Following reports this weekend about washed out festivals, it becomes apparent that the need for critical communications systems in such situations is paramount. At one festival in particular, there were reports of area closures and chaotic crowds all in a place that would seemed to lack an event continuity or recovery plan.
I want to be clear in stating that I absolutely understand the pressures events organisers are under both before and during an event. Prior to joining CommonTime, I came from a hospitality management background stretching from multi-venue nightclubs to country club hotels. So I do empathise. But the events and reports of the weekend led me to ponder a common question - what if?
What If There Had Been a Communication Strategy?
Following the example of Y Not festival in Derbyshire, the first thing I wondered was: what would have happened if staff had been briefed at the point that an evacuation plan was needed? Things could have turned out much differently had there been a clear message, with step by step instructions and a knowledge base to access.
Such a system would enable front line stewards to better deal with individual problems and relay crucial information back to organisers. Not only this, but had a robust mobile communication plan been in place, stewards could have been supported in cases of aggression and crowd control - issues which have recently made common headlines.
|"A robust communication plan is vital for individual & crowd management at large scale events."|
But this question can be extended further. What if not only staff had access to a communication - what if it was available to festival goers as well? Similar critical communication applications that CommonTime have developed highlight where to go in the event of an emergency, along with providing clear (customisable) instructions and a direct channel to organisers.
Could messages and updates have been sent in order to help retain control and alleviate frustration? Most likely, yes. Of course, a core challenge for any event-based app is encouraging users to download it - especially one this specific.
To overcome this problem, the emergency communication aspect could be easily built in to an existing application that displays day-to-day event information such as timetables, menus from food venues etc. By doing this, festival goers obtain a benefit from the app both in and out of emergency situations, whilst organisers have a direct line of communication to manage incidents if and when they occur.
The Importance of Marshalling
The final question that came to mind was: what if the promoters had set up an equivalent to the Facebook ‘I’m ok’ button within such an app? The concept of marshalling - ensuring people who are safe can be accounted for, and attention is directed to those in need - is not new. However, it is nonetheless important and should not be overlooked.
Having evacuated people from a burning nightclub in a previous life, I am painfully aware of the concern organisers and first responders feel when handling over control of such a situation to emergency services. That concern is only magnified when no accurate data is able to form part of that handover.
|"The handover from first responders to emergency services is vital in time-sensitive situations."|
But, in addition to the benefit to organisers and promoters - knowing a person is safe is even more important to friends and family. Fortunately, the events of this past weekend were not that severe. But there are many instances where being able to reassure frightened friends and family members forms an integral, human part of the disaster recovery process.
The Role of Process & Technology
Naturally, all of the above can be achieved using existing technology and procedures. However, there are two key issues that dictate the success of disaster recovery. The first is how well plans are crafted and understood within the team who will execute it. The second is the technology available.
Currently, radio and SMS alerts are the two most relied upon forms of emergency communication. However, the processes that must be followed to make both of these technologies effective take considerable manpower and administration costs. This is primarily due to the fact that they are one-directional broadcast communications.
Take, for example, the extra pressure placed on a switchboard immediately after an incident has occured. If individuals at a festival are unable to find out what is happening through front line staff, their next point of contact will be the publicly available telephone numbers. Multiply this by the number of people in attendance, and the challenge of communicating the correct information becomes increasingly difficult.
I would love to be involved with, and lend CommonTime's expertise, to projects that are enriching the way in which information is communicated to the public during the event of emergency situations. If this is a space that you are involed in or are passionate about, drop me an email - I'm always open to a new conversation.
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