than ever—as we carefully monitor the spread of the Delta variant—we know that we need to prepare for these events, and that our emergency managers will play an important role to make sure our communities are ready.

The HAP Emergency Management team has had the chance to work with a number of event planners, hospital and health system emergency managers, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) special event staff who have been involved with some of Pennsylvania’s bigger mass gathering events so far this year. Across the board, they have shared that event attendance this summer has exceeded recent record counts. Events that still are in the planning phases are using projected attendance numbers that are higher than previous years. We can speculate on the reasons why, but it’s pretty clear something is going on here—people are heading back out and getting together, and they are doing so in greater numbers than we’ve seen in some time.

Whether accommodating additional attendance at a regularly scheduled event or responding to new events that are popping up, it’s important for hospital emergency managers to be tuned in to mass gathering events in their community and plan accordingly. Where people gather in greater numbers, you can naturally expect to see a corresponding increase in routine injuries and illnesses. When events are held in the open air and direct sunlight, summer heat and humidity can exacerbate attendees’ existing medical conditions and lead to more heat-related illnesses. Some larger events can double or triple (or more) the population of a certain geographical area, and the medical infrastructure must be able to expand as needed to absorb the associated demand for medical services. Add the risk of a catastrophic event, either natural or manmade, that a large gathering presents, and the need for health care emergency management becomes even clearer.  

We are fortunate that organizers for the state’s larger annual events already have health care systems embedded in the planning and response phases. In our conversations, they’ve shared how they are effectively working with the higher attendance counts by ramping up their existing capability and monitoring closely. But, what about some of the first-time events? Are medical infrastructure concerns being addressed in the planning stages? Are any of these events popping up in your hospital’s backyard?

While some may say it’s not polite to invite yourself to a party, I’d challenge you to put etiquette aside in this case! If you’re not involved in the early-stage planning, your hospital may be caught off guard when a sudden crisis emerges.

Here are some tips to be proactive and prepare for mass-gathering planning in your community:

  • Maintain situational awareness:  Monitor your information streams and communication channels to learn about events that are being planned in your community
    • Talk with municipal officials or local and county emergency management staff to learn if permits have been issued for large events
    • Contact your local EMS agency to find out if a Special Event EMS Plan has been submitted for an event (A Pennsylvania Department of Health EMS Special Event Plan is required for events with an expected attendance of 5,000 or more)
    • At a minimum (but perhaps a bit late for planning purposes), watch for advertisements or promotional materials announcing large events and connect with the event organizers about medical support concerns
  • Be involved in the planning:  Ask to be involved in the planning phase of the event to share with the event planners the capabilities of your hospital, as well as any concerns you may have. Ensure that the available medical resources are being properly considered in the planning
  • Participate in the response:  Based on the planning information you receive and the scope of impact expected, ensure your hospital is ready to respond. This may require precautionary and preparatory actions such as up-staffing in the emergency department, engagement of additional administrators on call for the weekend, or perhaps activation of your hospital Emergency Operations Plan.
  • Work cooperatively with on-site medical teams and EMS:  While you may not be directly responsible for providing medical support at the event, it will be essential on-site teams and the hospital coordinate patient care. This can help prevent surprise surges and overloading of the emergency department when patients start rolling in

Mass gathering events are back and need to be “on the radar” of hospital emergency managers. By engaging event organizers during the planning phase, and through coordinating with the medical teams on site, hospitals and health systems can be better positioned to manage the expected and unexpected impacts that mass gathering events can have on the health care infrastructure.

For more information or for additional guidance on how your facility can better prepare for and respond to mass gathering events in your community, contact me.

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