“When can we expect the nation to come out of lockdown?”

From Laura Kuenssberg on behalf of the BBC (We jest)

The nightly question by the media outlets that we should be relaying on to ask probing questions on what actions are been taken, what are the next steps and setting a tone of the country that lets the nation know we are either doing well, or all on an out of control bus trip through the flaming gates of hell.

Now that I have got that little rant and of the cuff remark out the way, as crowd management “experts”, how can we envision getting life back to normal, or the new normal? It is the great question everyone is asking if they attend crowded events. Obviously there is the tech divisions throwing all sorts of thermal temperature checking devises at the market, from cameras, to walk through devises to what I can only describe as what a cook would point at a pot of boiling fat. Do not take this as being dismissive, I am sure they have their place, but I doubt that place is at the forefront of the solution. This reminds me of when crowd modelling became popular and computer models where going to solve all our crowd related problems. Just like that, the problems are far more complex and the tech only scratches the surface, just like all those “airport style” search systems that where set up at events in the past few years, they look just grand don’t they; a great deterrent, not sure viruses pay attention to deterrents though.

So how do we move forward or move into the new normal?

The physical world

We are sure the upcoming addition of the Oxford dictionary will include “social distancing”, the world held part at 6ft / 2meters distance. It is amazing to observe how the great majority of the world adopted this, before the supermarkets and the retail outlets could implement solutions, where customers looked to keep their distance. It was fascinating to watch, the level of co-operation among those attempting to buy the basics in life; although I am sure the study of bulk buying toilet roll will keep students entertained for years to come. Next up was the implementation of crowd management solutions; queuing, one way systems etc. We must pass on our praise for the great majority of retailers for adapting so quickly to this. But, this also comes with condemnation for the fake and dangerous loss of control that is Black Friday. You have now proven that this is a deliberate act to draw attention to the smoke and mirrors of price reductions…tut…..tut.

A retail experience is one thing, it is not an event space though. A shop can have one way systems, control the amount of people using it and slow and continuous arrival profiles. Let’s think about a basic event space that most can relate to, a football stadium. Either large or small, they all have the same basic set up, arrival areas, turnstile systems, concourse areas, concession outlets, toilets, viewing space, hospitality areas, back of house areas. To watch a match, you have to arrive, enter, move internally, reach a viewing area, loiter, and potentially use toilets or concessions, then you have to leave. Guidance for stadiums provides us with a density of 2 persons per square meter dependent on exit width capacity, so not really matching up to keeping 2 meter distance. So what are we looking at?

  • A dramatic drop in capacity
  • A review of queuing space externally and internally.
  • How would the viewing space work in line with social distancing; consider the layout?
  • A reduction in toilet facility capacity and the setup of queuing space and management systems.
  • How do you control the use to facilities during the traditionally busy half time period?
  • The egress at the end of the event with social distancing?

These are a few of the problems that must be considered for the use of a football stadium if you wish to continue with social distancing. We should also mention that this does not include the travel to the stadium, where mass transit is the traditional form of arrival and that most stadiums have a limited car parking capacity.

The psychological.

The physical world is a puzzle that can be overcome through, with enough thought and acceptance of change. Can the same be said for what people are thinking? We all have our own thoughts on what we are going through; although this can possibly be clustered into groups of thought. Let’s start with those that accept social distancing and those that don’t; would we class this as in group and out group? We also need to consider how people are reacting to this pandemic, the introduction of worry, possible fear, exposure to prolonged isolation, a want to protect one’s self, a want to make up for lost time and put this all behind us to mention a few. How do you bring all these different requirements together?

Understanding will take time, more than what we have had. This will also change over time the deeper we go into lockdown. Some will become frustrated, others accepting, but all are looking for a solution.

The financial

When we return with the new normal, there are a great deal of people out there expecting people to celebrate their new found freedom and events are expected to be a large part of that. Who are we to argue with the experts, we can only view the world through our own lens.

From a personal point of view I am conflicted on these “celebrations”. Firstly, is a period of mourning required, to be respectful to those that we lost? Next we must look at the financial considerations of life, can we afford to celebrate. There are those that are financially stable and have seen limited impact on their lives; are they the most vocal to celebrate, to reclaim their privilege and separate them again from those that cannot. But, there are those that will be going through great financial difficulties and this will be in the majority. Will they be in a position to attend events and throw money away that they will need to pay bills and feed themselves and the ones they love?

The industry

The events industry has been ripped apart and most of it put in to hibernation (or furlough for some). Events do not happen overnight and the timing and scale of the return to the new normal will have to be timed correctly.  How do we plan for the unknown; attendance, social distance, financial viability, workforce availability and event partners still in operation. For those not in the industry they seem to think that the green light is given and the next day the world returns to normal………

All of these points are very simple but they are the facts that must be considered and planned for when it comes to crowded events emerging into the new norm. Are we in a position to return to crowded events, we can only speak personally and that is NO. There is a lot of planning and preparation needed and an industry wide communication plan of what will be needed of those attending; with common themes across all events, if we all go off in different tangents people will become confused.

Prepare…….plan…….work together……communicate……review……plan…….communicate…..phased return.

These are the simple thoughts going through our head. It is the small building blocks to construct the complexity of the events industry, just as I am sure you are all trying to solve.

In the meantime, Stay Safe and thinking caps on.

Working With Crowds May 4th 2020

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