Event & Race Emergency plans for Coronavirus

Update (3/4/2020): The CDC has issued guidance for mass gatherings and large community events. It contains a number of good suggestions for the basis of a plan.

As we write this, Coronavirus is the headline of every news story and the subject of every water cooler office (physical or virtual) discussion. Let’s hope that the spreading stops soon, and that illnesses and death are minimized. But as race and event directors, our customers should have an emergency plan for this.

This blog has some context, some basic information pointers on getting real time information, and some suggestions for ideas for your emergency planning.

Context & Information

As this is written on February 27, 2020, there are a total of 60 reported infected people in the United States and 0 deaths, and 83,078 worldwide infections with 2,855 deaths. We are using the data provided by Johns Hopkins to track these statistics. The link has many reporting elements, including drilling down into the US data and even city level data (for example there are 2 cases in Chicago at the moment, both of whom have fortunately recovered).

At this point, it seems minor compared with the 1918-19 flu epidemic that infected 500 Million people (27% of the worlds population), and between 4–50 Million people died (10%). That epidemic lasted from January, 1918 – December, 1920. Hopefully this virus strain is less viral and lethal. Also, hopefully modern communications and medicine reduces the time cycle, the viral infections and the death rate.

Taking another context perspective, so far it has much less impact on our society than cancer (600,000 deaths per year in the US), opioid deaths (70,000+) automobile deaths (35,000+) or gun violence (35,000+).

All that said, the best way to fight a viral infection is to minimize contact – thus the idea of cancelling school, office work and events. The Tokyo Marathon was recently cancelled. China and Japan have closed schools (200 Million and 13 Million students) for a month or more. Italy has quarantined 11 towns. Facebook even cancelled their annual developer conference that draws thousands of developers that was planned for San Jose in May. All of these types of steps are meant to stop the spread of the virus and hopefully end its run.

What this means in the US is still to be determined. The number of infections is very small, but it may hit certain communities harder than others causing them to limit larger gatherings of people. In some ways, for races this is like planning for a hurricane or lightning. For public safety, your event day may have to be postponed – and every event director should have a plan for this situation.

Emergency Plan Options

There are a number of emergency plan options that you can take for your event:

  • Change the date to later this year
  • Cancel this year’s event
  • Hold a Virtual Event

There are many constraints on some events that may not allow a simple postponement such as venue availability or public celebration date. However, the idea of changing the date is probably the best option. If your community is struck with limited group gatherings, there will be a need to get together once this passes. And your event is more important for your community than ever.

The idea of a virtual event can be enhanced with social media and can be made fun and real! Leverage social media and your RunSignup website to communicate. Use our Virtual TXT Results service to make things more real, or our integration with Strava – or let people upload their “races” to your Facebook page with a screenshot from their favorite app or just upload selfies. People will need this virtual community if you are in this situation.

We would suggest leniency on your deferment policy – let people know early and often that their registration fee is safe and they will get into next year’s race for free. Work with your RunSignup rep on deferment strategies – whether you simply change your race date or you create a new year and do deferment transfers to the new year.

Also, set some refund reserve aside. Some customers will want their money back and even if you do not offer refunds, they may be able to do a
chargeback on their credit cards and that will come out of your race funds.

Set your own expectations that registrations have the risk of being down a bit this year. Eventbrite had their quarterly earnings call today and suggested that their growth was going to be below expectations because of the coronavirus in 2020. While they did not give exact numbers, they did suggest that because of their international reach they are seeing some events cancelled and some lower ticket sales.

RunSignup is going to start a weekly report on Monday that will track year over year “same race” registration totals from a sample of races that were on our platform in 2019 and 2020 from the previous week. For example, on Monday we will publish results from a set of races from Monday-Sunday of the previous week compared with the same week from 2019. This will be interesting data to track and compare with your race or event. Hopefully it will give us all a hint at the impact on our events.

While we hope the negative impact on your event and your community, and certainly the entire world, is minimal, we all should plan for potential problems. And please feel free to share your ideas and suggestions on how your event and community are handling this.

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