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How Did You Handle a Weather-Related Event Disaster?

Be it hurricanes or heat waves, severe weather can sometimes be unavoidable on the day of an event. Here’s how planners dealt with extreme circumstances under pressure.

From left: Andrea Michaels, Allison Pieter, Jennifer Aljouny
From left: Andrea Michaels, Allison Pieter, Jennifer Aljouny
Photos: Sterling Tyler Photography (Allison Pieter), Courtesy of Readers (all others)

“With less than four hours to go while setting up an outdoor event, a small thunderstorm popped up on the radar. We quickly removed the draping, signage, table linens, and large decor props and get them to a dry location until the storm passed. Meanwhile, the client and band were very concerned that another storm might occur later. While it was pouring, we gathered to discuss all the options. Our staff searched for tents in the area, discussed the logistics of moving the event inside to a ballroom that was on reserve, and tossed around the possibility of relocating the stage under a pavilion cover. Once the decision was made to move the stage under the pavilion, the weather had cleared, and everyone worked quickly to get everything rearranged and reset. Thankfully, we were able to start the event at its original time, and the sky remained clear the rest of the night.”
Heidi Hiller, owner and creative director, Innovative Party Planners, Baltimore

“My client's big fund-raising gala coincided with the snowstorm that shut down New York last November. As we watched the snow pile up on the ground the hour before doors opened, we realized it was not going to be the light dusting that was forecasted. We had to completely reorganize the evening’s program, rewriting parts of the script onsite with the celebrity host, swapping in new speakers for those who couldn’t make it, and creating new graphics to accommodate those replacement speakers. Guests were kept at the cocktail reception for an extra 90 minutes while we waited for all the inductees to arrive, some of whom traveled nearly three hours to get there. Communication was key to our success that night—constantly checking in with the venue, catering, audiovisual, and the client allowed everyone to continually pivot as conditions changed. It was a hectic night, and the overtime bills were painful, but everyone had a great time in the end.”
Allison Pieter, independent event producer, Los Angeles

“I had a summer bride who refused to give up her dream wedding in a forest during a day of torrential downpours. We had an indoor plan in place, but the bride put her foot down and decided that an outdoor ceremony was the only acceptable option. Snapping into rain mode, I had the venue's amazing staff go to work, drying the chairs with towels, and turning them upside down to keep water from pooling. We figured that most guests would prefer to stand than sit on wet chairs, so we pulled about half the chairs while my team and I let arriving guests know that the ceremony would be outside. We encouraged everyone to buddy up with those who didn't bring umbrellas and to mingle in the indoor space until we escorted them out at the last minute. As ceremony time approached, the remaining chairs were flipped back over, the A/V team moved their equipment inside, opened the windows, and pointed the speakers into the ceremony space, and guests were led outside. The bridal party looked beautiful with their specially chosen umbrellas, the bride was all smiles, and the wet guests lightened up once they saw how happy she was. It truly was the bride's day and, by the time the recessional began, the rain had become a mere drizzle. The moral of the story: Always have a rain plan, ensure that your vendor team is prepared for absolutely anything, be flexible, and think many steps ahead.”
Stacy Heit, principal and owner, Sassevents, Washington

“In the fall of 2012, I was prepping for a 400-plus person buyout with returning client Brooklyn Public Library for their annual gala, which they chose to host at Brooklyn Bowl. On days leading up to a major event like this, I'm typically dialing in last-minute details with the in-house chef, managers, and staff to ensure all details, vendors, and plans are set to run seamlessly. Days before, we received a weather advisory of a tropical storm heading towards New York City. Two days before the event, President Obama declared a state of emergency for the city, closing down all airports and public transportation, as Hurricane Sandy was on its way and not slowing down. After months of work and fine tuning details, we had to, unfortunately, cancel the event. I spent that day calling off all the vendors, which was the day the city was hit hardest by the hurricane. I had to call and cancel with the event rentals and the delivery of the tent and red carpet for our entryway, and I had to negotiate a refund with the valet company, who I had paid in cash to rent their services. Luckily, we ended up rescheduling the gala with Brooklyn Public Library in February 2013, which turned out to be a huge success.”
Dana Bartle, vice president of sales and events, Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn

“It was a perfect set up week. A massive clear span tent with two extensions was fully floored, draped, dressed, and lighted. Five-hundred gala guests would be arriving the next day and we were 100 percent ready. In the middle of the night, a crazy rain and windstorm blew through downtown Detroit. It ripped sides off the tent, blew draping down the street, and soaked half the event space. These are the moments when great vendor relationships are the difference between success and failure. We called and they answered. When we arrived at 6 a.m., these amazing people were already on site rebuilding the tent, replacing furniture, and drying carpet.  When guests arrived that evening, it was as if nothing had happened. Every time I work with a vendor, I remember this night. It reminds me to go the extra mile for them as much as I do our clients.”
Jennifer Aljouny, event manager, Star Trax Events, Detroit 

“CSI DMC hosted a trip for salespeople for an international brand in May. One of the events for this particular group was held at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, and included arrival by private yacht, a Revolutionary Era military band, and a private concert with an international film persona. It was interrupted by a maelstrom of lighting and thunder. Due to a metal frame tent, the venue needed to be evacuated. Coordinated by our team, venue staff in period dress were positioned to direct guests to safety in the administrative building for shelter, holding period appropriate candle lanterns for guests to see the pathways. Furnishings on the lawn were moved to a covered part of the porch, while staff worked to shut off generators for the stage performance and close up the catering kitchen in preparation for the heavy wind and lighting. After the storm, our staff discovered one of the chandeliers had dropped from the tent and shattered on the stage in the high winds, but they were able to clean up before the performer and guests returned. Guests were promptly escorted back to the tent, where the performer welcomed them with enthusiasm and panache, immediately launching into an unbelievable performance for the night.”
Amberlee Huggins, president and chief marketing officer, CSI DMC, Washington

“We produced SAP’s first event in Philadelphia for 15,000 people in a park across from the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art, with Earth, Wind & Fire and Fireworks by Grucci as entertainment. Hurricane Floyd was forecasted to blow south. We provided guests with ponchos and, after light rain, the wind started picking up. Our fire marshal told us the hurricane was on its way; we were told we couldn’t set off fireworks, but after the spend, we knew we had to make them happen. We set off the fireworks in a short break from the wind, and then we moved up Earth, Wind & Fire, who performed their entire set as rain and wind started to get serious. The guests left and Floyd barreled in. By morning, the park was a mud pit, but with a crew that was willing, we worked through the night to strike the tents, and our insurance covered the cost of reseeding the park and bringing it back to its former state. It was all a bit on the risky side, but with various local law enforcement on site, we had the full cooperation of the city and knew minute by minute what to expect. SAP had their event with no impact on the plans, and 15,000 people had new ponchos and a great memory of a great night.”
Andrea Michaels, president, Extraordinary Events, Sherman Oaks, California

This story appeared in BizBash's Fall 2019 issue.

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