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Evacuation plans in action

Business | April 1, 2021 | By:

How to have conversations with clients about inclement weather and tent evacuation planning.

by Tommy Wilson and Cindy Wilson

While it is human nature to seek shelter during a storm, a tent, ultimately, is a temporary structure. No matter what its wind speed rating might be, once the wind is higher than 30–38 mph there are too many hazards to safely stay inside a tent. In many cases, it’s not that the wind is blowing, it’s what the wind is blowing. As tent professionals, our job is to help clients understand the limitations of our product and to help them devise viable solutions for severe weather.

Up-front conversations

At All Occasions Event Rental, we try to have weather and evacuation planning conversations with our clients during the site inspection to help manage their expectations and make them aware that a tent is not a storm shelter. We find that being up front helps to build trust. It also prevents the client from being surprised when asked to sign a contract addendum that states the tent may need to be evacuated during severe weather or other emergency situations, and that it is the client’s responsibility to ensure the safety of their guests. 

Our addendum at All Occasions Event Rental includes examples of situations and guidelines for developing an emergency evacuation plan. We believe every tent rental company should have something like this included in its contract. 

Plans in action

To illustrate evacuation plan management and working with a client during a tough situation, in 2018 our company was contracted to provide tenting, flooring and other rental items for an October wedding and reception to be held for 200 guests on a 500-acre family farm.

The ceremony and reception tents were to be set up in two separate areas of the farm, about a half mile apart. The installation went smoothly and the weather had been cooperative. The forecast looked decent for the big day and, although there was a front moving across the Midwest, it looked like the worst of the storm would miss us.

The day of the wedding, the weather front took an unexpected turn and was forecast to hit our location before the start of the ceremony. The storm’s 60 mph wind gusts had already caused a lot of damage as the system made its way toward us.  Early in the morning we reached out to the wedding planner to discuss weather-related evacuation plans. Thankfully, the planner handled things calmly and efficiently.

Our first recommendation was to see if the wedding could be rescheduled for the following day. The band and caterer were able to accommodate the change, so we reached out to the family. We explained their options and let them know there was a possibility that we would need to evacuate or not use the tents at all. The family was understanding but explained that, out of consideration for out-of-town guests, they preferred to move forward with the event if a workable contingency plan could be devised. 

Quick thinking

The only buildings on the property were a tractor barn and a small farmhouse. The farm staff cleared the barn so that it could be used for the ceremony or cocktail area if needed. After we assigned one of our crew leaders to help manage the situation, we called Pat Moughan, managing director from Losberger De Boer, to discuss our options. We concluded that the structures would be fine given the forecast, but the chandeliers and hanging floral installation in the reception tent could be an issue. It was decided that, so long as the wind stayed under 35 mph, we would use the main tent. One of our team members would stay outside to monitor the weather using a handheld wind meter and our crew leader would be inside the tent ready to evacuate if needed.

When the guests began to arrive, the highest wind gust we had recorded was 25 mph, so we made the decision to hold the ceremony in the tent. We continued to monitor the wind and had teams of horses with buggies ready to move guests to the barn if needed.

While the wind never exceeded 30 mph, we did clear the areas with the chandeliers and floral installations three times throughout the evening until the weather finally began to subside. 

Hard work pays off

While it was a difficult and stressful event, the only casualties were the glass tube heaters outside the ceremony tent that blew over despite being nailed into the ground. Thanks to a great team of vendors and a detailed evacuation plan, the client had the event they wanted and everyone went home safely.  

Tommy Wilson is director of event services for All Occasions Event Rental in Cincinnati, Ohio. A self-proclaimed “tent nerd,” he oversees tent sales, large-scale event production and tent purchasing. Cindy Wilson is a member of the team at All Occasions Event Rental.

SIDEBAR: By the numbers

For this event, All Occasions Event Rental provided and installed:

25-by-35-meter Losberger reception structure with Dura-Trac™flooring, carpet and interior draping.

9-by-15-meter Losberger restroom structure with interior division for a nursing station for new moms.

9-by-12-meter with 6-by-6-meter dormer Losberger entry tent.

20-by-60-foot and 20-by-20-foot Anchor Fiesta frame catering tents.

57-by-96-foot Fred’s Stillwater ceremony tent with Dura-Trac flooring and carpet.

Chandeliers, bars, tables, chairs, soft seating, heaters, dumpster, restroom trailer, stage, dance floor and ceremony seating.

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