Keeping a Cool Outdoor Event Through the Summer Heat

Keeping a Cool Outdoor Event Through the Summer Heat

Ahh, summer.

Long sunny days make a great time of year to host your event.  Oftentimes, summer events are planned well before summer, making it easy to overlook the unique challenges that summer weather brings. Here we will cover the most commonly overlooked issues (or pitfalls) when it comes to summertime fun, helping you to avoid them will ensure your summer event goes off without a hitch.

Sunset: Time and Location

It’s March and you are on a site survey for your August event.  Pencil in hand you begin quick sketching a map.  The stage goes here, bathrooms here and vendors can go over here.  You feel confident about where things have been placed.  But come summer and you’re only getting an hour’s worth of use out of a $10,000 lighting package because the sun only sets an hour before your event ends.  To make matters worse, no one can look at the stage because the sun has been setting directly behind it for the better part of an hour.

I know what you’re thinking,  “If only I’d studied orbital mechanics more closely in middle school this all could have been avoided.”

Luckily, some very smart people have already done the work of calculating sunsets and sunrises (if you’re planning an outdoor EDM festival) for us.  timeanddate.com has charts galore.  Even googling “sunset (mm/dd/yy) (location)” is a fast and easy way to know when that big light in the sky is going to bed.  A few things to note when being mindful of sunset;

  1. Don’t forget to pair your time queries with your location, sunset in summer in Juno, Alaska is much different than in Miami, Florida
  2. Just because the sun sets doesn’t mean automatic darkness.  The length of twilight can be just as important.
  3. Twilight last longer the further north/or south of the equator you are.  June 1st twilight in Bangor, Main is almost ten minutes longer than in Savannah, Georgia.
  4. The sunset will vary in its location throughout the year.

The easiest way to avoid the whole sun in the eyes issue is to set your stage and audience in a North-South direction. This ensures that neither your audience or your performer/presenter will ever have to deal with the sun in their eyes.

The sun is hot.

Common sense, right?  But regardless of how true that may be, at some point during an outdoor event something will overheat.  Sometimes it’s equipment, sometimes it’s people, but when it happens it usually means that at some point someone forgot that “The sun is hot”

When it comes to equipment, the first gear to fail is usually the computers or things that run like computers (audio and lighting consols, etc.) In Las Vegas, we used to have a system of cold clay packs, dry ice and a plastic music stand to keep the DJ’s computers from overheating and freezing up in the desert sun.  Silence is guaranteed to stop a party.  Be mindful of where gear is located. Do not leave amp racks in full sun.  Shade, fans, and ventilation are important to keep gear up and running for your event.

When it comes to people, overheating, dehydration and sunstroke are easily avoided, as long as it’s recognized by the coordinator that these are very real and likely dangers.  If the coordinator does not plan for breaks, shade, liquids, and sunscreen they are putting their employees, volunteers and even patrons at a huge and unnecessary risk.  It takes vigilance and repetition on behalf of the event coordinator to keep people safe.  Remind your crew to drink water and take more breaks than they normally would.  If you are setting up in the middle of the day plan for more hands than you would in the winter months.  Don’t ask people to man a shade-less desk for 6-8 hours with no break planned.    Have water available.  Most importantly, know that even with your vigilance and pre-planning, people will still overdo it and get sick.  Having a plan of action for those types of emergencies is vital to keeping a good event.  Nothing gets moral down quicker than a tired and shorthanded staff.

April Showers, try July thunderstorms!

We plan summer events to take advantage of good weather and long days.  But neglecting to plan for inclement weather has lead to spectacular downfalls in the history of events.  Lightning, wind, rain, flooding are all natural phenomenon that I’ve personally had ruin events.  Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Planning for the worst will help you take inclement weather in stride.  A great example of this is baseball games.  They have tarping the diamond down to a science.  The Atlanta Braves show the weather radar on the big board to let fans know if a game is delayed or postponed.  If you even suspect foul weather have a plan of attack to keep both your patrons, staff, and equipment safe and be forthcoming with information as to the status of your event.  There is a fine line between canceling an event too early and keeping people guessing for too long.  Keeping the dialog open between all parties will take a lot of that guesswork out of the equation and give you a better sense of when people are willing to wait it out or when they’re starting to get fed up.

Lastly, the events business is one of the most poorly regulated industries when it comes to building temporary structures.  We’ve seen major disasters over the years where poor planning, engineering, and execution have led to disaster and even death.  Unfortunately, any idiot with truss and canvas can “build a stage”, but it takes real professionals to make it safe for everyone.  When building a structure don’t be cheap, and don’t rush. Even a single speaker can blow over and injure someone if it’s placed without thought, say in the mushy ground, or not weighted down.  Saftey is a huge concern at any event but a lack of respect for the forces of nature can lead to disaster.  Don’t let that happen to you.

And breathe….

Now that I’ve sufficiently scared you into only doing small indoor events it’s time to take a step back.    The outdoors can give us spectacular backdrops no theater could.  It can make for interesting locations and the summertime is perfect for family events.  Being mindful of the worst case scenario and planning for it mean you’re already two steps ahead of the game when it comes to having a great outdoor summer event.  So get out there and have fun!

Elliot