International Association of Fairs & Expos

The nation’s fairs and expositions, long dedicated to the security and well being of attendees, continue to pursue excellence through ongoing training.

More than 3,200 fairs are held in North America each year, offering visitors a rich variety of industrial exhibits, demonstrations, and competitions. Because those running these fairs take great care to ensure our safety at these events, we seldom give it a thought.

“Anyone running a public event needs to do everything possible to ensure a safe venue,” said Curry Roberts, president of the State Fair of Virginia, Inc. “We all have an interest in training; it’s the right thing to do.”

As a member of the International Association of Fairs and Exhibitions (IAFE), Roberts and others from the State Fair of Virginia organization participated in a recent training at IAFE’s 2004 annual convention. As part of IAFE’s convention program, Attainium Corp presented its Disaster Experience tabletop training session, using the State Fair of Virginia fairground as the basis for the customized simulation.

IAFE is a voluntary non-profit corporation organizing state, district, and county agricultural fairs, state and provincial associations of fairs, expositions, associations, corporations, and individuals into one large association. It is interested in the improvement of fairs and allied fields and has a high awareness of and interest in safety issues.

According to Kate Turner, IAFE meeting planner, the association offers training in some areas of safety at every annual convention. “We’ve done a great deal of training in this area, but Attainium provided the first program that was ‘hands-on’ rather than lecture-based,” Turner said.

IAFE members run the gamut from small, volunteer-staffed fairs to large fairs with full-time staffs and huge numbers of attendees, Turner said. “Because of the range of experience levels of fair personnel, it can be challenging to provide training that is meaningful to everyone in some way. Everyone seemed to benefit in some way from the Attainium program,” she said.

Pam Daneker, director of admissions and public safety for the Virginia fair, said that “everyone liked the format of the session. The scary part was that the exercise was so realistic, everyone thought Attainium had taken a day out of the life of their fair! I thought the session was awesome.”

“One of the most valuable aspects of the training,” Roberts said, “was the team setting. People had to divvy up responsibilities and were forced to think about the ramifications of their actions of other parts of the organization. Plus you had to make sure you kept your head… you can’t afford to panic in crisis situations.”

Daneker agreed, stating that “Role-playing facilitated various aspects of the training as people took on roles different from their normal ones and got to see how their actions affected areas outside their own. Everyone was dealing with limited info and made rash decisions quickly that affected the outcome of the situation.”

The divergent views on communication with the media and external publics were particularly interesting, Daneker and Roberts agreed, particularly communication outside the fair’s normal channels of communication, including how to most effectively utilize media communication in a proactive rather than reactive way.

According to Roberts, the exercise was thought-provoking, pointing up the need to plan for and mitigate potential disruptions. Daneker said that the need to juggle multiple problems at the same time and the challenge of reacting in the moment provided great value.

IAFE and its members continue to focus their efforts on safety and security and remain committed to training as a critical security measure.

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