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Emergency Preparedness, Part 5: Risk Assessment for Performing Arts Organizations

In 2019, LYRASIS presented a webinar* on Community Recovery Through Arts and Culture. California Community Theatre presents excerpts and takeaways in this feature article, the third in 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.


Risk Assessment for Performing Arts Organizations

Disasters and Emergency Management


Not everyone in the performing arts has a disaster management background or experience, but knowing about it helps with collaboration with other agencies who 'speak the language.'

Hurricane Katrina prompted a new outlook on emergency management and disaster preparedness for cultural heritage sector. Over years, more disasters have been identified and performing arts have various impact levels. Of course, the events of 2020 have been a hallmark example of the impact of disasters on the performing arts and theatre sector.

How and where do you find resources for disasters?

FEMA, Dept of Homeland Security, some training opportunities are available for everyone.

In-house emergencies can be caused by deferred maintenance i.e.: construction or equipment accident; or weather issues, which can cause things like mold, leaks, etc.

Human disasters: patron gets sick; disease outbreak in community, as simple examples

Many disasters are sudden. Being prepared is key: at some point, something is likely to happen. That is where risk assessment comes in.

How can your organization stay resilient?

Begin with supporting a culture of preparation in your organization.

QUICK TIP: Risk mitigation should focus on likelihood and whether or not a potential disaster can be mitigated.

Risk Assessment

Types of Disasters:

Natural Disaster Examples: Rain and Wind Storms, Earthquakes, Floods, Biological agents (i.e.: insect or vermin infestation), (just some examples).

Manmade Disaster Examples: Building Deficiencies, Acts of War or Terrorism, Vandalism, Arson, Bomb Threats, (just some examples).

Technological Disaster Examples: Data Breach, Loss of Operating Documents, Database Failure, Vendor Shut Downs, (just some examples). A Technological Disaster may be a result of a natural or manmade action/disaster such as hacking or power outage. But it should be treated as its own category for risk assessment as an outcome.

What is Risk Assessment: Identifying all possible hazards, determining your vulnerability and figuring out the impact of those risks.

Risks include natural and manmade (described/examples above) occurrences.

Assessment includes imagining various scenarios and thinking through what the probability and impact of those could be on your particular organization. The next step is to have a plan in place, should those possible scenarios come to reality. The level of risk and probability will inform what resources and money you may put into the mitigation of those risks.

What are the disasters most likely for your organization, community or region? Are you re-examining these on an ongoing basis? The ones that are biggest impact might not be the MOST LIKELY to occur. For example: sewer backing, power outage, burst pipes might be more likely than an earthquake.

Once your likely disasters are identified, what can you do?

o Schedule and perform maintenance checks

o Walkthroughs

o Make a schedule and checklist

o Take into consideration communicating this information to new staff, volunteers, Board Members or other personnel changes

Who is Involved in Risk Assessment?:

o Your volunteers/staff/Board should know they should tell someone (who?) of potential risks; they should know it's ok to inform someone

o Insurance agent may help assess

o Emergency Management Locals: may help assess

QUICK TIP: Security audit (find examples online for checklists) can aid in mitigating risks

Working in a Building You Aren't Familiar with (for nomadic theatres)

o Ask your contact for safety info (write it into your contract that you are requiring safety info)

o Practice evacuation when you show up

o Tour of facility when you arrive

o Check on safety policies for your assets and what implemented security measures are in place

o What are the fire/water hazards of the space you're using, especially if you are bringing your own equipment?

QUICK TIP: Keep emergency equipment (small kit) with you in case wherever you're going doesn't have one

Identifying Hazards

Mitigating Risks: Accomplished by reducing risks of hazards, OR reducing the impact that an incident might cause.

Example: an earthquake risk cannot be reduced, but we can reduce the kinds of damage the inevitable earthquake may cause.

Example: a burst pipe risk can possibly be reduced by maintenance and attention to facilities.

What are theatre-specific risks? I.e.: rigging, tools (need training and inspections);

Who is the safety manager for those theatre-specific risks?

Disaster Plan Head Start

Who is able to implement your plan?

QUICK TIP: Consider an equipment replacement fund for computer replacement, to ensure an old computer does not cause a disaster

Geographical Hazards

o Whether or not you are in a City or Rural area will impact what resources you have available

o Be aware of surrounding neighbors/buildings/events that are happening

o Know your utilities/hazardous materials proximity and maintenance

o Know who is responsible for the building and maintenance of your building if you have a landlord or property manager. Are they proactively taking care of maintenance?

QUICK TIP: Have your staff and volunteers trained in fire drills; evacuation routes; equipment (through demonstrations); and practice daily checks of appliances and other fire risks

Water Hazards

o Floods

o Pipe damage

Preparation in Mitigating Risks

o Policies and Procedures for evacuation, shelter-in-place, communication, pre-disaster checklists

o Coordination with local and state agencies

o Preventative maintenance

o Document maintenance

o Be aware of laws or regulations that may impact cancelled performances

o Consider a business plan for emergencies to mitigate both financial impact as well as reputation impact

o Staff training for any procedures in place for disasters or emergencies

QUICK TIP: Have a documented refund policy

High/Low Probability Versus High/Low Impact

Classify probability of risks (high and low) against the impact of the risks (high and low). This will vary within our State, so each individual organization should consider local geographic, building and other specific factors. Focus on the high-impact plus high-probability risks first. Identify these in a matrix.

Barriers to Preparedness

Typically barriers toward preparing for a disaster falls within attitude (apathy, avoidance, fatalism) or lack of information/resources.

What are your barriers?

Take a single first step today: create an internal phone/tree list for individuals to call in the event of an emergency.

QUICK TIP: Make sure your volunteers and ushers are trained for emergency response



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