Desert Race Highlights Need for Oversight of Events

Plans must be realistic and resources must be properly staged.

The recent deaths of eight bystanders at a desert race in California dramatically highlight the need for oversight by experienced emergency managers and other public safety officials for public events, no matter where they are held. When this incident occurred, responding emergency services were no closer than 30-minutes away. 

When a university campus hosts an event, there should be layered oversight and accountability. Serious questions need to be addressed:

  • Are all of your public safety officials consistently reviewing event plans and coordination?
  • Are these officials signing off after auditing the various plans (evacuation, fire safety, security, ingress/egress, etc.) associated with the event? 
  • Is experienced staff (representing the university’s interests and liabilities) assigned to provide oversight?

These are important questions and issues to address if an event promoter is coming to your campus. In the desert disaster, key officials were not present. Plans were not realistic, and public safety resources were not properly staged. There were no emergency or contingency plans, no communications and no legitimate oversight.  The people who were assigned for oversight did not have the experience, training or credentials for the authority and responsibilities to which they were assigned.

These are the key stakeholders and lineup for accountability for a typical university campus: 

  • Emergency Manager
  • Campus Events
  • Police Department
  • Fire Marshal
  • Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
  • Fire Suppression
  • Environment, Health & Safety
  • Facilities
  • Transportation
  • Risk Management

There should be a designated safety officer, someone who is watching for unsafe or illegal behavior, and has the authority to stop the event, if necessary. There should be a designated incident commander – someone who has jurisdictional authority to manage the emergency response and public safety issues associated with the campus event. There should be good communication plans and resources to address any emergency that may occur. There should be a designated liaison between the event coordinator and incident commander.

At the California event, major oversights occurred, and once again, we read in a local newspaper what happens when people neglect their jobs and responsibilities. Sadly we often keep repeating the lessons learned from the past. 

We’ve had the Gulf Coast oil spill, Hurricane Katrina, and numerous other events. Michael Dorn recently commented on the need to do things right, rather doing them quickly. It’s called attention to detail. Editor Robin Hattersley Gray recently commented on the need to take plans seriously.

We know better. There are articles written every day that tell us how to do our jobs better, and how avoid the mistakes from the past. I keep hoping one day this comfort zone will melt away. Unfortunately, some people love to wrap themselves up in a nice warm blanket of mediocrity. I am not one of them.

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About the Author


With more than 30 years experience, David is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) currently administering the emergency management program at Santa Clara University in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area's Silicon Valley. David managed the UCLA Office of Emergency Management for seven years and pioneered the development of the campus' award-winning "BruinAlert" system. David championed development of emergency plans, policies and procedures in the aftermath of Virginia Tech in 2007 and consults higher education institutions on emergency management issues. David is a subject matter expert in mass casualty incident management, emergency notification systems, comprehensive plan development, emergency organization, EOC design and operations, crisis communications, threat and vulnerability assessment, disaster recovery, grant administration and auditing. In 2009, David and other campus emergency managers provided consult in the development of the first incident management course developed by FEMA/EMI specifically for higher education (IS-100HE, Introduction to the Incident Command System (ICS) for Higher Education). Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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