Event Safety Alliance Publishes Detailed Guide For Venues Reopening During Coronavirus Pandemic

Ben Birchall / AFP / Getty Images
– The New Normal
Onlookers observe social distancing at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, during the opening of the Dragon’s Heart Hospital at the venue on April 20.

Event Safety Alliance, the non-profit organization devoted to promoting safety throughout the event sphere, released a thorough guide Monday for event professionals planning to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Event Safety Alliance Reopening Guide is a collective work by event industry professionals to help our peers who are planning to reopen during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic,” ESA vice president Steven A. Adelman wrote in the guide’s introduction. “This document contains no ‘best practices’ that apply everywhere – coronavirus creates different challenges depending on countless factors, including the size of the event, its geographic location, the physical space, and the anticipated attendees, to name just a few. Instead, in the order one would plan an event, we have identified reasonably foreseeable health risks and suggested options to mitigate them.”

In his introduction, Adelman also emphasized that “there is no guarantee of an illness-free event even if you follow everything in this Reopening Guide.” Still, the guide provides plenty of useful information for event professionals going forward, especially those involved with smaller venues, which are poised to reopen first. (“Our intention is to follow this initial release with guidance more applicable to tours and larger events,” Adelman wrote.)

After Adelman’s letter, a brief section discusses the fraught nature of reopening at all, given the current lack of widespread testing, contact tracing or a vaccine, and the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus, which can even be carried and transmitted by asymptomatic patients.

“A government directive legally allowing you to reopen does not mean you can do so safely,” the guide reads. “As much as we are all eager to get back to work, the decision when and how to reopen must be driven by a realistic assessment of one’s ability to resume operations safely.”

The section about determining to reopen also explains that, while successful reopenings will bolster the industry and lead to further reopenings, if “the first attempt at a safe reopening is a failure, that would set back the entire event industry.” 

More than 300 event professionals, academics and public officials contributed to the guidelines, including Dayna Frank (First Avenue Productions, National Independent Venue Association), Stuart Ross (Red Light Management), Bobby Allen (PRG), Alyxzander Bear (Insomniac), Kevin Lyman (KLG), George Perley (AEG Presents Southeast), Nicole Hobby (Ticketmaster), Scott Shaub (TAIT), Brad Spies (SXSW), Corbin Hand (MooTV), Peter Tempkins (HUB International), Ashlee Stokely (Nissan Stadium), Sara Grauf (San Francisco Giants), Brendan Heitz (Duke University Athletics) and Troy Willrick (Daytona International Speedway).

The guide’s first in-depth section tackles “patron education,” explaining how event attendees will need to understand the “we’re all in this together” mentality demanded by the nature of COVID-19. The section compares the dynamic to the post-9/11 world – “At this early moment, there is as much resistance to face coverings and social distancing as there was to bag checks and magnetometers in the United States after 9/11,” it reads – and says that managing expectations about the new normal, through clear messaging across every platform available, will be a must.

The guide then turns to the basics of worker hygiene. The recommendations are straightforward – social distancing, hand washing, face coverings and the like – but no less essential. To ensure compliance, ESA advises venues to hire “infection mitigation coordinators” to act as point people for new measures, including temperature screening at every point of venue entry. The guide also enumerates how venues should respond to cases of symptomatic workers, including a suggestion for event professionals to offer employees paid sick leave.

Naturally, the guide also thoroughly details ideal sanitation procedures going forward, which according to ESA, should include all public areas, restrooms, back of house areas (dressing rooms, green rooms, offices, etc.) and food preparation areas.

Perhaps the most noteworthy portion of the document concerns “ingress and egress.” As many have noted in the weeks since the coronavirus crisis erupted, even venues that institute social distancing measures inside them still must account for the choke points large volumes of people pass through before and after events.

ESA suggests these measures start even before fans arrive at the doors. Guidelines advise organizers to enable “virtual” ingress queueing – allowing patrons to select and book an arrival time in advance – to mitigate crowds for wanding, bag check and ticket scanning. Furthermore, the document encourages venues with parking lots to “kill spaces between vehicles.”

Upon queueing, the guide explains, a distance of 36 square feet between every unrelated group should be instituted; venues in dense urban areas may need to coordinate with neighboring properties to accommodate these longer lines. As patrons queue, the guide recommends that a worker wearing proper face covering, gloves and medically identifiable clothing make their way down the line, taking temperatures and conducting brief visual screenings of every guest.

Pre-existing concerns about weapons, illicit substances and other prohibited items remain, but the guide offers guidance there as well, because exchanging and handling another’s personal items is a potential vector for disease transmission. Options include stringently enforcing clear-bag or even no-bag policies. Hand wands and pat-downs are discouraged in favor of magnetometers.

The guide recommends that ticketed events implement self-service kiosks outside the health and security screening area, and also extolls the benefits of electronic tickets for reducing disease transmission.

Essentially, all venues should offer sanitizing stations for patrons once they pass through the health and security screening area.

Once inside, the challenges only grow.

“Front of house operational decisions will require a thoughtful balance of competing interests,” the guide says. “On one hand, you want a capacity crowd. On the other, you can invite no more patrons than you can accommodate while maintaining social distancing and health conditions in all areas of the venue.”

The points in the section about front of house, concessions and merchandise “are intended to help organizers strike their own reasonable balance between those interests,” and includes guidance about restroom occupancy, killing rows of seats in seated venues and using any number of materials – “high conspicuity gaff tape,” spray chalk, cones, rope barriers or even bike racks – to separate patrons at general admission events. Things like intermission activity and food and beverage service will also require thoughtful procedures to maintain distancing.

“These measures will succeed only if compliance by all patrons is required for entry and participation,” the guide says.

The document also addresses legal and production issues that may arise as venues reopen.

The Event Safety Alliance Reopening Guide is available for free via the organization’s website.