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Plan for the Risks With Special Events

​Many special events have gone on hiatus as a result of the pandemic.

Event planners delayed or canceled events even before Gov. McMaster's Executive Order 2020-50 in August, which spelled out occupancy limitations for public gatherings. Several guidance documents have come about to help planners determine the questions to ask when moving ahead with an event, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Readiness and Planning Tool, found at www.cdc.gov.

The governor's accelerateSC pandemic task force, meanwhile, created some documents to help with this decision making. These guides, found at www.accelerate.sc.gov, include Guidelines for Re-opening Festivals & Special Events and Guidelines for Re-opening Mass Gatherings or Large Community Events.

Planning and preparation for future special events is still happening, and so cities and towns will still need to consider many risks beyond the pandemic for the events they host. For events like festivals, concerts, sports and fireworks displays, risk coordinators and other key municipal staff should form a special events committee and start special events planning far in advance. Stakeholders such as police, fire and public works should meet to determine the types of special events that occur within the city, identify risks, develop effective controls, and assess the potential impact on the city, residents and local businesses. City officials should also consider designating one staff member to serve as a coordinator of all special event activities and oversee the special events committee.

When planning events, cities need to answer several questions to determine how best to protect both residents and city assets. First, what could go wrong at the event? What preventive measures can be taken against these negative outcomes? If something does go wrong, how will the city or town pay for it?

"Drafting a special events policy and having it reviewed by the city attorney is a key way to manage the risk that a special event can create," Heather Ricard, director of the Municipal Association of SC's Risk Management Services, said. "Another good practice is for cities to require applications for third parties wanting to use city property for an event, so that the city can properly manage any liability aspects of the event."

Most liability insurance policies have exclusions that can affect special events, and municipal officials should be familiar with the exclusions stipulated in their policies.

Activities commonly excluded by liability coverage

  • Communicable diseases, including the coronavirus
  • Bungee jumping and similar amusement devices
  • Fireworks displays
  • Skateboarding
  • Parachuting and hang gliding
  • Airplane, helicopter or ballooning rides and shows
  • Archery
  • Mechanical amusement devices
  • Zoos
  • Traveling carnivals and circuses
  • Rodeos
  • Trampolines and rebounding equipment, commonly known as bounce houses
  • Concerts organized and promoted by third parties

Hiring a contract event coordinator or contractor to host a special event may remove the burden of planning the event from city staff. However, the municipality should vet and screen the contractor to ensure the contractor has the experience and expertise to oversee the event. The city or town should obtain a copy of the contractor's insurance policy prior to the event and call to verify coverage with the issuing agent the day prior to the event. Be on the lookout for activities that aren't covered by the city's insurance policy and ensure that the contractor's policy covers activities excluded by the city's insurance. If not, the city could be held liable in the event of a claim. Be careful not to exercise too much control over the event and the contractor, this could result in the event no longer being managed independently.