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Anne-Marie from the UKCMA - Words have Power
Coronavirus Crowd Safety

Words Have Power

Anne Marie Chebib from the United Kingdom Crowd Management Association (UKCMA) Secretary and Managing Director of Select Security & Stewarding puts the kettle on and muses about writing words about words…

Over the last few months, I have become more intrigued with the adoption of new language to try and give some sense to previously unimagined circumstances.

I guess it comes from an interest in linguistics, crowd psychology and communication, alongside having a whimsical sense of humour. As a company, we’ve been playing with words to soften the impact. Instead of a ‘Roadmap’, we’ve been having ‘Sat Nav’ meetings – enabling us to be faster and more automated in our approach. You get the picture.

But it’s more than that. In a world of endless Zoom calls, it’s harder to read body language and we lack physical contact, so words become more important. I had a conference call last week where I was particularly grumpy. Luckily, it was with understanding colleagues but it’s quite hard to take back words once spoken.

Language has become important in the daily tranche of announcements, news pieces, surveys, research, legislative changes and guidance which are shaping our perception of the world. For those of us who work in such a diverse field as Crowd Management, the scope of that requirement can feel overwhelming. It’s pretty much a full-time job to stay ahead of guidance (and most of us already have at least one full-time job).

The diversity of disciplines required within our industry is what makes what we do so interesting, but also challenging. We use those skills every day when we marry science with the creative. Adaptation of those skills is what we need to continue to do, just with some new emphases. There are a number of key pieces of work that you should already be aware of; we have seen government directives as some areas of our world begin to reopen, and international guidance from the World Health Organisation which directly relate to facets of our industry. But there are a myriad of other recommendations which are shaping things – whether it be Public Health, ASIS, British Standards or the Institute of Place Management – the list goes on. The further things develop with the current Covid-19 crisis, the more guidance will appear. Information overload is a risky by-product as a result.

At the UKCMA, we have been working with the Events Industry Forum (EIF) to create guidance which will give specialist support to the events industry. As the authors of the ‘Purple Guide’, EIF are ideally placed to produce this piece, working with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), who are providing central government backing. It is no mean feat writing guidance and requires the ability to look objectively beyond the current situation, however the process has reinforced that we are, without a shadow of doubt, ‘stronger together’. I see many specialists selling services where they purport to have all the answers for you, but the truth is, we are all finding our feet with how to implement this advice and understand what will be practical, whether we’re working on one event or hundreds each year. So, take heart in all of this, you are not alone!

When exploring the practicality of guidance for a diverse industry, it is clear that one size will not fit all. Now is the time to be creative – use the guidance to underpin your framework, but then create the operational framework from ingenious concepts. We will see more understanding of practical implementation as more events start to plan. Let’s not forget, this is an ever-changing picture, and we need to continue to work flexibly in our approach as guidelines change. Associations such as the UKCMA will continue to provide support to members as an ongoing frame of reference.

How practical measures will be when it comes to queue length, fill and flow rates and density management across sites remains to be seen. When preparing for safe events organisers must consider all risks; things like waiting too long to get in or evacuation times have real impacts on safety in ways unrelated to the spread of a pandemic. In this respect, do not treat this current crisis as stand-alone, but instead as part of holistic planning. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that a world of risk with crowds at events remains. Focus too much on one element, and we lose sight of others.

The specialism of crowd psychology and group norms should be considered carefully. Elements of planning such as clear messaging, promotion and signage around health and safety are prime examples of the practical implementation of crowd psychology. Different event phases will have different psychologies attached to them. Events serving alcohol need to be treated with specific care, in the awareness that a loss of inhibition can undo a lot of good work.

A great deal of careful planning will be required for ‘Zone Ex’ and egress plans, alongside transport management, as we importantly work out how to get people to and from events safely. All this stuff is going to shape how we plan and the types of events that can be staged safely for their attendees. No two events will be the same. What will affect one event will be quite different from another. Unquestionably some events will struggle, and quality will vary, but some events will smash it!

Anyone who knows me, knows I like a list. Here are some quick pointers of things we can all do…

  • – Engage with clients and suppliers in the early planning stages, opening discussions as quickly as possible.
  • – Be creative, think laterally!
  • – Look to underlying processes and adapt what you do within your current systems.
  • – Don’t plan in isolation for a pandemic. It’s one of several risks, so do not treat it as stand-alone.
  • Crowd psychology/ group norms is a big part of this picture and consider these in your messaging and signage etc.
  • – Continue to give your view through surveys and any guidance you are invited to comment on. It is within each of our gifts to shape this picture, and the time to do that is now.
  • – Be active within your associations. If you aren’t a member of one already, join one. If you’re not sure where to go for advice on that, talk to us!
  • – Share knowledge through webinars and listen to others (if you haven’t yet caught up on webinars, we highly recommend you check out the Crowd Safety Training webinars).
  • – Link in to professional social media, for example on LinkedIn
  • – Stay away from proposals based on conjecture. Instead look to factual pieces.
  • – Consider the use of language in everything you do. Your words have power.
  • – Balance this without losing sight of keeping the lights on and the car running. Take the time to get your business in a strong shape for whatever the return looks like.
  • – Keep it in perspective and don’t lose focus on what’s important – take time to be with your loved ones and find balances other than work.

Hopefully, some of these words have been helpful to you. I’ve tried to pick them carefully!

UKCMA United Kingdom Crowd Management Association