As he travelled the globe training event teams and developing event strategies on behalf of organisations like the UN and the European Commission in the early 2000s, Bill O’Toole always carried a little book published in 1999 by Emergency Management Australia, called the Safe and Healthy Mass Gatherings Manual.
It was put together by experts in the field and he found it invaluable. Numerous countries referred to it for their events and many of the checklists and explanations it contained have since become standards, codes, rules and regulations. More importantly, Bill points out, they became the norm, the standard way to organise an event.
In 2017, Bill was invited by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience to write the new handbook – an update to the 1999 bible – called the Safe & Healthy Crowded Places Handbook.
In an exclusive piece for ASE, Bill talks about the vast changes in the events landscape the new handbook captures and the opportunities and challenges these pose for those working in events today.
How has the increasing size of audiences affected risks for staging an event?
Although there have been mega events in the world from time to time in the past, such as the Kumbh Mela in India with 120 million people, these were mostly religious events. Now public events are routinely attracting millions.
In my work in Saudi Arabia, an annual festival we staged grew to over 200,000 pax in just two years. The Olive Festival near Jordan reached a million people in four years.
An increase in size means a dramatic change to the management size and form. There is a concept called emergence – when a complex entity such as a crowd grows, new behaviour emerges due to the interactions within the expanding group. This causes the types and scale of the risk to change.
A recent example of this was the reported ‘stampede’ in Little Rock, Arkansas in August when over 30,000 people rapidly evacuated a stadium during an event due to a rumoured incident. People were injured in the chaos. Police said there was no attack. It could have been the sound of a barrier falling during a fight that sparked it. Regardless, each person’s actions fed the general panic.
How has the internet and the accessibility of technology changed events?
It is impossible to cover ALL the changes here. GPS and mapping alone have caused enormous changes in events.
Drones are the obvious new gadget, used to monitor crowds and create light displays. We saw the risks in the report of an event in Venezuela, in which two armed drones allegedly exploded, possibly aimed at the president, during a military parade last month.
The next technology trend to look out for is augmented reality. Its application in events uses a smart phone’s camera feature to ‘look’ at any section of the event and the signage – what’s on the various stages and what’s nearby pops up superimposed onto the image. This is dynamic and can be tailored to the user.
What are the key changes in terms of security since the last handbook was published? What are the flow on effects for risk assessment and management?
The growth of security is demonstrated by the spend on security at events. While I don’t have concrete figures to hand on this, a simple web search finds headings such as “20% of the event budget is now spent on security”. Or “festival cancelled due to the new costs for police, insurance and security”.
It was certainly obvious at Bondi Beach for the City2Surf last month. The whole area was ‘swept’ by police and dogs in the early hours of the morning before the run. There were at least three levels of visible policing including the Public Order and Riot Squad as well as the new Police Transport Command. This is combined with private security companies.
“My personal view is security companies will become the prime contractor for all major public events. All staff, volunteers and subcontractors will need to be cleared by security. The most efficient way to do this is to have all contracts, HR, and site and event plans overseen by a security company.”
It is an interesting procession of the lead skills over the years. Originally, it was creatives and promoters, then marketing companies, then technical companies, then project management and now risk and security as the main parties in events.
With regard to risk management, I think the original Australian Risk Standard has now filtered through to event teams.
What are the changes for public health and medical/first aid? What are the implications for events and organisers?
This is definitely not my field of expertise, but when compiling the handbook, I was amazed at the research and operational work going on.
A fine example is the Torrens Resilience Institute in South Australia who were involved in the World Health Organisation’s 2015 publication Public Health for Mass Gatherings: Key Considerations. Fascinating information and freely available on the web, demonstrating that event data is now being gathered world-wide.
Trends, forecasting and factor analysis can now inform the emergency and medical services and this has made a huge difference to large events. The Safe and Healthy Crowded Places Handbook has extensive information in this area.
How important is it for events to collect data (and what kinds)? How can event organisers use collected (or available) data to improve the event experience for attendees and the process for organisers?
It’s vital. The efficacy of the data is essential. Events are part of marketing and, unfortunately, exaggeration is not uncommon but real data is invaluable. It is impossible to predict risk without honest figures.
The obvious example relates to medical issues at events. Presentation rates is a big issue, particularly for music festivals – that is, how many people will need first aid treatment, for what type of injuries and when will they arrive at the first aid area? This is studied intensely as it affects the amount and type of resources needed at the event. How will this change if the humidity rises or the air temperature changes? Big data analysis, as they call it, is a good friend to event organisers in addressing concerns like this.
Do you think today’s government standards and compliance issues make it difficult to run an event if you’re not an event professional?
As many of the older event organisers will tell you, the days of the gung-ho events are over.
It has become a profession and there are standards, rules, regulations, codes and legislation. It is a direct result of the success and growth of the industry. It is important that the events industry is involved in creating the standards, as in the Medical or Engineering sectors, where the professional association helps create and update their industry standards.
This need for standards in the events industry led to the creation of the Event Management Body of Knowledge – a three dimensional description of the knowledge and skills essential to create, develop and deliver events. This model has been taken on board and used by major organisations around the world such as the Meeting Professionals International (MPI), the Canadian Tourism Human Resources Council and the International Festivals & Events Association.
I assume the events sector will follow other professions as far as standards are concerned, in which case there will be a requirement for event professionals or consultants to be involved in all public events.
Let’s talk about the process of writing the new manual. What was it like synthesising the information from such a large group of experts?
It was a fascinating process synthesising information from expert sources around Australia. I am quite used to working with experts – they’re not unlike a band of musicians actually.
The work done in West Australia was very interesting as they had developed and refined many manuals and the like for their events.
Australia really is leading the way in this field. The Chair of the ISO/TC262 Risk Management standard is here as are the Torrens Institute and all the people who have worked there. Counter Terrorism and Security is also way ahead of many other countries.
We have benefited enormously by having Australian event experts working globally and they are pleased to assist on these types of projects.
I was surprised by the common systematic approach and the processes in crowd management, security, medical and onsite operations.
As I have a mathematics background, I have studied complexity theory for many years and it seems this theory could explain quite a lot of the new developments in events and crowds.
Each of those four areas had their own perspective and terminology. I am hoping to put this together into a textbook and course.
What’s next for you?
In the USA, I am involved with the International Festival & Events Association’s security workshop. We are working with the Department of Homeland Security organising a large workshop for major public events, involving scenarios and table top exercises over four hours.
“There is a lot of information about terrorism and other attacks out there but the events teams do not know what to do on the ground in terms of operations.”
It’s fine to read the material, but what does it mean on the day? How many large trucks, bollards and security personnel? What happens when there is an attack? For example, according to people who live through it, it is the 10/80/10 rule. 10% of the people will actively help, 80% will be stunned, unable to move unless told to, and 10% will be panicking, screaming and the like. These are the facts people need to know before a disaster.
It will be a fascinating and rewarding exercise – it would also be an excellent idea to do this around Australia.
People really don’t know what to make of all the new material coming out. I believe it must come from the Government level to be effective and involve the people in the know. The Government can involve experts in all fields such as emergency, military and police, who have vast experience in on-the-ground security and disaster response.
Other than that, I’m off to Pairs to deliver a Masters course in event management and I’m writing event curriculum for Dubai Tourism and for the International College of Management, Sydney. Also I am working on the new textbook I mentioned, on crowds, which involves four world class experts in the field of medicine, security, risk and crowd management.
As ever, there is plenty of work in events!
Oh and I am organising ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day’ for our street. I organise the (occasional) yearly street party for our neighbourhood – we’ve got loads of kids in the street.