How to Manage Crowds at Events After COVID-19

Prepared Today, Ready Tomorrow

First off, best practices for how to manage crowds at events after COVID-19 will be specific to your unique situation. Local guidelines, capacity, product sales, venue size, and other factors will dictate exactly how each of us go about managing crowds once we get “back to normal” (as new as that normal may be).

But there are some general ways that event managers can prepare for the reopening of their venue, whether it’s outside or indoors, big or small, performance oriented or food and beverage focused. Here’s a guide to help get you started:

Know That an Outbreak Might Happen Anyway

Your number one goal for crowd management at events is to keep guests, staff, vendors, and performers as safe as humanly possible. But it’s also important to keep in mind that an outbreak might happen anyway – no matter your crowd control plan.

This doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable to do less; in fact, it’s an indication of how important it is to get things right. If there is an outbreak at your venue, you don’t want anyone pointing to what could have been done differently, you want to prove that you did everything in your power to prevent it to protect yourself from any liability.

It’s Not Just About Safety, But Consumer Confidence Too

Part of your event crowd management plan is showing that you’re doing everything to keep guests safe. That will help to inspire them to return to your venue. Word also travels fast, and one viral photo of unsafe conditions proves that there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Showing visitors that you’re looking out for them, from the entrance—to the stage and concessions and bathrooms—to the exit, will deliver a peace of mind that encourages repeat business – and positive word of mouth.

Consider What Will Reopen First

The smaller the event, the more likely it will reopen sooner than others. If you’re a wedding event company with upcoming ceremonies and receptions of 100 guests or fewer, you could open up months before large-scale events. And a huge component of how to manage crowds at events is the size of the guestlist.

In the same vein, arenas and stadiums might be shut down for a year or more. That’s the reality we’re facing, and some even venues may be best served by holding off on making any additional investments until there’s a clearer picture of when venues with capacity in the hundreds or thousands can open.

Update Visitor Code of Conduct

Your event venue already has rules that visitors need to follow. You may have designated smoking areas. You likely screen for guns, illicit drugs, outside beverages, and other contraband. You might ban laser pointers, cameras with removable lenses, the list goes on.

In a post-COVID-19 world, adding to your existing code of conduct can help establish rules, and let visitors know ahead of time what will be enforced. This can include standing a certain distance when queueing. It could mean fewer people in the standing-room sections. Each venue has different rules, and each one will need to formulate additional rules based on their specific setting.

Update Security Protocol

Security personnel will need to practice social distancing, which seems counterintuitive. However, short of situations that require physical removal, some precautions can be taken to reduce the risk of contagion for your security team.

Walkthrough Metal Detectors

Pat downs are basically out of the question for event management immediately after COVID-19. But even metal detector wands require security personnel to be within six feet of each and every person who enters the venue, which is less than ideal as well.

Instead, consider investing in walkthrough metal detectors. And if a visitor sets it off more than twice and after attempting to remove items, deny access rather than perform frisking.

Clear Bags

Bag checks are also major contamination issues. Instead, consider requiring all guests to use clear bags, which is already in place in many venues across the country. Bag checks can infect both the security personnel and visitors, making clear bags an affordable, easy, and effective alternative.

Create New Employee Protocols

At every level, crowd management at events will likely be akin to working in a restaurant kitchen. Employees will need to throw out and replace gloves whenever there is a cross-contamination.

Employee arrivals should be met with temperature checks. Social distancing should be practiced if possible, even for performers on stage. And as we mentioned in our general guide about getting ready to reopen after COVID-19, a backup roster of trained temp workers should be lined up if feasible.

Create New Management Protocols

Consider hiring an Infection Mitigation Coordinator to oversee both employees and management. Make sure all other managers are on the same page in terms of enforcing protocols, checking the frequency of sanitation, and when to send employees home.

Event management staff will be your first line of defense against the spread of disease within your venue. They’re training new staff, coming up with new solutions based on the situation on the floor, and filling out the appropriate documentation. They also must be made aware of all new local, state, and federal legalities as it pertains to their venue.

Set Up Hand Sanitizing Stations

Part of the job for event organizers from now on will be properly distributing sanitation stations. This can be a temp hand washing station or hand sanitizer distributors. Having automatic sensors to avoid hand-to-hand contact will be essential as well, and manual systems may defeat the purpose of your efforts. 

To identify where to set up hand sanitizing stations, consider:

  • High-traffic areas
  • General entrances and exists
  • Bathroom exits and entrances
  • All eating and drinking areas

You’ll also need to figure out the best way to keep the sanitizing stations stocked, which will likely require different inspection frequencies depending on peak hours and so on.

Virtual Queueing and Electronic Tickets

Different ticket holders can be required to enter the venue at certain times to reduce the amount of queueing required. Even if you have a general admission event, the ticket system can randomly number each stub for more organized ingress. You may even be able to have the customer select the entrance location and time they’d like. 

Even without a virtual queueing system, etickets will likely become the standard. Paying in cash at the door is outrageously unsanitary, but even pointing a phone screen at a QR reader held by a ticketing agent can be considered unsanitary.

Establish Spaces Between Parking Spots

When you’re trying to figure out how to manage crowds at events after COVID-19 ends, you’ll need to think about both outside and in. This includes parking spaces, wherein cars may need to be parked six-feet apart to reduce exposure both during arrival and departure.

The easiest way to create car-to-car distancing in parking lots is with traffic cones. Be sure to go with high-quality, high-visibility channelizers that bounce back if they’re run over and last for years under all weather conditions.

An ideal system would be a coordination between virtual queueing and parking areas. Parking passes for specific arrival times and lot sections will likely work well.

Add More Partitions

Whether solid glass or plastic curtains, much of your staff can be separated from guests via additional partitions. Your ticket booth may already have a glass partition, but does the ticket-taker? What about food vendors, merchandise tables, information booths, and so on? 

The more partitions, the lower the likelihood of employee infection. And while you may think that can harm customer service quality, the vast majority of Americans will approve of the safety measures based on national polling.

Figure Out New Entrance Queue Areas

Crowd management at events often require a few different types of barricades. You’ll need aluminum stage barriers between the performers and the audience. Urban venues need bike rack barricades to keep their entrance queueing separate from passersby. They’re also ideal for funneling folks toward security checkpoints. 

Further, retractable belt stanchions make organizing lines inside easy and adaptable. They can also make a good social distancing indicator, with custom COVID-19 stanchion belts with safety-specific messaging.

Rather than go through all the different types of barricades, check out the SONCO guide on safety barricades to see which combination might be right for your venue.

Scheduled Exiting

Similar to virtual queueing, scheduled egress is a great way to minimize the crowded exit routes. Crowd control in general would have probably benefited from this even before COVID-19, but now it’s practically essential.

Each venue is going to be structurally different, but generally speaking, the best way to go about this is to have those closest to the exits egress first. So, if you have three tiers of seating, you might dismiss the lowest tiers first, but you’ll also want to keep east and west in mind as well depending on entrance location. You may even be able to assign exits directly on the ticket, just like you would the entrance for virtual queueing. 

New Emergency Protocols

This is where an Infection Mitigation Coordinator is going to be especially crucial. As all event organizers know, different emergency scenarios require different plans of action. But they should all prioritize immediate safety over the prevention of contagion. Escaping a fire or a shooting is going to be more important than maintaining social distancing. 

However, certain emergency exit strategies can still feasibly incorporate social distancing and sanitation. People needing to leave early, for example, can potentially egress through an emergency exit. Similarly, sudden inclement weather for an outdoor area doesn’t mean panic-mode, but it may require a safe and fast emergency exit procedure.

Providing PPE to Guests

The bad news about providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to event visitors is that it’s an ongoing budget line item. The good news is that you can incorporate branding, such as facemasks with your logo and plastic gloves that match your brand colors. You can also include the price of the PPE in the cost of the ticket as part of the service fees.

The appropriate PPE will depend on the circumstances of your event. If it’s a basketball game, you may be able to simply require everyone to wear a mask. If it’s a multi-day music festival, you may want to provide a mask for every day the ticket holder is attending. 

Beyond masks and gloves, travel size hand sanitizers can be another effective way to help all attendees prevent contagion.

Controlled Occupancy for Breakout Areas

How to manage crowds at events also comes down to anticipating the unexpected, which goes beyond potential emergency situations. Some venues separate alcoholic beverage service areas from the general attendees, the occupancy of which may also need to be carefully controlled.

You may have tents in case of rain, which will now require social distancing measures. You may need employees at bathroom doors to limit the number of people they let inside. Smoking areas, walkthrough museums, stores, and other “venues within a venue” will need to have the same level of safety measures implemented. Otherwise, it compromises the rest of the operation.

There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Research

Again, this guide is designed to be general. Look at local, county, state, region, and federal guidelines to make sure you’re both in compliance and doing everything you can to avoid spreading infection. 

Not only is it better for the health and safety of everyone, it’s the smart move for a business owner. The only thing than getting shut down is having a bad reputation that forces you to shut down from lack of business.

The SONCO team of crowd control experts is also available by phone or message with no-obligation advice on how to manage crowds at your events specifically. Don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re always happy to provide best practice insights, but that’s especially true for reducing the chance of contagion.