Fair Managers Discuss Incident Response During WFA Meet

17 Nov

Rick Pickering, Alameda County Fair, Pleasanton, talks with Judy Hostetter, Salinas Valley Fair, King City, Calif., during the WFA Fall Management Conference. (Photo by Kristen Bilanko)

REPORTING FROM SACRAMENTO — Curses can be turned into blessings, like the cell phones that are used to take impromptu video and photos of accidents and incidents being turned into a row of lights to direct people to the emergency exit. Handling crises was among topics for the Western Fairs Association/California Fairs Fall Management Conference here Nov. 2-4.

Cell phones were just such a blessing for Rick Pickering, Alameda County Fair, Pleasanton, Calif., during the yellow jacket incident. “We have 300 acres and 700 walnut trees. We want to keep our bees,” he said, but bees were taking the blame for a yellow jacket stinging spree that struck a portion of the audience at an evening event during the fair.

People were twittering and sending messages independent of the media on the grounds, most of whom did not know about the stinging until they got the call from the home office. When emergency workers sent out a mass casualty call, every ambulance and fire engine with screaming sirens and lights descended on the fairgrounds. Pickering was finally able to get the emergency personnel to silence the sirens and darken the lights by saying, “I believe they are stirring up the bees.” They were also distracting the crowds on the midway and the fairgrounds who had no stings and no concerns with the drama affecting so few.

Another lemons-to-lemonade moment was grabbing 100 bags of ice from a food booth, sticking them in the obligatory plastic gloves always available at concession stands and using them to ease the stings. “Use your imagination,” Pickering advised.

Norb Bartosik, California State Fair, Sacramento, suffered through a robbery during non-open hours of the fair. A substantial sum was stolen from the Ovations Food Services money room and the money has still not been recovered. The problem was that the entire grandstand, where the theft occurred, became a crime scene. Fortunately, it occurred after the fireworks and they were able to lock it down.

“Fairs are an instant city,” Bartosik noted, with all the potential problems and benefits of same. During the theft, the media was pretty much held at the back gate, but then they had the cow incident, also during non-open hours. A pregnant cow being off-loaded for the Nursery Tent exhibit went berserk, escaped confinement and was charging through the closed fairgrounds under vet and volunteer pursuit. The situation quickly spiraled downward and the cow was shot dead. A woman who worked for the fair videotaped the incident and sold it to the media.

The fair is now working with the University of California-Davis to develop a better containment program and to redefine who’s in charge.

The third incident discussed was a June 23 ride accident in which a carnival worker was injured on the Wacky Worm ride at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, Calif. CEO Patricia Conklin recalled that the media came in helicopters. “The biggest thing we did right was get ahead of the media,” she said. “Rumors were rampant, but we did interviews immediately. If the media thinks you’re hiding something, it’s over.”

“Say what you want to say and don’t let them suck you into the questions,” she advised. “I said our emergency plan worked; he’s alive; it was an industrial accident.” The ride opened again the next day. She also reminded everyone to contact OSHA within eight hours and all the panelists recommended that the Western Fairs Association and the International Association of Fairs & Expositions should be in the loop as soon as possible because the media will call them and their local fairs for comment. — Linda Deckard

Contacts: Norb Bartosik, (916) 263-3061; Rick Pickering, (925) 426-7600; Patricia Conklin, (707) 283-3247

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