Managing stadiums in an age of heightened threat

by FM Media
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Aerial drone image of Melbourne and Olympic Parks, where emergency situations are a very real consideration.

In the wake of attacks like the Manchester Arena bombing, the importance of maintaining safety and security at large-scale public spaces has been reinforced. ENGEL SCHMIDL talks with Andrew Travis, chief operating officer of Melbourne and Olympic Parks, about how he and his staff prepare for emergency situations.

Ariana Grande’s sugary pop songs provided a jarring juxtaposition to the brutality of the events that unfolded at Manchester Arena on the night of 22 May 2017. Of the 22 innocent people murdered that night by a suicide bomber in the 21,000-capacity venue, nine were teenagers and one was an eight-year-old girl.

The possibility of such tragedies is not something any of us want to think will happen on a night out at a music concert, but, sadly, they are occurring all too often. The Manchester Arena bombing and similar incidents around the world remind us that the public spaces and places we once took for granted as havens for enjoyment now carry an air of danger.

Australia is not immune to such threats, as has been made evident by the range of incidents and thwarted attacks that have made headlines in recent times. Currently, the Australian Government’s National Terrorism Threat Advisory System places the threat level of a terror attack at ‘probable’. In addition, there are a host of other possible scenarios, from weather-related emergencies to public disorder, that can precipitate the need for a stadium or arena to be evacuated.

For venue operators and staff, such scenarios provide a grim backdrop to major event planning and management. For the chief operating officers and other key personnel charged with the safety and security of the millions of people who attend public events, evacuation planning is a challenging task that requires high levels of planning, coordination and communication.

Safeguarding a suite of venues

As the chief operating officer of Melbourne and Olympic Parks, Andrew Travis looks after a suite of major stadiums and venues located in the heart of Melbourne’s sports and entertainment precinct.

The assets of Melbourne and Olympic Parks are situated between Melbourne’s CBD and Botanic Gardens, bound by the Yarra River to the south and a thick knot of train lines to the north. Comprising around 40 hectares, it includes four major stadiums – AAMI Park (30,500 seats), Rod Laver Arena (15,000 seats), Melbourne Arena (10,000 seats) and Margaret Court Arena (7500 seats) – as well as support and administrative facilities including the National Tennis Centre, Melbourne Park Function Centre and the Holden Centre, among others.

The stadiums host major sporting events like the Australian Open tennis as well as regular, top-tier rugby league, rugby union, football, netball, basketball, cycling and gymnastics events. They also play home to touring artists and shows such as Katy Perry, One Direction, P!NK, Beyoncé, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Disney on Ice. With an estimated 2.5 million visitors attending around 600 events each year, the logistics of running the precinct are considerable.

The precinct’s Emergency Management Plan (EMP) must factor in all of the variables that come with such a diverse range of events, and be understood and executed by all stakeholders, from key venue staff through to the personnel handling arrangements for touring professional sports teams and shows. Evacuation planning is a central component of the EMP.

The Melbourne and Olympic Parks precinct.


The three factors for successful evacuation

Travis tells FM that a successful evacuation strategy consists of three key factors: rigorous standards compliance, training and preparedness, and continual feedback and evaluation.

“It’s really important we adhere to AS3745 planning for emergencies in facilities. We use this as part of our overall planning and delivery of evacuations,” he says.

Australian Standard AS3745 sets out requirements for developing controlled evacuation procedures for buildings, structures and workplaces during emergencies.

Furthermore, Travis says Melbourne and Olympic Parks works closely and consistently with local authorities like the Victorian and Federal Police, acting upon current advice and information regarding matters that may affect the security environment of the precinct, as well as factoring in the guidelines set down by the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee (ANZCTC) in its ‘Crowded Places Strategy’, which was developed in 2017.

The ANZCTC strategy explicitly outlines the responsibility of venue operators in developing and maintaining appropriate security protocols and standards:

“All owners and operators of crowded places have the primary responsibility for protecting their sites, including a duty of care to take steps to protect people that work, use or visit their site from a range of foreseeable threats, including the threat of terrorist attack…

“Developing, implementing and regularly testing a comprehensive security plan is a matter of good business and a corporate responsibility. The plan should prioritise saving lives and minimising harm while aiming to protect physical assets, information, reputation and other elements that could affect business continuity.”

Training for all possible situations

Like the professional athletes and artists who grace his venues, Travis says training is of paramount importance in making sure his team is ready for any and all eventualities.

Training for key staff such as area wardens and the chief warden is regular and ongoing. He says being well-drilled in incident responses, including evacuations, ensures everyone knows what they should be doing, and have the psychological confidence to perform when it counts.

“We strongly believe in regular training and support for staff involved in coordinating emergency responses, to reduce panic and confusion,” says Travis.

“The more training and scenarios we provide to those involved, the more comfortable they are in handling stressful situations and effectively communicating to the entire cohort of people implicated by the event.

“We take careful consideration when selecting team leaders, particularly those who are chief warden trained. These individuals demonstrate strengths and abilities to work under pressure; they know our emergency management plan comprehensively, and are comfortable assuming a command and control position.”

Travis says his team is always looking for ways to improve the way they do things, which is why they “prioritise and participate in a post-evacuation debrief, whether the event was planned or unplanned, to review and receive feedback that we can implement to further improve our operations or communications”.

He points out that an EMP must consider a range of possible scenarios, not only terror-related ones. Though rare, major venues can even be called upon by emergency response authorities in times of crisis, as seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when New Orleans and US federal authorities used the 78,000-capacity Louisiana Superdome as a refuge point for local residents left homeless by the storm.

“Melbourne and Olympic Parks run regular exercises with our team members on all different types of scenarios, including evacuations, medical emergencies and active armed offender or hostile vehicle attacks,” he says.

“In consultation with our fire engineers, we use simulation software to determine the time it would take to evacuate crowds of people from our venues, which has assisted us in planning routes and area warden locations.

“Within our EMP we have many scenarios listed with action plans specific to those threats. This ensures that the outcome of an emergency or incident is specific to the type of emergency occurring; for example, critical infrastructure failure, evacuation or shelter in place. It additionally provides a step-by-step checklist for the responsible people involved in an emergency.”

Springsteen at AAMI Park. Photo by Daniel Pockett.


Speed of evacuation

One of the common measures of an effective EMP is the speed in which an evacuation of a venue can be carried out. Several international guidelines set a timeline of eight minutes for the safe evacuation of a major stadium during an emergency incident.

Travis is not forthcoming with the estimated evacuation times from the multiple venues under the control of Melbourne and Olympic Parks, but says the “timeframes are developed prior to venue construction, where advanced modelling and simulation technologies provide the necessary assurance that the evacuation procedures will satisfy the nominated capacity and timeframes”.

He adds, “This is further applied to each type of venue or event configuration/format and recalculated every time a variable is introduced, such as construction works, for accuracy and assurance”.

The complex oversight of a site with multiple venues, and the variance in factors like number of attendees on any given night, means Travis and his team are constantly reassessing situations and adjusting to new realities on the ground.

An always changing environment

This has especially been the case recently, as the precinct undergoes major renewal and construction works.

“Our precinct and operating environment is rapidly evolving, particularly with our current redevelopment – which is exciting in terms of innovation, but also means that it’s critical we constantly evaluate,” says Travis.

These works have necessitated an extra vigilance in communicating changes to staff as well as attendees, with things like evacuation maps being regularly reviewed and updated.

“Successfully rising to the challenge of developing and implementing evacuation strategies across our precinct while we are in the midst of the phenomenal $972 million Melbourne Park Redevelopment has been an incredible feat. Major construction across the site has been carried out in three significant stages over more than a decade, while we continue to welcome millions of guests to hundreds of events each year.”

Major venues like those operated by Melbourne and Olympic Parks are in the business of providing safe and comfortable facilities in which people can come together and enjoy themselves. Melbourne’s major events play a big part in Victoria’s booming tourism trade, compounding further financial onus upon operators to ensure the safety of attendees is always prioritised. The demands of attendees for better facilities is also a factor that needs to be considered.

For Travis and his team, it’s a challenging job with never a dull day or moment.

“Hosting blockbuster concerts and world-class sporting events, with tens of thousands of guests and staff attending safely, speaks to the extraordinary skills and talents of our entire team.”

This article also appears in the August/September 2018 issue of FM magazine.


All images © Melbourne and Olympic Parks.

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