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How to Prepare For and Handle an Emergency at Your Wedding

by Staff

Despite all of our best efforts, there will always be elements of a wedding day that will be entirely out of our control. Medical and weather-related emergencies are the last things anyone wants to encounter. But with a bit of purposeful planning—and a grounded-from-the-beginning perspective—you’ll still be able to pull off a wedding day you’ll never forget, even if not a single part of it goes according to expectations. 

“The only thing that matters is that you’re here, everyone you love is here, and they’re going to celebrate you and your love,” says event planner Nancy Park. “Ultimately, all the details you’ve been planning for your wedding should pale in comparison to that.” 

Still, that doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice everything you’ve worked for. “Even if we’re going to Plan B, we have your vision in mind and we’re going to try to duplicate it as much as possible,” assures fellow pro Heather Dwight. 

Meet the Expert

• Nancy Park is the founder of and principal planner with So Happi Together Event Design & Planning. Based in Southern California, she has been in the wedding industry for over 14 years. 

• Heather Dwight is the owner of Calluna Events. Based in Colorado, her company is in its 19th wedding season.

While your vendor team will ultimately lead the charge on managing these stressful situations, there are certain steps you can take to prepare yourselves just in case. Read on for Park and Dwight’s expert advice on how to tackle wedding day emergencies, including important pointers on how to shift the order of events and take care of guests during the process. 

How to Handle a Weather-Related Emergency

Rain on your wedding day might be seen as lucky, but it also requires some changes to your plans. Here are a few ways to prepare for not-so-sunny weather.

Have a Backup Plan From the Beginning 

The easiest way to relieve stress and uncertainty in the face of a weather-related wedding emergency is to know how you’re going to handle it before it even happens. That usually means selecting a venue with indoor spaces available for parts of the day you’re hoping to host outdoors, such as the ceremony or cocktail hour, or budgeting for and securing a wedding tent in a style you like, even if you never use it. In places subject to hurricanes or tropical storms, it’s also worth inquiring about a venue’s back-up generators in case of power outages. 

One thing that’s important, no matter where you’re marrying, is making sure your venue—and vendor teams—have ample staff.  “If a rain shower is coming in and going out, we can go forward with our initial plan. But, we might need to cover furniture, dry chairs, or mop standing water out of ceremony spaces,” explains Dwight. And nothing helps execute a last-minute change of plans faster than having the appropriate number of hands on deck. 

Lean on Your Vendor Team 

Chances are high that while this may be your first wedding, it will not be your vendor team’s. Rather than stressing about calling the shots in a situation you have no experience with, rely on and trust their expertise. Your vendors’ instincts will be built from handling similar situations in the past, and they’ll know what changes need to be made in order to both ensure guest safety and maximize enjoyment. 

Part of that trust, of course, begins long before any emergency occurs, which is why it can be useful to build your wedding team based upon recommendations from other vendors. In Colorado, for example, where weather can shift frequently, Dwight encourages her teams to allow ample driving and prep time in the face of unexpected mountain road closures. But, she’s also careful to work with pros who prioritize the client experience, and who subsequently aren’t afraid to call in favors from one another—such as picking up supplies if a truck gets stuck en route—to bring a wedding vision to life no matter the obstacle faced.

Monitor and Shift As Needed  

If storms are rolling in and out throughout the day, keep careful watch of weather radars—and be flexible with your timelines. By bumping the ceremony forward or back a few minutes, you may just get the break in the clouds needed to pull off that outdoor ceremony. Yes, it may require sacrificing a half-hour of open dance floor later on, and your bar tab might creep up a bit if you pass around glasses of Champagne to guests while they wait out the storm, but the adjustments will be more than worth it. 

Keep Guests Comfortable Throughout 

If snow flurries unexpectedly arrive ahead of an outdoor ceremony, add a blanket to every chair and offer a warming beverage—or even hand warmers!—upon arrival. (In shoulder seasons, Dwight also keeps patio heaters on hold for every event.) If rain showers cannot be avoided, set up barrels of umbrellas—clear ones look the best in photos!—for guests to grab as they make their way to their seats. As long as attendees feel taken care of, their spirits will stay high in the face of the elements.

Understand the Realities of Renting a Tent Last-Minute 

“If there’s any sort of inclement weather, everybody else is going to try to rent a tent last-minute, too,” warns Dwight. That means it will likely be very difficult to find coverage for your al fresco dinner with just a few days’ notice. Even if you are successful, the costs might be too much to bear. “Suddenly spending $10,000, $20,000, or $30,000 the week of your wedding on a tent that you never wanted can be devastating,” says Park. That’s why she makes sure to pull options and discuss prices with clients well in advance, even if a deposit is not made. 

Pay Attention to States of Emergency 

Fortunately, the chances of having to completely cancel a wedding in the face of inclement weather are pretty low. (Even during Boulder’s 100-year-flood disaster in 2013, Dwight was able to move an entire weekend of wedding events to other venues in under 24 hours.) That said, if state or county governments are calling for evacuations in the face of wildfires, hurricanes, or massive snowstorms, you absolutely must comply. Having a proper understanding of the postponement and cancellation clauses in your wedding contracts will ensure you won’t have to worry about losing deposits while also trying to get to safety. 

How to Handle a Medical Emergency 

If someone in the wedding party or a guest has a medical emergency at the event, swift action often needs to take place. Here’s how to keep things safe and your party going smoothly.

Research Urgent Care and ERs Ahead of Time 

If you’re planning a destination wedding, marrying in a remote locale, or simply getting hitched away from home, it pays to do your research. Scope out the closest urgent care centers and emergency rooms, and keep their numbers and addresses in a Notes app on your phone. Park suggests consulting with your venue or hotel directly on the matter, as they may have unexpected insight. “Depending on what has happened, driving to urgent care or the E.R. may not be as good of an idea as having a [medical professional] come to you,” she says. 

It’s also a good idea to stock your emergency kit with medical tape, antiseptic, anti-nausea meds, Benadryl, and, if someone in attendance has a known allergy, an EpiPen.

When allergies are a serious concern, Park stations members of her team directly at the tables of those with the allergies to serve as a final check that they won’t be interacting with unsafe ingredients.

Assess The Situation 

The decision to seek treatment for a rolled ankle, pulled back, or sprained shoulder is a personal one. “Everyone’s tolerance of pain and anxiety is different,” asserts Park. “For some people, it gives them more anxiety to leave and not be part of the day, rather than sticking it out.” That said, it’s never worth risking anyone’s health or life to make a wedding happen. If a delay in treatment will cause lasting damage, or if you’re dealing with a broken or dislocated bone, it’s crucial to seek out a medical professional immediately. “The bride and groom will always understand that health comes first,” she adds. 

Keep Time in Perspective 

If you wake up the morning of with a bout of food poisoning (or, perhaps more realistically, a severe hangover), Park notes that the key thing to remember is that the main event is still several hours away. “The wedding is what’s most important, so I’d want [my client] to conserve as much energy for that as possible,” she says. Rather than immediately launching into a frenetic hair and makeup schedule or hours of posing for portraits, she’ll suggest clients relax, drink plenty of fluids, and later work into a less ambitious series of pictures that still captures the core moments. (Keep in mind there’s also plenty of time for pics after the ceremony and during cocktail hour!)

Let Word Circulate 

If a member of the marrying couple undergoes an injury or medical emergency that will delay the day’s events, Park says that strategic transparency is the best policy when it comes to communicating with guests. “We’re all about being calm when communicating,” she asserts. “Our team would circulate among the crowd to let them know a minor emergency has happened and things will be delayed, but the wedding will go on because [the couple] can’t wait to celebrate.”

Take Care of Guest’s Core Needs 

Food and drink is always a good way to keep wedding guests occupied in the face of a delay, so feel free to bring it in as needed. “If something happens before the ceremony, we would start handing out appetizers,” Park explains. “If something were to happen during cocktail hour, we might bring everyone inside and go straight into the first course—that’s already been fired up by the kitchen—so that there’s no grand entrance.” In the end, it’s all about keeping attendees comfortable. As long as you don’t leave them hungry or out in the hot sun or cold air too long, they’ll be able to enjoy themselves no matter what is thrown their way. 

Change Up The Schedule As Necessary 

Beyond shifting around cocktail hour and dinner, you can also begin the reception with a set of open dancing. This works especially well if you’ve hired a live band, as they can launch into interactive versions of especially beloved songs that will keep guests engaged and energy levels high—possibly even enough so that they don’t immediately notice a missing bride or groom.

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