Lessons learned from the spread of COVID-19 and how to mitigate risk at your next event.
It should come as no surprise that the density of the population in cities across the US has had a tremendous influence on the spread of COVID-19. Generally speaking, the higher the density of a given city, the higher the rate of infection. To simplify that for those of us currently experiencing “quarantine fatigue” and having difficulty processing information of any kind: more people in less space = more people sick. Shocking, right? To illustrate our point, our team of resident data geniuses and analysis experts 🤓 did what they do best and we’re going to break it all down for you.
Right about now you may be asking yourself, what exactly does this have to do with events? Stick with me for a minute, I’ll get there.
Density (people/square kilometer)
Los Angeles: 3287
The Data & Timelines
Houston and Portland FTW! (“Win” is probably not the most appropriate term, but I digress.)
The mayor of Houston made the decision to cancel all public events before the state of emergency was declared which was not the case in Chicago, Detroit, Portland or Los Angeles. Nearly 2 weeks passed before the first 100 cases were recorded and while the number of cases began to rise substantially, as of the 1st of May the number of deaths attributed to the virus remained significantly lower than all of the other cities evaluated.
The Conclusion: The early action against the spread of the virus by cancelling events coupled with the lower density of the population allowed for more effective containment than the significantly more dense cities of Chicago and Los Angeles.
Meanwhile in Portland, events were cancelled before the number of recorded cases was on the rise and the mayor was the only one to issue stay at home orders before the city reached 100 cases. While infections did begin to rise after the event cancellation announcement, it was at a much slower rate and took more than 2.5 weeks to hit the 100 case marker.
The Conclusion: The decision to cancel events followed by the stay at home orders a week later resulted in a much slower spread of the virus. Additionally, while the population is significantly smaller than that of Houston, the density is comparable.
So, what do these 2 cities have in common?
☝️ People are more spread out
✌️ The highest risk of exposure was eliminated early *(read: events were cancelled) *
Why is this relevant to the events industry? I have 2 words for you: crowd density. As with the correlation between a city’s population density and the spread of COVID-19, the more dense a crowd, the higher the risk for potential disasters. Spoiler: accidents and injuries are significantly more likely to occur when more people are crammed into less space. Anything from stage barriers collapsing under the push of so many bodies to panic from suspected or actual threats can lead to crowd crush and result in serious injury or at worst, fatalities. The real deal here though is that most of these types of tragedies are completely preventable.
So how can you minimize your risk?
☝️ Pay close attention to the size of your venue and expected attendance, then do the math!
Official UK guidelines recommend event attendance of 2 people per square meter with the upper limit being around 4, aptly named “mosh-pit density”. This number is determined based on a variety of factors but is largely tied to static vs. dynamic crowd activity expectations. For example, outdoor music events should plan for reduced density to accommodate more movement whereas attendee spacing at sporting events can be more compact.
Not only should you be concerned with the size of the audience but you also need to take into account the demographics of the attendees. Are you going to be dealing with a bunch of screaming tweens, intoxicated adults, a group of little old ladies or heck, a group of drunk and screaming little old ladies (not sure what type of large scale events attract this particular demographic but hey, we don’t discriminate)? Understanding your audience and conducting research on attendance will provide assurance that you have adequate space to meet the demand while maintaining a safe environment.
Furthermore, ensuring you have appropriate strength barriers for crowd containment and emergency exits incorporated into the site design can mean the difference between effective crowd management and total chaos. We get it, contingency planning for an emergency evacuation is not something anyone really wants to worry about but if you have to execute it, you’ll certainly be glad you put in the time.
✌️ Eliminate potential threats as soon as possible!
Significant care must be taken to guarantee crowd safety but even the best laid plans can’t account for some of the bizarre goings on at large scale events. Let’s be honest, people do dumb stuff and that’s putting it nicely. Managing dense crowds is dangerous and should be prevented from forming at all costs but when that fails, the best thing event managers and security staff can do is react quickly to incidents when they do occur.
Developing safety procedures in advance to allow for immediate implementation and educating all event staff to be on the lookout for prospective risks are crucial steps during the planning process. When the event is underway, communication is key. Constant monitoring of primary viewing areas and event traffic is necessary to alleviate bottlenecks or congested areas, especially during ingress and egress (or as we normal folk call it: entry and exit). Once a risk is identified, it could already be too late so taking early and decisive precautions are going to be what stands between you and a potential catastrophe.
Organization and careful planning are essential to ensuring appropriate crowd density levels and prioritizing the safety of your event attendees. How do you track and resolve issues during your events? If only there was something that could help with all that planning, provide real-time alerts and monitor evolving incidents to ensure the swift and effective handling of even the most unimaginable situations. (Hint: It's Eve.)