Managing the Risk Relationships of Special Event Programming

Marilyn Rivers, CPCU, ARM, AIC
Principal, Rivers Risk Consulting, LLC
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Community special events are an opportunity for the community to gather to participate in an activity that may be public or private, lasting in duration from a few hours to days in duration. They have the capacity to generate community publicity and dollars for the local economy while instilling goodwill in community endeavors. If managed efficiently, the collaborative efforts between government agencies and private sector companies combine resources to promote the special event in a community context, increasing the profile of government, private enterprise and hometown initiatives.

Special events are a unique opportunity to show the very best of what a community has to offer. Communication and planning are key to inviting a community’s diversity into the organizational process of determining the scope and breadth of an event. Local businesses often lack resources to promote their products and services. Special events, while labor intensive, offer the best of a broad-brush effort to allow participation of all size and types of businesses to benefit from the generic publicity a special event may have to offer.

Public private partnerships are important in organizing special events on a large scale regardless of whether they are in a private or public setting. An argument can be made that both are mutually beneficial to each other…if done correctly.

Success in any endeavor requires constructive communication in managing the totality of the risk associated with it. Constructive communication includes proactively communicating the initial special event program proposal and then engaging in ongoing communication to provide updates as they occur. Population projections and the scale of the event will drive the resources needed to effectively manage the risks associated with the event and plan risk mitigation activities for the inevitable issues that may arise. Planned activities, vendors and entertainment need to be examined individually and in the context of what is being planned.

Public resources for community event planning begin with a robust licensing/permitting process. That review should include a multidisciplinary approach by risk, public safety/fire and police, code enforcement, public works and building/zoning. Each of these reviews brings with it an opportunity to ensure the success of an event and to proactively identify potential issues that may negatively impact it. They also come with a cost that should be proactively assessed and managed including additional staffing, overtime and public works preparation.

Private resources for special events may include increased staffing, security, event participation fees, and planning for potential business obstructions or modifications if the event has special conditions. Building-Zoning and Code Enforcement play a special role in assisting in the determination of whether the event lawfully meets a community’s land use regulations.

Strategic risk planning seizes opportunities. Community special events are opportunities for entrepreneurship, publicity, participation, and an influx of money into private and public coffers. They attract existing customers and visitors, expanding customer business bases and potentially attracting new enterprises. They also increase community risk profiles. These events attract people of various demographics and personal experiences. Social media, while beneficial, has the potential of generating negative risk characteristics that require more careful considerations to ensure a community’s spirit is protected while ensuring the civil liberties of all.

The nuts and bolts of risk mitigation for special events relies on proactive and effective communication and partnerships. It’s important to understand that the private business sector is an integral partner in the success of any special event and municipal risk mitigation. Remembering that the private sector is freer to embrace innovation enables risk to learn and grow and be mutually beneficial to governance in special event planning and its community.

*The views and opinions expressed in the Public Risk Management Association (PRIMA) blogs are those of each respective author. The views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of PRIMA.*

By: Marilyn Rivers, CPCU, ARM, AIC
Principal, Rivers Risk Consulting, LLC

Summary of Qualification

Marilyn Rivers is a nationally recognized public-private entity strategic risk management professional and educator who has extensive experience in delivering program development, fiscal oversight, compliance, and education tailored to meet the dynamic needs of business. She recently retired from public service with a combined thirty-five years of experience managing risk in both the public-private sectors. Marilyn is the Principal of Rivers Risk Consulting. She holds a BS in Chemistry from Clarkson and a MEd from Tufts University. Her professional designations include the CPCU, ARM and AIC. Marilyn was the recipient of the PRIMA Risk Manager of the Year in 2007. She was instrumental in designing the resurgence of PRIMA Institute and actively facilitated and designed its programming for many years. She actively provides risk mitigation services to the local non-profit community. She’s an active volunteer for multiple organizations and currently serves as the President of her Lions Club. She’s won national and international awards including the Lions International Robert J Uplinger Award (2014), Knight of the Blind (2016), and Melvin Jones Fellowship Distinguished Service Award (2018).

Professional Affiliations

  • CPCU Society
  • Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce
  • Lions International


  • NIMS Certifications, US Department of Homeland Security
  • Associate in Claims, The Institutes
  • Associate in Risk Management, The Institutes
  • Physics Minor, SUNY Albany
  • Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter, CPCU Society
  • Masters in Education, Tufts University
  • Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Clarkson University

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