A state of emergency in the event of a major incident: Is your crisis management really ready?

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Traffic chaos, noise, supply chain bottlenecks, vandalism, overloaded mobile phone networks – major events pose immense challenges not only for the organisers, but also for local businesses, who need to put their crisis management on “major event alert”. Even if the actual venue is far away, major sporting or cultural events cast a long shadow and can affect businesses in unexpected ways. Does your company have a plan in place? Find out what to look out for and test your event resilience in our quiz.

EURO Cup’24, Olympics, festivals and public celebrations – the start of the 2024 event season

In just a few weeks, 10 German cities will undergo the Major Event Resilience Test. Organisers are expecting 2.7 million fans in the stadiums alone for EURO Cup’24. Many more – up to 12 million people – will be following the tournament on the various fan miles in the city centres – until well into the night due to the late kick-off times. Security has been stepped up, with local and foreign police, private security firms and a special Bundeswehr ATC centre making sure that teams and visitors alike enjoy the tournament with peace of mind. Whether it’s the European football championships, the Olympic Games in Paris, concerts with megastars such as Taylor Swift or the world’s largest beer festival in Munich, all major events have one thing in common: the host cities and their businesses must be prepared for a state of emergency. While many precautions such as preparation for difficult traffic situations, terrorist attacks or vandalism are obvious, major international events also have many additional challenges that are not always on the checklist.

Moving crowds – managing major events

For major events, traffic chaos is the most obvious thing to prepare for. When, as is the case with EURO Cup’24 or the Olympic Games in Paris, the events are not concentrated in a single location, but take place in 10 different German cities or at 11 venues in and around Paris, local and long-distance transport becomes a challenge. Jam-packed motorways, closed metro and suburban train stations, overcrowded public transport and crowds of people on the streets put employees and field staff to the test. The traffic disruption doesn’t just affect the immediate area around the event venues. It also affects the city centres and tourist attractions, as many of those travelling to the event take the opportunity to visit the city.

Will employees be able to access the premises through the usual entrances – and will they be able to leave quickly in the event of an evacuation? Do you need to allow extra time for service personnel to travel to the site and adjust shift schedules? Can business travel take place as planned? If these questions are not answered in time, business processes can be severely disrupted. “Crisis managers should be aware of the ‘hotspots’ of a major event – venues, public gathering places such as fan miles or popular pubs, and routes to and from events – and work out in detail how they can affect the day-to-day business at their own sites,” says Markus Epner, Head of Academy at F24. Even something as simple as noise from the event can have an impact on work routines.

Vandalism and activism – when emotions get the better of you  

Emotions are what make big events so fascinating for the audience. In crisis management, however, they are considered a risk factor.  

In large crowds, anger, frustration and aggression can quickly develop alongside jubilation, exuberance and joy. Small scuffles can quickly escalate into mass brawls. Drunken, aggressive fans and groups of hooligans can take out their anger on anything they encounter. Unfortunately, vandalism is a ‘classic’ at major events. It’s not just the operators of public infrastructure like trains or event organisers who can relate to this. Companies can also be quickly affected- and not just when they are close to or en route to a show. Is your company an official supporter of one of the teams or part of the marketing activities? If so, it could be a target for rival Ultra supporters, or even activist groups.   

There is a heightened risk that activist groups will seek to capitalise on the increased attention, particularly in a politically heated atmosphere or at controversial events. These can be relatively harmless incidents, like the Greenpeace activist who parachuted into Munich’s Allianz Arena at the start of EURO Cup’24. But such actions don’t always go off without a hitch. Radical organisations are often no longer just interested in drawing attention to themselves, they want to cause targeted damage. Be it right-wing terrorist attacks like the Munich Oktoberfest bombing in 1980, Islamist attacks like the one in Nice in 2016 when a car drove into a celebrating crowd, or left-wing terrorist attacks targeting companies like the arson attacks on Tesla and Amazon vehicles in Berlin this year. Political and radical activist groups are becoming increasingly militant. 

Special challenge of multiple crises: terrorist attack and mass panic

Stricter security conditions apply to EURO Cup’24 due to the current geopolitical situation and Ukraine’s participation in the tournament. This is likely to be the case for all major events in the coming months. Companies are advised to adapt and update their contingency plans to the new situation if they do not already do so on a routine basis. Beyond the basic tasks of a terrorist alert, such as alerting employees or activating business continuity plans, major events present another challenge: the dual crisis of terrorist attack and mass panic. A terrorist attack in a large crowd usually leads to mass panic. Hospitals and the police are ususally prepared for a wide range of terrorist scenarios and mass alerts. But has your company also considered the possibility that panicked people might suddenly seek shelter on the premises of your company? Or are you able to quickly get in touch with employees who are in the danger zone and get them to safety? We’ve seen it time and time again: “Crisis plans and checklists are well thought out, but they only work under “optimal” conditions. The best evacuation plan will be rendered obsolete if a mass panic breaks out in the immediate vicinity and crowds of people move towards the premises of your company,” says Markus. ‘Multiple crises are always challenging, but a terrorist attack combined with mass panic – possibly in a confined space – is a nightmare.’ 

Cyberattacks – back-door terrorism  

Nothing at an event works without digital systems – tickets, access control, event technology or the travel infrastructure for crews and artists. In today’s threat landscape, terror increasingly comes in the form of cyberterror. And thanks to artificial intelligence, attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated – damaging data or IT infrastructure. 

Critical infrastructure such as energy, water and public transport is now digitally networked and vulnerable to cyber attack. Especially if the attackers are state-sponsored hackers with extensive resources. For example, attacks on GPS systems, known as GPS jamming, are on the rise. If the ‘control system’ of modern transport is manipulated, it could result in planes crashing, ships colliding, or vehicles being remotely controlled to plough into crowds of people. Does your company operate a fleet of electric vehicles? Security researchers repeatedly point out that not only electric cars, but also charging infrastructures offer many hacker gateways. However, a GPS attack on the mobile phone network could do the most damage at a major event. Imagine if, during an event, the vast majority of screens suddenly went black – there would be no way of reaching and coordinating with security forces and crisis response teams by mobile phone, and no way to warn employees. The consequences of having the mobile network attacked are endless. The mobile network is an Achilles’ heel during major events. Hence, an alternative communications infrastructure is a must for businesses to coordinate crisis teams and alert employees. 

Airspace, suppliers, communications – the underestimated potential for a crisis 

Big events add more layers to the risk portfolio that organisations need to stay prepared for. But these mega-events can bring challenges that’s probbaly not on your checklist.  

1) Danger from the air: Sports and cultural events nowadays get filmed by various devices. We are used to seeing film drones capturing the action for our followers. But what if the drone pilots have terrorist intentions? Security experts warn of an increasing risk of terrorist attacks using drones. For example, in the middle of a crowd – or on company premises – a drone could be used to detonate a small explosive device. The threat scenarios are varied. Drones generally have to be reported and registered. But who can check whether someone is using an unauthorised drone in a stadium with hundreds of thousands of spectators? Companies need to ask themselves: “What risks do drones pose to my business and my employees? The possible answers are as varied as business models, ranging from endangering employees to damaging property. In any case, it is important to keep an eye on the sky when it comes to securing company premises,” recommends Markus.  

2) Supply security: Health, security, emergency, catering, transport, accommodation, cleaning, technology – a major event is always a major operation for service personnel. Events such as EURO Cup’24 or the Olympic Games need an army of volunteers. How does it look for you? Will your suppliers be available as usual before, during and after the event? Or will your suppliers and partners have to fulfil a large number of orders for the event? Whether it is security services, chauffeur services or simply catering, supplies and services that are not available when they are needed can cause a range of problems, large and small, as the recent pandemic has shown.   

The lowest level of the human needs pyramid is often forgotten: safety of life. Even official service providers such as the fire brigade, ambulance service, technical assistance organisations or the police may not be available as usual during a major event. In the event of an emergency, they may not be able to get to the scene in time. Prior to a major event, companies should also consider how well they are equipped to help themselves in the event of a fire, accident or water-related emergency.  

The special case of IT service providers: The availability of IT service providers is particularly critical given the current threat situation in cyberspace. After all, in the event of a cyber attack, the most important thing is to be able to react quickly. When trusted and proven service providers are unavailable, valuable time is lost in finding a replacement. This can have serious consequences for business and reputation. Develop a pool of suppliers – perhaps including freelance IT specialists – from which you can draw in an emergency if you don’t have in-house IT resources. 

3) International crisis communication and reputation management:  

It is not the crisis itself that damages the company and its reputation, but the unprofessional handling of it. Fast, comprehensive and transparent crisis communication is not just crucial to save lives and minimise the impact of an incident – but it is also the only way to protect a company’s reputation and long-term success. What happens when media environments are especially difficult? Major events bring not just crowds, but a flood of information. Today, traditional media outlets are in competition for attention with social media influencers and local audiences. There is a veritable flood of live public broadcasts, streams, videos, photos and messages flashing across the screens. Can your crisis communications get the important information out in this environment?  Is your team ready to work with the international media? Professional crisis communication requires clearly defined communication channels and coordination processes. And you need them for a major international event: 

  • Quick access to all local media – including international media
  • Ideally, access to the most important social media influencers for the major events (sports, music,
    culture, etc.) via their preferred platforms.
  • Preparation of statements for different crisis scenarios.  
  • Digitized and automated communication processes for professional mass communication.  
  • And last but not least: a good relationship with the local authorities! 

Going for resilience rather than perfection  

No one can prepare meticulously for every eventuality. Especially not for scenarios that involve large numbers of people. There will always be surprises. That is why it is not about coming up with the perfect response to every possible crisis scenario. Rather, it is about building resilient structures to enable flexibility and increase the scope to act. A larger pool of suppliers, flexible working conditions, high standards of IT security and digitised crisis communication provide a solid basis for being able to respond to a wide range of eventualities.   

The core task begins with identifying danger, as Markus Epner, Head of Academy at F24, never tires of pointing out: “Companies often overlook the fact that they must first and foremost master one thing: the art of recognising dangers. Without cross-silo early warning, even the fastest and best response will be ineffective.”

It’s time to test your organisation’s event resilience! Are you aware of all the potential hazards? Take our quiz to test how prepared you are for the upcoming event season.    

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Contributed by F24 Experts

F24 is Europe’s leading Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider for resilience. More than 5,500 customers worldwide rely on F24’s digital solutions, which support companies and organisations through all areas of resilience. Solutions cover business messaging and service notification, emergency and mass notification, incident and crisis management, as well as governance, risk and compliance.

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