When Shambhala Music Festival is operating at full swing, Dr. Brendan Munn looks out for the largest city in the West Kootenay. With over 200 volunteers operating a state-of-the-art medical facility and caring for around 17,000 guests, crew and artists, his healthcare operation is the biggest in the region. That’s no small task for anyone to undertake, let alone for someone to tackle in seven years. But the program has become his baby in that time. Since Munn’s first Shambhala in 2012 - when he started working in the public safety program as a volunteer - Shambhala’s state-of-the-art medical program has become an industry leader.
Speaking to us by telephone from Mont Tremblant, QC, Munn said that he regularly travels to conferences where the work and research conducted on the Salmo River Ranch has started to spark conversations and set precedents for how to deal with event management. He said there isn’t much literature at all surrounding that kind of medical practice, and that Shambhala, yet again, has led the world - all from a farm in the tiny mountain hamlet of Salmo, British Columbia.
I think the biggest thing is that the festival has so many awesome services in place to ensure that people don’t end up in medical. It makes it kind of a gem to have this job. If you go to other festivals or places in the industry, they don’t have that kind of bigger picture and focus. And because of that and the training that we’ve done, we’ve brought the level of care up across the industry. We also do a ton of research and develop data. Event medicine is something that doesn’t have a lot of history or much of a knowledge base. We try to contribute to that and work year-round developing best practices. That helps us focus our training and preparation to make sure we and others are properly prepared every summer for festival season. It's the product of our training and our hard working team of crew and volunteers.
That training and teamwork takes the form of constant preparation for every summer on the farm and also gets presented at medical conferences in as far-reaching places as New York City and South Africa. It means 30 people working per shift, with two or three doctors, and countless nurses, paramedics, first responders, and even a respiratory therapist on-site providing training and services for everything from a blister to heat stroke. And it means that the team that’s been developed is highly competitive.
Munn said he takes pride in that.
His team has an extremely low turnover rate, meaning that the folks on the ground do a couple months of online training and review six to eight hours of festival specific content, are experienced and ready to do their job on-site. Because of that, less than one percent of our guests seen at medical need to leave site for treatment.
We’re generally pretty competitive for volunteers. We have to turn people away. And we’re really proud of the fact that it’s a competitive job that people want to do. We have a really strong group of long term volunteers who bring a great deal of experience to the job. We can do almost everything that a full-on hospital can do and because of the program we’ve developed, the local health infrastructure is almost completely unburdened by festival operations.
But as much pride as he takes in his work, it’s the little things that keep him coming back year after year. It’s the floats in the river. The grassroots, corporate free culture. The music by the stages. And the Shambhalove that makes our whole world go round.
Tips from our medical director on what to do in the case of a medical emergency
If you witness anyone who requires medical attention or are present at the site of a medical emergency, please immediately report it to our team. Our trained medical professionals and paramedics can respond anywhere on site in minutes. They can be reached at 1-778-724-1119.
When reporting a medical emergency, please know your location, campground, street name or stage area. The more precise the information you can provide, the better we are able to respond.
If it is safe to do so, stay where you are, and please stay on the phone and with the person who requires attention.
If the situation resolves please call back or wait for the team to arrive.
If the area is too loud to make a phone call, find a Shambhala Music Festival team member and they can radio for assistance. They will immediately contact emergency dispatch and send someone to the rally point.
Our medical team operates three emergency vehicles that can respond anywhere on site in minutes.
If you have the chance to make your way towards our primary health care facility, it is the big green medical building downtown in the heart of the Health and Well-Being Zone.
A limited number of medications including Plan B are available for purchase, and prescription orders and delivery can be arranged.
If you need over the counter medications, most are available for purchase at the General Store.
A Q and A with the Doctor behind the scenes and the team who keep each and every one of you safe, healthy and dancing
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF SHAMBHALA?
It’s being part of a really cool community that has a really distinct culture and has no corporate sponsorship. Shambhala has a really accepting atmosphere, and there’s something about being there that is super fun on its own. It’s a place that we all on the team love hanging out at and being part of everything that happens. It’s floating a river and being able to spend a couple hours to go catch a couple acts in a night and then to be able to do those things beside a job that I really love and am passionate about. Those things definitely don’t happen in an emergency department or at a hospital.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING AT SHAMBHALA?
It’s the group of talented people and the community. I would push out my love to everyone the public safety team. We all work hard to work well together as a unit and everyone’s contribution to the overall safety of the festival. And the true commitment that the festival has to safety is a big piece of why it’s so special to work here. And I would push out my love to our volunteers as well. Whether they are coming for the culture, the experience, or the medical training. It’s the people who come back year after year who make a difference and have fun doing it. I just think that we wouldn’t be able to do it without those people. We have nearly 200 volunteers at medical. They could be getting paid, and they do it at our festival for free because the experience and the impact is worth it for them.
HOW’D YOU GET INVOLVED WITH SHAMBHALA IN THE FIRST PLACE?
I was volunteering and got connected because I was doing a locum in Nelson and had heard from doctor friends who had volunteered and thought I’d check it out. I just fell in love with it. I ended up doing shifts at the festival and then heading back to the hospital and then heading back to the festival and I just loved the crazy action and the fun environment and the people on the farm and my colleagues, especially Alex Chudis who ran things previously and who I became really good friends with. All of us got really close and bonded through the experience of working as a team. Then the director position opened up and I thought it would be a great challenge, but I also saw the potential for where the system could go. Now six years later, here I am. It’s been amazing to watch the growth of the program and to be a part of it. We’ve gotten a lot of props from outside folks and our approach to safety has made us industry leading. And I really mean that. Folks are looking to us as an example of what to do in event healthcare and management.