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Festival Planning: Managing risk is part of parish festival

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Staff report

ARCHDIOCESE — Cathy Egan’s favorite part of the St. Gertrude Parish festival is watching the faces of young children participate in games and rides at the annual summer event.

As chairperson of the Madeira-based parish festival for the past 22 years, Egan likes seeing the sheer pleasure of a child winning a goldfish or playing in soccer or basketball contests with friends.

“I just love seeing how the parish and the community come together,” she said.

With 700 volunteers in a variety of roles, the festival manages six booths and runs for about 17 hours on a typical summer weekend.

The St. Gertrude Parish festival, one of the most well known on the east side of Cincinnati, has scheduled the 2010 festival for June 11-13. While the event is months away, Egan has meetings scheduled in the winter to prepare for the weekend.

Egan and her committee members are also aware that while the festival is meant to be fun for everyone, it also serves as a significant fundraiser for the parish. The St. Gertrude Parish auction booth can generate up to $60,000, according to Egan.

As with any area parish festival that involves rides, games, food and beverages, a common theme is money. That also entails the need to safely protect the interest of patrons, the parish and the archdiocese.

Parish festivals must be mindful to manage potential risk against issues that could potentially include the misuse of alcohol, security concerns, theft, counterfeit currency and/or ride or equipment failures.

But the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and its 218 parishes are not alone in managing risk. The archdiocese carries Arthur J. Gallagher as its administrator and reinsurance agent.

Barb Walsh, director of benefits and risk management for the archdiocese, said there are several outlets for advising parishes about potential liability risks at festivals.

“We utilize information in the Clergy Communications, meetings with parish business managers and articles in our property and liability newsletter to raise the level of awareness regarding all of the issues (that could involve risk),” Walsh said.

The newsletter, which is produced by the archdiocese with the help of Gallagher Bassett Services, Inc., often contains reminders in the winter about festivals.

Those reminders advise parishes to review the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s rules and regulations on carnival equipment and rides, alcohol sales and age requirements for games of chance. Also included is information on other activities, such as paint ball, rock walls and inflatable amusements — all of which are not allowed at parish festivals because the archdiocesan insurance underwriters will not insure against those injuries.

“The archdiocese reviews activities and claims from recent years in the development of guidelines,” Walsh said. “We must always adhere to laws in the areas of liquor and gambling. We publish these on our website, along with our other communications.”

Generally speaking, Walsh said her office receives an average of three to four reports of injuries to patrons and workers annually at parish festivals in the archdiocese.

Walsh said it is very important for parish festival committee members and workers to communicate with the archdiocese’s insurance company in order to clearly understand guidelines for activities.

“In fact, we had even discussed with our claims office a seminar for parish festival committee members,” Walsh said.

At St. Gertrude, Egan said the festival has never encountered any significant problems. For amusement rides, Egan said the festival has done business for 25 years with Cincinnati-based Murray Brothers and has not had a safety issue. Moreover, the city of Madeira inspects the wiring and electrical setup prior to the festival.

Egan said every patron who purchases alcohol is required to wear a wristband and sales are very contained.

Despite the large number of volunteers, the St. Gertrude Parish festival is able to control food and prize inventory using a computerized system.

The festival also has a booth for ordering food so a slip of paper indicates exactly what the patron has ordered — minimizing the risk of mistakes.

All types of inventory are of utmost importance for parishes these days. Individual parish festivals can make from anywhere from $2,000 to $200,000, from a festival weekend, according to Richard Kelly, chief financial officer and treasurer for the archdiocese.

From a general parish perspective, Kelly said the concerns are two-fold at festivals. The first is the theft of money since most, if not all, transactions are handled in cash. Second is the ability to put a tight control on inventory during the weekend.

Although parishes have to be mindful of several potential liability issues at festivals, Kelly said there is a fine line between being careful and allowing patrons to have fun during the various activities for children and adults.

“The main thing about festivals is that they’re fun,” Kelly said. “We want to manage risk, we don’t want to eliminate risk,” Kelly said.

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