Understanding the risks and perceptions of mass gatherings

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Over the past eight months I had the privilege, along with two of my post-graduate students (Jane Chevrier and Shawn Shapiro), the two colleagues listed to your right and two of Ginette Soulieres’ students (Rachel Thombs and Greg Watkinson), of working on a research project to determine:

a) How the public perceives the risks of mass gatherings in Toronto
b) How those that work in the professions that produce the mass gatherings perceive the risks.

Understanding the risks and perceptions of mass gatherings

The outcomes were not always as expected. The survey was sent to a variety of groups from both the public and professional disciplines. From the conference/event/festival disciplines, the survey went to venues such as the convention centres and those working in the field from sales managers to event producers. I’d like to publicly thank all those that took the time to respond to the lengthy survey.

Some of the key findings I thought might interest those in the meetings and events industry are:

  • 23% were directly involved in the events profession.
  • 75% of respondents aged 20-29 have some knowledge of mass gatherings and that knowledge is influenced by the media.
  • 50% of individuals who have direct contact to the mass gatherings industry (i.e. conferences/festivals/events/sports events) believe that Toronto has more than 100 such events annually. The survey indicated the opposite was true for those between 20 and 30 years old, who believed Toronto has less than 100 events per year. (According to Festivals & Events Ontario, in 2011, Toronto hosted 1,980 such events.)
  • For those with or without knowledge of the industry, event planning and response (planning, preparedness and managing) scored the highest in what required the greatest attention (82%-with knowledge, 74%-without knowledge).
  • 76% of respondents felt that mass gatherings present the most complex management challenges.
  • 70% of respondents were affected by lack of security and safety (real or perceived).  These respondents felt affected both personally and professionally. This was followed closely by lack of access to transportation and traffic density.
  • 76% of the respondents believe that a mass gathering raises the profile of the city as a tourist destination. 83% feel that hosting mass gatherings would secure bids to host mega events in the future.
  • 61% believe that the presence of alcohol negatively affects event safety.

Here’s what I think:  Most cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and places in between would have a hard time raising some of the dollars these events bring into the city. Think about the Microsoft conference held in Toronto this past summer; think about TIFF that just occurred in Toronto; think about the jazz events annually in Montreal and the Olympics in Vancouver-Whistler.

Our job as planners is to work with the police, etc. to ensure the safety of everyone and to do our best to not displace the everyday citizen of the city. Our job is to thoroughly work out a risk management plan – no matter how small or large our event is. What do you think? Comment below and let us know!

For a full copy of the report, contact me at [email protected].

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