Navigating the New Abnormal
Preparing for the Return of Crowds at the 2020 Event Safety Summit
ESA’s Event Safety Summit has often been held against a backdrop of industry-changing tragedy. Think the Indiana State Fair stage roof collapse in 2011, the Bataclan terrorist attacks in 2015 and the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in 2016. Also, the Manchester Arena bombing and the Route 99 Harvest Festival mass shootings in 2017 as well as the Gilroy Garlic Festival attack in 2019; along with countless smaller but no less heartbreaking incidents. These events inspired conversation on how to prevent future occurrences but they rarely defined the entire conference program. In a diverse global industry, their direct effects were too geographically, culturally or operationally remote for some attendees to overwhelm the discussion.
While the 2020 Event Safety Summit was typical in the first respect, Covid-19 and the near-universal shutdown of mass gatherings influenced all aspects of this year’s event, presenting new challenges as well as opportunities.
LIVE FROM THE KITCHEN TABLE
First held in 2014, the annual Event Safety Summit has grown from a small gathering of risk-conscious touring professionals into North America’s preeminent conference focused on all things event safety. In normal times, hundreds of people from around the world descend on Rock Lititz Studio in the idyllic Pennsylvania countryside to learn, reconnect and share insights gleaned during the frenetic summer months. The rural, self-contained setting provides an ideal learning environment, flush with production resources and lacking the distractions of a major metropolis. With many folks having attended since the very beginning, the Event Safety Summit truly is a gathering of the ESA family.
As with many families, however, Covid-19 disrupted the annual reunion. With the virus raging, events on-hold, travel restricted and budgets slim, holding an in-person safety conference would have been both unrealistic and irresponsible. So like many other organisations, ESA joined the virtual revolution and took the summit online. This move was not without anxiety – with so many suffering through lean times, would anyone invest time and resources to spend a week in front of their computer discussing what is arguably our industry’s least “sexy” subject? For nearly 800 of our fellow travelers, the answer was an overwhelming “YES”.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
A key feature of the Event Safety Summit is the ever-expanding scope of its programming. Branching out from its production-centric roots, the summit is now an all-encompassing examination of event-related safety issues including insurance, venue operations, legal duty of care, mental health, sexual violence prevention and crowd management. The program takes an “all together” approach, with a focus on contextualising and connecting seemingly disparate topics for all attendees as opposed to shunting production, venue and crowd safety professionals off into their respective silos. This model reinforces the idea that we are one community with many shared goals and responsibilities. Despite the limitless scheduling possibilities the online format offered, this year’s summit stayed true to this approach. Rather than offering competing content tracks, the schedule was expanded from three days to five days and featured no session overlap. This allowed attendees to participate in all presentations and Q&A sessions in real-time, preserving some semblance of the in-person communal experience.
DISCUSSING CROWDS IN A TIME OF NO CROWDS.
While undoubtedly the most diverse summit yet, presenters and attendees alike had one prevailing thought on their minds – how to prepare for the return of live events during this unprecedented period. Crowd safety and the challenges presented by Covid-19 were a recurring theme throughout the program, even during seemingly unrelated sessions. Thankfully, there was plenty of expert horsepower on hand willing to share their knowledge; many of whom are likely familiar to readers of The Crowd.
Coventry University Senior Lecturer and Course Director Emma Parkinson kicked off the 2020 program with Get me out of here! Considerations for Planning an Emergency Egress – an introductory-level overview on the basics of evacuation planning, following up with a deeper dive on Day Two with The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare For It: Advanced Concepts in Emergency Egress. Emma has been a fixture of the summit program for several years and her academic knowledge and operational smarts never fails to engage attendees. In another impressive return performance, UKCMA Chair and Gentian Events Director Eric Stuart joined ESA Vice-President Steven Adelman for The Human Element: Unpacking the New DIME-ICE Model of Crowd Management. This examined the new ANSI ES1.9-2020 Crowd Management Standard and the use of the DIME-ICE risk analysis model to develop crowd safety plans. Like Emma, Eric is a summit veteran and lead of ESA’s Crowd Safety Symposium.
In Take It Outside: Considerations for Outdoor Events, University of Oklahoma Meteorologist and Emergency Manager Dr. Kevin Kloesel joined McAlister Auditorium Director Danielle Hernandez for a discussion about the importance of re-examining your weather action plans to ensure they’re COVID responsive; specifically in regards to ingress/egress timing, emergency evacuation and sheltering. ESA Canada Executive Director and Safety Consultant Janet Sellery closed out the program with Planning Through Tough Times: Figuring Out Your Covid-19 Response, a three-hour live workshop focused on developing a bespoke plan for restarting events safely and responsibly.
With nearly 30 sessions, recapping the entire Event Safety Summit is a near-impossible task. The best way of capturing what the summit is all about is to ask someone who’s been there, or better yet, make plans to attend yourself. Details about the 2021 event will be released this spring. While the ESA is hoping to deliver the event in person, there will be a streaming component for those unable to travel. To stay informed, please sign up for the ESA’s mailing list at http://eventsafetyalliance.org.