Public Safety Mega-Event Planning aka Super Mardi Gras Bowl

Super Bowl XLVII, February 3 2013, New Orleans.   The Mardi Gras Carnival, January 19-February 12 2013, New Orleans.

One word – wow!

The Super Bowl is being held at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA.  Fan capacity – 72000+.  Add in the teams and their entourages, Beyonce and her entourage, event staff, facility staff, security staff, media, vendors, etc… let’s just settle on about 120,000 inside and out of the Superdome.

Carnival – a weeks long celebration leading up to Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras).  The most spectacular of these celebrations is in New Orleans, LA.  Crowds of up to one million can be expected each year.

Either one of these mega-events is a public safety planning nightmare.  So why not do them both?

There can be no doubt that the city of New Orleans has healed from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  No one takes on something like this without being whole.  Yes, there is some scarring and some unfinished business with Katrina, but the people of the Gulf Coast must look ahead, not back.

So how does a community plan for two events like this?  First of all, not every community would be able to pull this off as easily as New Orleans will.  The biggest benefit they have in all this is that these two events occur every year.  The people who plan these things are true experts.  While the Super Bowl isn’t held there every year, the city does have experience with it.  The city of the Saints has hosted the game nine times previous, the most recent in 2002 – which you might recall was a very emotional (and highly secure) game as the first after 9/11.  The NFL itself lends a great deal of support with a small army to ensure their show case event is flawless – right down to the wardrobe malfunctions.  Additionally, as a high-profile event, Federal agencies swarm the venue months ahead of time to be part of the public safety planning effort.

The City of New Orleans knows how to plan for Carnival and Mardi Gras.  It’s in their blood and they do it well every year.  We plan Super Bowls annually in places all around the nation and do it well every year.  Combining the two is really just a matter of more people and more resources.  They are doing this wisely, though – by suspending Carnival events for a few days around the Super Bowl.  This was a very wise move, helping to ensure that resources can be focused on one event at a time.  So, in essence, both events aren’t truly being held at the same time.

These things do take a vast amount of coordination and planning.  Plans must address all possible threats and hazards and the contingency plans to respond to them.  An operational organization (the Incident Command System) must be in place to manage public safety resources and responses for the event.  This type of planning begins months ahead of time.  I coordinated the emergency planning efforts for Woodstock 99 here in Central New York.  Just like Mardi Gras or the Super Bowl, it involved a great deal of coordinated effort between local, county, State, and federal agencies as well as private sector entities and not for profits.  Keep in mind that we weren’t planning the event, either – just the public safety portion of it – i.e. what could go wrong and how would we respond to it?  There was no official attendance count… ticket sales were close to a quarter million but actual attendance was estimated near 400,000.  Through the preparedness effort you need to ensure operational coordination and unity of effort and synchronized plans.  Train people to the plan to ensure that they are familiar with its content and their roles.  Lastly, exercise exercise exercise.  If you don’t bring people together to discuss their actions and the plans you are doing yourself a massive disservice.  Exercises familiarize people with the plans in the best possible way and also identify gaps in those plans (and there will be gaps).  It’s better to identify them now and have a chance to fix them rather than finding them during the event itself.

Want to know more about public safety planning for an event?  Take the Special Events Contingency Planning Independent Study course – it’s free!

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