Headshot of Sean Ferguson.
Emergency Preparedness Consultant

Have you ever wondered what you would do if a storm flooded your building’s basement or if a prop caught fire during a performance? If you have, chances are you’re not alone, not even in your own organization.  My name is Sean Ferguson, Emergency Preparedness Consultant for Performing Arts Readiness in New England, and in the free emergency preparedness consultations I’ve conducted, I’ve always been impressed by the number of staff I meet who have already started thinking about preparing for disasters.

Coordinating and leveraging the valuable knowledge and experience of staff members is an important part of making your organization resilient in a crisis, whether that crisis is a natural disaster or a human-made threat. In this post, I’ll share tips for building a team within your organization, reaching out to your community, and putting your team’s expertise to use in ways that will make you more prepared when the unexpected occurs.

Assembling Your Team

Disasters can impact every area of your arts organization – from your performance space to your art gallery and your website - so it’s important to make sure your team comes from every area of your organization. 

  • Facilities personnel can guide discussions about breaker boxes, water shut off valves and known maintenance issues that could increase the likelihood of a leak, flood, or fire;
  • IT professionals or technology coordinators can share with staff how to report and prevent cyber threats;
  • Instructors can identify ways to make sure class attendees are safe in situations ranging from an evacuation or an injury or illness;
  • Marketing staff can identify the fastest channels through which to alert attendees about performances and programming during and after an emergency;
  • Executive directors can add legitimacy to your planning efforts and provide the authority needed to release emergency funds and file insurance claims when responding to and recovering from a crisis; and
  • Front of house staff can speak to security during performances, back-up methods of issuing tickets, and planning and assisting with evacuations during performances

The list goes on and can include anyone interested in the safety of your building, staff, and patrons as well as those who know the history of disasters in your building.

By a snowbank, two people put out a fire with extinguishers.
Live fire extinguisher training, photo by Becky Geller

Looking Outside Your Organization

A critical step for your team will be to reach out to allies in your community. For example, call the fire department for a building walkthrough and training in the use of a fire extinguisher, have discussions with your police department about security against dangerous individuals, and check in with your town’s emergency management department who may share resources and alerts when major disasters or inclement weather occur. Other arts organizations can provide valuable assistance and possibly serve as a backup venue if your building becomes unavailable

Making A Plan Together

With your team assembled and with assistance from first responders, your team will be ready to make a plan. For most organizations, this means having team members record and collate the knowledge they each specialize in, such as the ways to shut off the water, alert your attendees of a closure, leave your building safely, and recover lost data. Writing down this information into a single plan before a disaster will save you time when your team needs to respond quickly to a crisis.

Headshot of Sean Ferguson.
Photo by Tim Gurczak

Want Help Building Your Team or Writing Your Plan?

As the Emergency Preparedness Consultant for Performing Arts Readiness in New England until July 2019, I offer free consultations and workshops designed to help facilitate preparedness discussions and build disaster plans with you and your team. 

If you have a question or would like me to visit your organization, give me a call (978-470-1010) or send me an email. I’m always happy to talk.

Performing Arts Readiness

Performing Arts Readiness is a project funded through a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to offer low- and no-cost assistance to performing arts organizations preparing for emergencies.  See their website for free webinars, online tools, grants, and further resources.