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Emergency Preparedness, Part 1: Emergency Preparedness to Performing Arts Organizations

In October 2019, LYRASIS presented a webinar* introducing Emergency Preparedness to Performing Arts Organizations. California Community Theatre presents excerpts and takeaways in this feature article, the first of a series dedicated to emergency, safety and risk preparation.

LYRASIS creates and sustains technologies, services and programs that are uniquely designed to help libraries, archives, museums and research organizations access and share their vital collections, data and knowledge.

Introduction to Emergency Preparedness for Performing Arts Organizations: Localized emergencies, regional disasters, and catastrophic events can have a devastating impact on performing arts organizations where even a brief loss of business can threaten sustainability.

*This LYRASIS webinar will repeat in April 2020, and the the price is free for all attendees. Sign up at the Lyrasis website.

What Are the Types of Emergencies that Could Impact Your Community Theatre:

Natural Disasters: Earthquakes, wildfires, even normal rain leaks/floods; or, as 2020 has proven, a pandemic

Manmade Disasters: Mass shootings, cybersecurity



Meet with your local fire/Emergency management personnel, provide your emergency plan, request they educate your org on local or facility vulnerability


What Are The Consequence of Disasters to Theatres?

  • Loss of assets, including costumes, sets, props

  • Loss of money

  • Loss of trust of constituents

  • Loss of historical documents and institutional materials

  • Loss of donor, patron and employee information

  • Impact current season and future programming if cancellations are necessary (disruption of business)

In other words, the stakes are high



Network with other org's like yours and share plans for disaster recovery. Collaborate in networking with State and Federal resources (check for local regional offices) for more global educaiton and awareness


Preparation is Key, Readiness is Vital, and Plans Are a Must

  • Do you have a disaster plan?

  • What has kept you from creating a diaster plan? Is it time?

  • Most organizations state time and inexperience prevents them from implemeting a plan at their theatre

How Can You Provide Training for Your Theatre to Be Prepared?

  • What Are Your Local Resources (hospitals, law enforcement, government, larger organizations)? Connect with them and find out if they are providing training or guidance and ask to participate or have someone meet with you. A loss to your organization impacts your community.

Your Disaster Plan should have:

Evacuation plan

Communication plan

Emergency procedures

Facility plans

Resource list

Insurance information

Response procedures


Emergency Preparedness

Phases: Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, Recovery

Types: Natural (Earthquakes, tsunamis); Technological (transportation incidents, hazardous materials); Civil (terrorism, vandalism)

Preparation helps mitigate damage to the organization's assets and consitutents. It helps ensure quick recovery to normal operations. It reduces insurance and liability costs. It ensure compliance with law or practices. It rebuilds trust.

How to Be Prepared

Facilities plan

Resource list (local agencies and vendors)

Learn your insurance policy



Create an inventory list of supplies (in-house and needed); locations of keys and doors; and a floor plan with fire extinguisher location


Business Continuity Planning (for how to recover and resume operations):

What is the organizational impact of the disaster?

What are vital operational functions to recover first (make priorites for the process to recover)?

What resources are needed to recover each function on the priority list?

Types of Incidents: How to identify an incident, and the levels of response and impact associated with each.

Minor: Most common. Ie: pest problem, leak, moldy items. Small impact on specific portions of operations. Might need outside resources for assistance in recovery. You should still have a procedure in place to deal with a minor incident. You should document this incident (videos, photos, written). Who in your organization has authority to make decisions about responding? Does this incident need to be reported to insurance?

Major: Likely impacts the entire facility, disrupts operations. Examples: fire, explosion, prolonged power outage. Outside resources will be necessary. Do you have a list of volunteers you can count on and who are trained to assist/respond in the event of a major incident? What is your protocol for operating during a major incident. Ensure you have been given authority to return to the buidling by authority. Do you have a meeting place and protocol for an evaucation, and do your staff/volunteers/house manager know this protocol? Do you have supplies and a kit for a disaster like this? You should document this incident (videos, photos, written). Who in your organization has authority to make decisions about responding? Report this to insurance.

Thinking Outside the Box:

Can you collaborate with other local organizations to purchase disaster supplies to save costs?

Catastrophic Disaster: Communication disruption and obstacles is a big challenge during a Catastrophic Disaster. Safety issues should be tended to first. Staff should deal with personal situations first, and then assist with organization once personal issues secured. Contact insurance and vendor reps to update information periodically. Many people try to take advantage of Catastrophic Disasters; make sure you establish security procedures to elminate theft. Catastrophic Disaster may mean prolognged period of time before facility can be reentered.


Who is in Charge of Handling Incidents?


One person

Collaboration with other agencies

No matter who, make sure someone is pre-assigned the responsibility(ies) to deal with (or take first steps toward dealing with) an incident

Assessing Vulnerability

Look at past disasters

Regular maintenance - maintain schedules and know your facility issues

Inventory of irreplaceable items

Can you reexamine your priorities in your facilities/items each year so you know what items to focus on recovering in a disaster?

Health and human safety is first: how do you handle this in your theatre?

Taking Action

You need a business continuity plan: what needs to happen in order for your organization to continue to operate and meet your patrons and staff basic needs

Plan scenarios ranging from small crisis to larger disasters impacting outlying areas

Plan scenarios for disasters for which you have pre-warning (ie: rain, etc)

Plan who will you call (vendors) for disaster recovery, and do you need a contract with them, AND who in your theatre has authority to bring them in?

Financial Resources

What money is available for relief, what is it to be used for, and who can authorize payments?

What processes are needed for payroll, access to bank accounts, or to pay bills in the event of an emergency?

What parts of processess need to be simplified in an emergency?


Ask to speak with your insurance agent about what your policy covers, what impact your measures are taking on your insurance costs; see if your agent would make a field visit to see your space and your risks. Ask what documentation and reporting or process is needed for a claim in the event of a disaster (and what kind of disasters)

You can apply for funds at the national level for reimbursement for what insurance won't cover (you need to go through insurance first); you must use money for stabilization and emergency protective measures, and you must be part of a delcared disaster area (the President must declare it)


What kits or items do you have for an emergency for your staff and volunteers, such as face masks, cleaning products, gloves? Do those individuals know where they are located and when to deploy them?


Developing Resource Lists

Make a communications plan (and update it regularly), including alternative methods.

Make a list of first method of contact such as phone calls, and what to do in the event phones are down, and so on.

Local and State emergency management agencies.

Recovering team members (see above, Who is in Charge...)

Vendors or consultants.



Have and maintain in-house suppleis and disaster kits (food, water, but also door codes and key copies)


Preparing your Disaster Plan

Tackle it in sections

Set goals and a realistic workplan

Create a risk assessment for your theatre and rate probability and risk ratings (ie: what types of emergencies are probable and what are the risks, in impact order?)

Get help from colleagues, resources, and experts


Get input from various stakeholders

Your plan should include processes that impact your theatre, such as your refund policy in the event prodcutiosn or programs are cancelled, or even a work-from-home plan if a disaster allows employees to work remotely

Make sure you have photos in hte plan of your theatre equipment and facilities as they 'should be,' ie: in a non-emergency impact/disaster status.

Share it with key stakeholders



Document everything during any level of an emergency.



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