What Planners Can Learn From TomorrowWorld Weather Disaster

By Stephanie Davis Smith, September 28, 2015

If you haven’t already heard, TomorrowWorld, the enormous electronic music festival that brings around 180,000 attendees to a rural town in Georgia, 35 minutes southwest of Atlanta, was a wash out.

Persistent rains over Sept. 25-27, 2015, caused festivalgoers to park miles from the event site and be shuttled to music stages through 8,000 acres of forest. However, when heavy rain turned dirt roads into mud, the shuttles couldn’t get attendees back to their cars or allow any form of transportation in or out of the festival. With no shelter in sight, tens of thousands of ticket holders waited in lines for shuttles that never came, wandered the woods, battled for Uber rides, walked for upwards of 10 miles or slept on the side of rural roads.

With more than 31 years in the events industry, Pat Ahaesy, CMP, CSEP, president and partner of P&V Enterprises, has planned many outdoor events, including one on Ellis Island in New York City where guests were ferried in and off the island. Barbara Dunn, a partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, has specialized in representing groups and organizations for decades. Here the two share precautions, lessons and takeaways for planners from TomorrowWorld’s mishaps:

Stranded TomorrowWorld 2015 festivalgoers use cardboard to sleep on. Photo by EDMPOCAHONTAS/TWITTER

1. Provide shelter from the storm.

“You never know how the weather is going to be at an event,” says Ahaesy, suggesting planners splurge on tents and have backup structures for people to take shelter in if the weather takes a turn. For one event Ahaesy planned, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor event put on by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, the owner of the tent company stayed on-site to make sure the tents were secured and functioning correctly. “If there are high winds or inclement weather, have safety procedures in place and experts on hand,” Ahaesy notes.

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