Making Events Safer With Risk Mapping

Author / Mark Breen
27 Jul ‘17
Safety for events can be quite daunting, especially for people who don't do it professionally. Sometimes you likely need professionals but there are tools you can use to help you understand risk at your events. Risk Mapping is one of those tools.

This article was originally published in the International Festivals & Events Association’s “i.e.: the business of international events” quarterly magazine. The premiere association supporting and enabling festivals and events worldwide. 

For more information on the IFEA, go to:

It has been adapted & amended slightly for use here.


In my last column for the IFEA, I outlined the new direction I’d be taking with my column and introduced my assertion that the traditional approach to risk assessment to events is inherently flawed, in that it doesn’t give any weight to the reality that risk changes over time.

People often ask for a 'risk assessment template' and I don't really think there is such a thing. There is a good way of approaching risk assessments and there are steps to take but a 'template' isn't really the best approach.

In that last column I used the example of an event during ingress (people coming in) when thousands of people are streaming through the front doors and the risk of slips, trips & falls at the front door is naturally quite high. That same area at the front door, once everyone is in the seats and the show has started will have a much lesser risk of slips, trips & falls.

There are several other examples that I frequently use when I deliver training but I have found the ingress at the front door example is the one that seems to resonate most with people.

Duty of care

If you accept, from the example above, that clearly risk DOES change over time DURING an event, then it’s obvious that utilising the traditional risk assessment matrix alone doesn’t accurately account for the risks at an event.

My apologies also, because if you DO accept the above, then you will now need to consider enhancing how your do your risk assessments. Your duty of care to your staff, contractors and attendees means you need to be conducting as effective and robust a risk assessment process as possible.

There are more effective and robust risk assessment processes than the one most commonly used and, dare I say, near ‘industry standard’ at this stage.

Risk Mapping

Risk Mapping is an extremely effective and simple way of factoring in situational changes over the course of your event.

It’s a simple concept whereby you take maps of your site and colour in areas where risks exist at a given time. So, for instance, for a concert event in an established venue you might do different maps for the following:

  • Queuing / Ingress period
  • During the show
  • Half-time / Intermission
  • Egress

What time periods you use is dictated largely by the event itself and varies. Your choices simply need to make logical sense to separate from a risk perspective.

Rather than being a risk assessment example, the below illustrates one element of the risk assessment process. 

For instance, if you consider the Risk Maps below from the Dublin Pride event we worked on in 2015, we chose to separate these ones based on the level of occupancy within the event itself.

So, over time, the concentration of people at the event moved from being within the queuing / search system during Main Ingress to being inside the event perimeter and spreading out on the event site: 50% pax and 80%-100% pax. We then mapped Main Egress as there were multiple exit options open to attendees. 


Risk Mapping can be done with paper and some colouring pencils. In fact, it’s likely best done with paper and some colouring pencils. That’s how we do it 90% of the time. We then scan them in and add them into Event Management Plans or Licence Applications. Of course, they can be done on computer too but they don’t need to be.

There’s a lot to be said for manually doing something. There are studies and strong arguments to support the contention that we learn and understand things better the more they require a manual input.

Beyond that, it’s quite enjoyable, especially compared to a lot of the documentation work we find ourselves doing when planning events. Often, in here, the Risk Mapping element of Event Management Plan development is one we look forward to.

The benefits

We have found Risk Mapping to be extremely beneficial in communicating the concept of risk and how it changes during the event to key stakeholders. Most people find it easier to understand things presented visually rather than written. That is particularly the case when it comes to something as abstract as the concept of risk at events.

With our key stakeholders better understanding how we interpret the risk at our events, they better understand the measures we opt to implement to keep our attendees safe. Ultimately, the more they understand what we do and why we do it, the greater the trust we enjoy and the smoother a process licensing and securing permissions and concessions becomes.

This is one of a set of highly useful tools and approaches to planning for the safety of crowds, developed by Prof Dr. G Keith Still. Prof. Still teaches these techniques on the Introduction to Crowd Safety and Risk Analysis course, which we run with him here in Ireland. These tools also form the building blocks on the MSc in Crowd Safety & Risk Analysis in MMU. 

It is also a worthwhile exercise for us, as event planners, as it focuses our minds on the true nature of the risk at our events and how it will change during the event. This then allows us to better plan for the safety of our attendees.

Risk Mapping doesn’t replace the traditional risk assessment matrix. It sits and works alongside it, enhancing its effectiveness. The traditional matrix is still a useful tool but it’s not enough.


Consider Risk Mapping for your next event. Take your site map and think about where and when you have risks to your attendees. Enjoy taking some colouring pencils and colouring those risks red, amber or green accordingly. Redhigh risk, ambermedium risk and greenlow risk.  

Then run it by some stakeholders and see if they find it easy / easier to understand. In my experience, most do and that has to be a good thing for you and for your attendees.