We love farmers markets for many reasons – one of which is that they continue to be open, inviting community spaces where people can safely gather in person. However, in the light of recent public safety tragedies such as mass shootings, we know that farmers markets (as with anywhere now, unfortunately) could be a location where an incident could occur. As such, we’ve been thinking about the steps that markets can take to be prepared for these types of situations all the while maintaining farmers markets as welcoming and warm community spaces.
“I think what is clear from the many examples we have sadly seen around the US is that an emergency action plan is something all markets should have in place and should be shared with vendors ahead of time,” explains Dar Wolnik, Senior Advisor at the Farmers Market Coalition. For instance, in the case of a shooting at market, she suggests: “The market and all vendors should be prepared to call 911 immediately and should be ready to use their vehicles under or in front to shelter as much as possible and to scout out nearby places that can be secured against entry (including bathrooms and shops) that they can access quickly without risking more attention.”
Additional safety measures that markets should take include the following:
- Study your market layout and consider positioning trucks at entry points to prevent unauthorized car or truck access. Keep in mind there should be exit routes for customers and vendors in case there is an emergency.
- Emergency and public safety personnel, as well as their vehicles, may need to enter the market. Adequately wide and open access lanes facilitate this vital service. Check with the fire department regarding protocols for access for emergency response vehicles and personnel and plan for several entrances and exit points and for sufficient unobstructed space between stalls and along main aisles. From market set-up until the last vendor leaves, monitor access areas to ensure that they remain unobstructed by boxes, bicycles, vehicles, or other objects.
- Have evacuation and emergency action plan discussions with your market vendors, staff, and volunteers. Finalize your plan in writing and be sure to share it will everyone. If new staff, vendors, or volunteers join the market after the season has started, be sure to loop them in on the plan.
- Part of the plan should clearly identify a go-to decision-maker. Should something happen at the market, you’ll want to know who the decision-maker is so everyone can communicate with them and know who is authorized to make the final call.
- Contact your local police station and discuss having a police presence at market, uniformed and/or undercover, and have them patrol on a random schedule. Be sure to have the station phone number programmed in your phone. Make sure that your vendors and staff know to call the police when anyone is seen openly carrying a weapon or if a suspicious package is left. Be sure each staff member has a walkie-talkie or cell phone, so personnel not within hearing distance can stay in contact without leaving their area of duty. Use group chat, text messaging, or walkie-talkies to stay in constant communication. Free smartphone apps like Voxer or What’s App can be budget-friendly options.
- Look into a mass text alert system for the area and neighborhood surrounding the market. Many jurisdictions have text alert systems, so perhaps the first step for markets is to see whether your city has a system, how it works, and if the market can participate. If there is a city alert system, market management, on-site staff, and vendors should sign up to receive those alerts.
- In addition, you could come up with audible signals to let farmers and vendors know there’s an emergency underway since some still don’t have smartphones and busy farmers presumably aren’t always looking at theirs.
- Survey your vendors and volunteers to identify who can provide medical assistance in an emergency. Is anyone a volunteer first responder, paramedic, or emergency medical technician (EMT) in their home community? Who is trained in CPR?
- And some safety basics: Every market should have a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. Keep a cheat sheet at the market information table of emergency points of contact and local health institutions. In this day and age of unpredictable weather, you may consider having extra tent weights handy in case a vendor forgets them.
Research and review resources such as:
- Michigan Food & Farming Systems Emergency Procedures for Farmers Markets
- Farmers Market Legal Toolkit
- State of Maryland’s Public Safety Resources List
- Guide to Managing Risks at California Certified Farmers Markets
- Washington State Farmers Market Management Toolkit
Have suggestions or ideas to share on this important topic? We want to hear from you. In addition, if any Maryland market is willing to act as a case study to uncover best practices and partner with us to write a manual on farmers market event safety, please contact us at [email protected].