Event Safety

Cities hold a variety of festivals, celebrations and special events; while some of these events are directly sponsored by cities, many are organized by other groups and held on city property. These events can be very positive for the growth and enrichment of the community. On the other hand, there exists the chance that the event could have a negative impact on individuals, businesses and the city if something would go drastically wrong. In order to avoid, reduce or transfer the risk of loss the following points should be considered when planning a special event.

City Sponsored Events

If the city is sponsoring the event, then every party, group or department involved in planning or executing the event should have their roles and functions clearly defined, preferably in writing. Examples of those involved are police, legal counsel, grounds-keeping, local emergency medical services (EMS), fire department, local hospitals or medical providers.


When selecting vendors or service providers for special events, cities should make sure that all applicable purchasing and contracting requirements are met. For the protection of the city, each contract should be prepared or reviewed by legal counsel. Typical contract provisions include: indemnification, requirement that the contractor obtain insurance and include the public entity, and clearly defined payment arrangements and contingencies for the possibility of cancellation or postponement of the event by the public entity.


If volunteers are helping with the event, it is important to give proper instructions on exactly what their job is and how they are to perform it. This information should include: their duties and organizers’ expectations; who is in charge; where to get first aid; specific instructions for contacting emergency medical personnel; where water, supplies and restrooms are located; and a diagram of the area and where each volunteer is working. It is helpful to have this information in writing in case there are questions after instructions. Training your volunteers on their roles and responsibilities is a small, extra step that can help produce a more successful event. Cities should use caution having volunteers drive any vehicles (including their own) at the event. If absolutely necessary, all drivers should be at least 18 and be required to provide proof of insurance and a valid driver’s license. A liability waiver, written and/or approved by the city attorney, should also be signed by each volunteer.

Parking and Traffic Control

All parking facilities should have either attendants or law enforcement on hand. These personnel should be provided with hats, vests and/or flashlights to increase their visibility and aid them in doing their jobs safely. Documented training sessions on the parking plan and traffic control should be held in advance of the event. The areas should be well marked and lit. Cones or other marking materials should be used to assist with directing traffic and pedestrian walkways through the parking areas. All parking areas should be in good repair. Clear traffic aisles must be left for emergency vehicles’ access to all areas of the event. Buses should have a separate area away from the other parking facilities because of the increased number of people involved with this mode of transportation and the size of the vehicles. If possible, loading and unloading zones for buses are good ways to handle these situations.


When a street is closed for a special event, barricades need to be placed so no motor vehicles can drive around or through the barricades. There should be signs indicating the road is closed. These sites should be checked regularly during the event to ensure barricades are in place. If possible, the area should be attended, especially when the closed street is occupied by pedestrians.

Food and Alcohol

If food will be made available, check with the health department for guidelines addressing preparation and serving of food. Prepackaged food is usually easier and safer to have available. Guidelines for use of electrical, heating, cooking and refrigerating units should be established and inspections of these units documented before the event begins. If alcoholic beverages are served and/or sold, licenses need to be obtained and laws observed.


All property and structures should be inspected for identification of exposure to accidents. These inspections should be documented.

Toilet facilities

Check with the health department on the recommended number of facilities needed based on the estimated maximum number of people at peak attendance times.


Clean-up and preservation of property is much easier when placement of structures and waste receptacles, and traffic patterns are planned in advance. Diagramming the area can be a useful tool in spotting problem areas and correcting issues before the event begins.

Insurance Requirements

Extra coverage may need to be added during the time of the event especially if vehicles, animals, pyrotechnics or other kinds of equipment are used. Check with the city’s insurance carrier for information on these requirements.

Other events on city property

Local governments often make their facilities available to the public for a variety of events or uses. These include use of the community center, council chambers, parks and streets for meetings and parties, as well as the events already listed. The city should require the individual or group to secure a permit to use the city’s facilities on a one-time or recurring basis. The city may need to adopt an ordinance for this purpose.

Information for this Web page was provided by the Iowa Communities Assurance Pool (ICAP). Formed in 1986 and endorsed by the Iowa League of Cities, ICAP offers property and liability coverage for public entities and special districts.

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