Special Events

Prior to and during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, the newly formed Office of Olympic Coordination collected and tracked information regarding all special events that were scheduled to occur anywhere on the campus. Driven by various needs, i.e. transportation, parking and security, we agreed that it was critical that all of us in the planning arena be aware of all events in order to prevent or anticipate conflicts. This proved to be a worthwhile effort. For instance, we discovered that our main library had scheduled an event commemorating the Holocaust, within a stone's throw of our Alumni House, which had been rented to the German delegation. I am convinced that we averted discomfort and tension by making everyone aware of the situation. We additionally discovered overlaps on parking requirements for separate events happening simultaneously. The most critical discovery was that we did not have enough cops and security guards to cover the assorted require-ments. These issues were all resolved.

The office that collected and disseminated this information was dissolved only days after the Games officially closed. Similar was the fate of the process that collected the required information. For six months, special event coordination was reminiscent of driving bumper cars at an amusement park. It was an accident waiting to happen.

In August, 2002, our student association planned a huge event to take place in the heart of our campus. The level of planning applied to this event, however, did not match the size of the event. They did not get the required permits, nor did they talk to the right people (like me). I only heard about it when a large tractor-trailer carrying tons of sound amplification equipment almost slid sideways down a sloped, wet lawn into a building.

It was time to stop waiting for some-one else to take action. I convened a committee (aren't committees the only way work gets done in higher education?) comprised of all 20-something individuals who have the authority to schedule space where special events can occur. I also invited representatives from our police department, Risk Management, our grounds managers, health and safety people, and others who have an interest, or should have. We subsequently held meetings every two months. The results have been very encouraging, as the following highlights attest.

-- Special events have now been defined as "potentially hazardous events." This type of event presents the risk of potentially damaging property or injuring people. They are most frequently one-time events, not officially hosted by a major arm of the institution. Instead, student groups, or off-campus sponsors, often host them. More traditional events such as commencement are excluded, although there is still a great deal of planning and coordination involved in those events, as well.

-- Essential people are now talking to each other.

-- There is a standard form used by all "schedulers." This form asks all the necessary questions and steers both the sponsoring group and the "scheduler" to the right individuals.

-- There is now a Website that clearly identifies the areas of campus available for use, highlighting the contact person by name and number. This has taken the guesswork out of scheduling and has also cleaned up the confusion regarding "who schedules what." Using purchased software, it also shows all the events currently scheduled for any area on campus, eliminating the risk that spaces are double-booked. Additionally, it requires our grounds people to input their relevant data.

-- The police chief, our risk manager, the fire marshal and others decide the special arrangements required for a specific event, not the scheduler nor the event's sponsor.

-- Anyone of us could, hypothetically, nix an event. Preferably, however, the goal is to collaborate with the sponsors to "make it happen."

-- We have agreement from all pertinent individuals that the more complicated an event becomes, the earlier we start discussions. For instance, we start reviewing plans for current versions of the event described above as much as six months ahead of the scheduled date.

The community around us eyeballs our lovely campus as a park-like environment available for all types of unrelated events. Since taxpayer dollars only cover some 16 percent of the cost of running this place, it seems only logical that university-related events and activities take a serious priority. Having this kind of filtering system in place allows us to place priorities on requests, occasionally allowing us to say "no." Having a good system in place allows us to make college life memorable for our students, while protecting our investment.

Pete van der Have is director of Plant Operations at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He can be reached at [email protected]