Maintenance for Special Events

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / andrewgenn

I’d like to know how many parks and rec professionals agree with me on this statement:  one of the most-overlooked items when organizers plan special events is the maintenance before, during and after the event. Yes or no; agree or disagree?  Comments?

I must admit that before I entered the world of parks and recreation I didn’t think too much about it either. However, it didn’t take long to discover that if you want to ruin an otherwise perfectly good event, allow the trash cans to overflow, or the toilets to get clogged up, or litter to get strewn all over the event area.

There are many moving parts to a special event no matter if it’s a small community celebration or a metropolitan-sized blowout. Smaller-sized parks and rec events may be able to ease off some planning aspects such as security or crowd control, but no matter the size of event, maintenance has to be involved from the earliest planning stages on through to the post-event debrief.

Normally events that are in-house – that is, planned by the parks and rec staff – are going to have the maintenance department closely involved, though that is not a given either because sometimes even staff activity programmers fail to factor in maintenance participation.

Generally, it falls on the maintenance staff to do the heavy lifting of setting up an event and tearing down an event site, patrolling for trash, emptying receptacles, restroom cleanup during the event and performing the post-event clean up.

Maintenance staffs are also among the most visible at some events. They are generally in a uniform, which identifies them as someone who knows what’s going on, so they are going to get questions from the public. It benefits event organizers to ensure maintenance workers are well-informed about major aspects of the event or have quick access to someone who can help answer questions.

This is also a good reason to ensure the maintenance staff members who support special events are on the same communication network as event staff. Oftentimes, the maintenance workers will see things going wrong and can help alleviate problems by reporting them early. Ensuring that they have access to hand-held or vehicle radio equipment will keep them in the loop.

When an outside agency is planning a special event at a parks department’s area of operation the maintenance aspects of planning can sometimes drop through the cracks. In many communities public land is the only place for non-profit organizations, civic groups or even private organizations to hold charitable events or fundraisers.

Many times these third-party organizers are relying on volunteers to help with maintenance functions; problem is if the volunteers don’t show up, or don’t perform as expected, guess who will probably get the phone calls – yep, the parks department, because people often think all events are parks and rec events, right?

Nobody likes meetings, but it pays to have at least one pre-event meeting – more for larger, more complicated events – with third-party organizers and find out exactly what their plan is for pre- during- and post-event maintenance.

Don’t accept a “Yeah, we got it covered” answer. Ask them hard questions: who are your staff members, by name? What time are they showing up and how long will they stay? Do you have trucks? What are you doing with full trash bags? What if there is equipment breakdown?

Many departments allow their maintenance crews to work for third-party event organizers off duty, similar to what many police and fire departments do. This gives the organizer the benefit of having someone who is familiar with the area; it gives the maintenance crew an opportunity for extra salary; and it often makes the entire event go more smoothly.

And after the event is over, invite the organizer back for a de-briefing – what went right, what went wrong, what needs to be changed if they are planning to do the event again?

So, back to my original question:  do you agree or disagree with my initial assertion? Maybe you have some good advice based on your experience with special events. If so, share the knowledge with other Weekenders; who knows, you might make someone’s event even more special than it was…

Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email