Once upon a time, Virginia had a very wet Spring.

So wet in fact that it has caused several race cancellations throughout the State, to include the Adventure Addicts Racing’s (AAR) Adrenaline Rush 12-Hour Adventure Race in Front Royal, Virginia.

AAR race promoters Andy Bacon and Michelle Faucher, found themselves in a position all race directors dread: having to postpone a race just days before the event.

As they pointed out in a statement to bummed racers, the reasoning for postponing the Adrenaline Rush was mainly due to conditions at Shenandoah River State Park and on the river.

In addition to the trails in the park becoming completely saturated from all the rain, the Shenandoah River itself was running 8-feet above normal, making any kind of paddling unsafe.

Between park managers worried about trail damage and a river that was sure to get one or more racers killed using a canoe, Bacon and Faucher had to do the one thing that would both protect their racers and protect the park.

They had to cancel their race.

But at what cost?

When the average cost per Adventure Racer is $135.00, the fallout from a weather-related postponement can be very costly.

Considering that many small event management companies like AAR use pre-registration fees to pay for overhead costs (e.g. equipment, permits, post-race food, venue setup, maps), then you can imagine how any large refund could directly impact vital cash flow.

When a race is postponed, refunds are unavoidable.

There will always be a percentage of your registered racers that will not be able to make your new race date and request their money back.

Just because you postponed the race for very good reasons, does not mean that some racers will be happy with it.

The end result will be akin to starting over again with new racers, new marketing strategies, and a new plan.

But if you have already built in these eventualities, the exposure to postponement risk can be mitigated with the event management tool know has the “contingency plan”.

However, if you consider the cost of holding a race that resulted in a major injury — or worse, a death — because you decide the risk was worth it, the cost of disappointing a few racers will be seen as a drop in the bucket in comparison.

Disappointment is cheap, injuries are expensive.

This is why contingency planning is probably the MOST important risk management process there is!

It solves potential issues BEFORE they become problems and is how a race promotion company stays in business.

Developing your first Risk Mitigation Strategy

When it comes to off-road endurance races — be it adventure racing, mountain bike race, or trail running — there are inherent risks that cannot be overlooked.

The primary role of any race promoter is to first “do no harm”.

However, avoiding customer disappointment, racer injury, or even a lawsuit, is not always possible.

This is why all race promoters need to create a risk mitigation strategy.

A risk mitigation strategy?

Like any strategy, a risk mitigation strategy is a tool.

Only this tool is built from the decisions each race promoter choices to make during their contingency planning process.

This means you along with every other race promoter that has a contingency planning process, will have different answers and decisions recorded in their own risk mitigation strategy.

Then when (not if) something bad happens, you as a race promoter can already have pre-planned contingency actions to take.

These pre-planned contingency actions will greatly assist you in avoiding, transferring, or mitigating risks without having to delay your response.

In turn, the result will be a quick action that protects your company, your reputation, and most importantly, your customers!

This is the power of having a full thought-out risk mitigation strategy BEFORE bad things happen.

The Contingency Planning Process

But what about that contingency planning process from above?

What does that include?

I’m glad you asked!

This process is something that you include on your annual planning schedule — usually in January — to help you keep your risk mitigation strategy up-to-date from season to season.

You shouldn’t need to revisit the parts to this strategy during the year except to share it with your staff and volunteers or to update any sections after an incident.

There are six (6) steps to your contingency planning process:

These six parts include:

  • #1 — Injury Mitigation Thinking
  • #2 — Liability Risk Mitigation Thinking
  • #3 — Cancellation Risk Mitigation Thinking
  • #4 — Venue Security Risk Mitigation Thinking
  • #5 — Acknowledgment Waiver Risk Mitigation Thinking
  • #6 — Customer Behavior Mitigation Thinking

Each of the following six contingency planning process steps should inform your overall risk mitigation strategy document:

Step #1 — Injury Mitigation Thinking

The first part of your plan should be directed to war gaming how you will deal with an injury.

The first part of this strategy is to first understand how an injury will be communicated to your and/or your staff or volunteers, and what they need to do when it is reported.

Most times, when an injury occurs, it is not in the transition area close to medical aid.

Often an injury in off-road racing is miles away and in difficult to reach remote locations.

Your initial plan should include answers to these questions:

  • How will you know where your racers are?
  • How will staff and/or volunteers let you know an injury has occurred?
  • Who responds to the injury and/or who makes the call?
  • How do responders get to the injured racer?
  • What happens to the race during and after the injury has been responded to?

The end result of step #1 that you should be your emergency response plan.

Step #2 — Liability Risk Mitigation Thinking

The next part of your plan should be directed towards figuring out how to minimize the financial impact an injury can have on your company.

This includes protecting you, your staff, and your company by having liability coverage.

Race promoters are responsible for protecting their customers from “gross negligence”, and are often protected from hazards that could have been reasonably avoided (e.g. like running into a tree).

Unfortunately, each one of your races is a potential legal disaster waiting to happen, regardless if you are at fault or not. We all hope it doesn’t happen, but you need to be prepared for when a racer does get seriously hurt.

The question is WHEN this will happen, not if.

This requires you to take into consideration the following questions BEFORE you ever host a race:

  • Do you have liability protection insurance?
  • What coverage does your liability insurance protect you from?
  • Does it protect your company if there is an injury?
  • Do you have additional insurance or need insurance provided by a racing association?
  • What level of coverage does the venue require?

The end result of step #2 should be the purchase of an insurance policy that provides your company enough liability coverage to survive a lawsuit.

Step #3 — Cancellation Risk Mitigation Thinking

Another important part of your plan should be directed towards other events you have no control over.

Yes, I’m talking about the weather! Let’s face it, the weather is the most unpredictable force a race promoter will ever deal with.

If you ask five people what the weather will be like tomorrow, you will most likely get five different answers.

This is true with modern technology weather prediction as well.

While one source tells you it’s going to be sunny, another source tells you it’s going to rain.

Who’s right?

Well, when the clouds start to appear and the sky gets dark, you need to be ready for how you plan on dealing with a possible cancellation.

  • What happens when it rains on race day?
  • Does the venue allow water saturated trails to be used for your race?
  • Do you have a rain date that is part of your permit?
  • Did you save back at least 50-percent of your pre-registration fees for refunds?
  • When do you tell racers that you are canceling your race?
  • How will you tell your racers that your race has been canceled?

The end result of step #3 should be a thought-out bad weather policy that you post on your website, and make sure everyone has a chance to read before pre-registering for your race.

It should also push you to create processes for how you check the weather before race day, how you decide if and when you cancel a race, and what you will do with your customer’s money if you have to hold a race on your rain day.

Step #4 — Venue Security Risk Mitigation Thinking

After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the subject of event security has become a very hot button topic.

Should your event require security?

Does a 100 rider mountain bike race need an armed guard or off-duty police presence?

Did it make a difference in Boston?

Not to point fingers, but the Boston Marathon had hundreds of police officers on duty before and after the bombing.

If your event requires that level of security and still has an incident, the chances are that you and your company will not be responsible for causing it or failing to prevent it.

The decision to provide security for your event is up to you, but you need to have at least considered it by asking these questions:

  • Is there a risk to customers?
  • Is there other security in the area that you can leverage to protect your customers?
  • Are parts of the venue unsupervised during the race (e.g. parking lot, registration, timing tent?)
  • Is alcohol being served?
  • Do you need a security presence at the venue?
  • Do you think your customers will appreciate a security presence at the venue?

The end result of step #4 should be how you want to approach your venue security policy.

It should also be communicated to your racers if any part of your venue is considered to be “at their own risk”.

Step #5 — Acknowledgment Waiver Risk Mitigation Thinking

Time to get real.

Some racers are just plain dumb!

Either due to no fault of their own (e.g. had a tree jump out in front of them) or because they attempted to do something they should not have done (e.g. jumped over the rocky creek bed and missed), you must be prepared BEFORE the accident happens.

Welcome to the need for a realistic liability waiver!

Most insurance companies and sanctioning organizations will require your racers to sign an “I know this is dangerous, but I plan on doing it anyway” waiver form.

This is your first line of protection in that it shows that your customers were informed of the risks before they step onto your course.

It does not provide 100-percent protection from litigation, but it will aid in your defense against fraudulent or frivolous lawsuits.

Not all waivers are created equal, and you need to make sure your State laws protect you by ensuring the proper statements are present by asking these questions:

  • What are your State laws regarding liability waivers?
  • Have there been any landmark legal cases involving liability waivers in your State?
  • Do you have a waiver form?
  • Is that waiver form specific to your company or generic?
  • Do you require racers to sign it as a condition of registration?
  • Can you read the signature and information on the waiver before you accept it?
  • Do you retain your waiver for at least 2-years after your race?
  • Do you use your waivers to populate your registration and email databases?

The end result of step #5 should be the creation or an update to your customized liability waiver form.

It should also become part of your registration process and be treated as a serious document.

That means poor penmanship should be rejected, or an application, tablet form, and/or computer-based process should be used to collect readable (and correct) information.

Your waiver should always be legally reviewed by a real lawyer, and not something you pulled off the Internet!

Step #6 — Customer Behavior Mitigation Thinking

The final part of your plan should be concerned with how you plan on dealing with disgruntled or disappointed customers.

These are the customers that are not happy no matter WHAT YOU DO! No one likes a customer who is not happy, but even fewer like a customer that is never happy.

These are customers that either woke up on the wrong side of the bed or just complain about everything, from the food they are served to the speed of traffic.

There are no pleasing these customers and as a race promoter, you need to be prepared to refund their money and send them on their way.

However, a customer that is behaving badly is a different breed of the bad customer.

This is the customer that is either doing something that is annoying other customers or doing something that could potentially get others hurt.

This customer needs to leave sooner rather than later and your staff needs to know how and when to “bounce” a badly behaving customer or spectator.

Drugs and alcohol are guaranteed contributing factors in most of these incidents (see the need for security above) and you should be prepared for customers that are practicing bad judgment.

  • Do you have a refund policy in place for unhappy customers?
  • When and how will you escalate a problem?
  • Will you notifying park officials and/or local police?
  • When does the behavior of a bad customer cross the line?

The end result of step #6 should be a policy and a process for how you will deal with bad customers.

This is an important process because the way you classify and deal with “bad customers” will say a lot about your business.

Unfortunately, in most cases, bad customers equal bad experiences.

And in a business that is all about creating good experiences, how you handle and get rid of these problems needs to be included in your planning and communicated to all involved.

Often, it is just better to do whatever you can for that one customer — up to and including a full refund — then stand your ground and try to debate them.

If push comes to shove, have your policy and process in place that informs you, your staff, and your volunteers about what to do when bad customers become a problem.

Step #7 — Putting the strategy together

The last step is to write down all the results you collected from steps #1 thru #6.

No matter how you format you put it in, it should be short, direct, and include only the information that will be easy to find in a crisis.

Once you have real answers to all your contingency plan process questions, the actual risk control you will have over your race will be easy to communicate to park officials, insurance companies, and your staff and volunteers.

Communication of this contingency plan is the key to its success.

A plan that nobody ever reads or implements does you no service when a major injury or incident occurs.

If you plan for how you will deal with these issues BEFORE they transpire, you will be prepared even if you never have to use it.

And now you know.

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!