Yesterday welcomed event production and event safety people from around the world gather in real life at the Royal Garden Hotel in London for the ILMC Production Meeting & Event Safety and Security Summit. Personally it was great to be in 3D with old friends and colleagues and had great fun making new connections through nurturing ideas for how we can collectively improve safety for all.
Although I did not attend all panels, I picked up on some pertinent issues, changes and learnings that I believe can be shared now to enable others to prepare their events more effectively. In addition, as we discussed how we shape the future, further studies into certain areas were highlighted, which I will share to allow those who are conducting further research in event and crowd safety, to perhaps inspire with a few topics.
Please note these comments are the perceptions of panellists, delegates and me, so there will be no reference list. These musings are from notes I captured and so each topic is unrefined, include questions and some suggest further research is needed.
On Crowd Behaviour and planning for your audience profile
It appears in Western Europe that audiences attending live music concerts in arenas are becoming intoxicated earlier on in the evening/event than before the pandemic. Audience expectations appear to be higher - such as not expecting to queue for long periods of time - and then they have lower patience tolerance, can become angry and irritated when those expectations are not met. We have all found it difficult to restart the events industry only for our audience to treat us with irritation, anger and following up with complaints. A delegate shared an anecdote of comparing an event to walking through an airport and how we all have behaved with a low tolerance to waiting, instruction and search procedures. She reminded us to put ourselves in the place of the audience and how short our tempers can become when we are in this situation. So although it's never ok to lash out at someone, I think a shared understanding of how someone might feel can help us to find solutions that support both staff and audience alike.
Another panellist described how their security and safety staff were on the receiving end of heightened anger and disdain post-pandemic, and this was supported by a delegate who runs a cleaning company and shared how their staff experience mistreatment. It seems this heightened emption, tempers, anger and irritiaion is a pandemic itself and perhaps a result of being cooped up for two years and suffering the pain of losing loved ones and the collective pain of loss and feeling powerless to stop it? Further research could help to open this up.
Some venues are 're-researching' the audience profile of an artist to understand if their behaviour has changed post-pandemic. There was an example shared of a venue hosting a darts event and a comedy gig and were surprised to have ejected more people in the comedy gig than the darts. This reminds me that I cannot make assumptions in believing I know the audience type of an event and how they would typically behave.
Furthermore, due to the shift from office work to working from home, Thursday and Sunday nights are busier in the night time economy, where delegates shared that they were getting more heavy/longer drinking on a Sunday night because office workers don't need to call in sick as they can work from home on a Monday. So where previously I assumed that an event on Sunday night means everyone is going to get the train home, perhaps not? Perhaps they will head out into the city for further shenanigans? Do I need to reconsider my transport plan for example?
Interestingly, in Eastern Europe, there seem to be differences in behaviour in that the crowd are not 'misbehaving' and instead grateful to be back at events and 'behaving' accordingly.
What really struck me was the change noticed by panellists on behaviour in the younger audience - they appear to be helping each other out more than what was experienced before. This shift in audience behaviour was supported in one example, shared by a panellist, of a crowd in the pit shining their phone lights on a person who had collapsed in order to get the attention of safety staff. When the staff went into the pit to attend to the patient, the crowd separated to create space for them to access and treat the patient. I wonder if the pandemic shook something up inside us, realising how special and important being together is, and how we need to look out for each other. How can this inform my event planning and allocation of resources if I have a younger audience who could potentially behave this way? Would my event communications and safety notes emphasise on collective responsibility for our safety at an event?
On Staff Resources and Employee Experience
There was great discussion on staff resource, staff shortages, and the impact of supply chain disruptions. Although this has been a 'hot topic' for a while now, one panellist said that we need to move on and work with the cards we have been dealt. She described strategies such as improving on the day briefings and increased management, vigilence and mentoring/on the job training of staff during the event. Tailoring training for these new, inexperienced, but eager recruits is crucial to getting the best out of their performance. This ignited the discussion on staff welfare, pay, respect and the motivating factor of casual staff.
Some believe 'money talks' and others believe (with the support of staff surveys) that respect and welfare are most important to them on the job. It is long assumed that casual staff are often missed off most catering budgets and transport provisions. Providing different levels of catering, or no catering at all, is one way to create division in class between staff on an event. Having been a casual member of staff myself in the past, nothing said I was under-valued more than not being provided food when working a long shift. Furthermore, city centre clean air zones can hinder casual staff from driving to their venue, making them less likely to accept shifts at inner city centre venues if they can't get to them outside of public transport hours. The irony of all this, is that an event cannot happen without our casual staff. Stadia legally cannot open without sufficient crowd safety staff and bars and restaurants cannot operate without hospitality/catering staff. Why is there a tendency to treat them like they don't matter?
The increase in dedicated welfare teams was a welcome change in the application of staff resource to manage and support attendees. Firstly, welfare teams is a welcome addition, providing facilities and services that makes events more accessible. Secondly, one panellist described how this shift has allowed their security staff to focus on their job, allowing the welfare teams to alleviate unspoken demands we place on security and crowd safety staff. With increasing demands on the role of crowd safety staff, especially with the upcoming Protect Duty, I was wondering how we can find a resolution to this shopping list of responsibilities placed on casual staff on low wage. Is the devolution of responsibilities across a variety of roles the answer? Or do we need specially trained response teams? Or do we need to train our attendees in a basic level of first aid - and make it the norm that all humans have a basic level of training? Worth further research.
On Perception of Risk Post-Crowd Disasters/Disturbances
A delegate shared that they have experienced increased show stops by the artist at their events. They shared that many of these "show stops by artist" happened, not because there was an issue in the audience, but for the artist to demonstrate care/consideration etc. to their audience. How does this artist behaviour change since Astroworld impact my event planning?
Our perception of risk is a topic that warrants its own article (or book!) but what was discussed at length was the fact that the 'hot topic' of the day - be it HVM, Covid, drones etc. drives much of event safety planning and especially Safety Advisory Groups or Stakeholder Meetings. The issue with this is, without competent (those with the correct training, experience and qualification to carry out the role) people at the helm of the licensing/approval stage, this imbalance in risk management becomes extreme. For example, a number of panellists and delegates shared the age old story of the decision to install HVM all around a venue, which then had a knock on impact on crowd ingress and egress. Yes vehicle borne threats are a risk, but the question to ask is the likelihood of it happening at your event, and then decide the level of provision to mitigate the risk at that level. Installing HVM which then blocks crowd movements increases risk to crowd safety and could actually be the cause of a potential disaster.
Another great example given by a panellist was of the 'hot topic' of Covid and the need for ventilation provisions for an indoor event. In order to provide this level of ventilation, fire doors would be propped open, increasing risk to crowd safety. Of a study of global crowd disasters between 1988 - 2018, Fire was the highest 'threat' to an event. Our perception of risk is based on our own experiences and bias. In order to effectively manage risk, we need the support of data and research, as we are often clouded by the latest 'hot topic', especially if we are not trained, experienced or qualified to carry out our role.
The Importance of Data and Near Miss
The events industry was born of hard weathered experienced professionals. Qualifications in Bachelor and Masters levels for the events industry only started appearing in the last two/three decades. Delegates and panellists alike agree that although we cannot carry out our role without experience, having training and qualifications enhance, improve and widen our scope of how we approach event planning and risk management. My undergrad lecturer once told me "education teaches you how to think" and I believe combining education with experience only improves our competency and ability to develop well rounded plans.
In our panel on rethinking risk, we discussed the importance of capturing near miss data, which is key to averting disaster. My suggestion is if we had a system such as RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurances Regulations) specific for near misses in events, we could build up a database of information that could support us in improving event planning, utilise resources more effeciently and potentially reduce budgets. Most importantly, it will help us avoid another disaster. Quantitative surveys, data collection and associated research helps us to step away from our tinted glasses and bias, and focus on mitigiting the true risks to our event.
Thoughts for further discussion
I captured these musings in hope to fuel further discussion on how we can approach many of these pertinent topics, and especially for those who are looking to conduct research into events and event safety. If you were at the conference, I welcome your takeaways, and if you weren't in attendance, I welcome your inspiration and thoughts based on my notes in this article.
Keeping the discussion open, challenging norms and supporting each other is how I believe we can collectively work to improve safety for everyone at events.