Businesses are gradually reopening as governments around the world distribute vaccines to fight COVID-19. This comes with some serious challenges for large venues. By George Moawad.
In Australia, with some states coming out of lockdown in the next few weeks and more than half the eligible population fully vaccinated, people are anxious to get back to some sense of normality. However, it’s likely that public health measures will continue to forbid people from gathering in large numbers. Thich will place more onus on venues and event organisers to be prepared and invest resources in crowd control and pedestrian flow upon reopening. From an employer standpoint, workplace safety rules may also require more oversight to ensure employees and contractors are maintaining physical distance from customers.
For example, when you’ve got a stadium or venue that holds up to 100,000 people, managing pedestrian flow requires more than sticking a few arrows on the floor. Stadium managers must have a plan for the whole customer experience, from parking their car, finding their seat, to bathroom breaks and snack bar visits, and develop new procedures to streamline getting from A to B while limiting lineups and crowds.
However, all customers’ needs and behaviours aren’t necessarily the same. Breaks may be at half time or between acts. Sports fans may get up more often to buy food and drinks, families attending children’s shows may make more trips to the bathroom. This means venue managers aren’t just creating plans for their venue, but also for types of events or audience groups.
Reopening and smart security systems
Most large venues have already deployed digital camera systems, access control systems, licence plate readers and other technologies to monitor guest safety and secure sensitive areas. Those that have integrated all these systems into a unified dashboard are discovering these tools are handy for more than just security.
Venues are looking at other ways they can combine data from a variety of systems to enhance and customise their customers’ experience. For example, rather than having people standing in line for 20 to 30 minutes while waiting to scan tickets and go through security, some venues are using people-counting analytics within their digital video surveillance systems to minimise wait times. The software can be configured to notify the appropriate staff if the line exceeds the acceptable number of people, so they know to open another gate or redirect the crowd.
Camera analytics can also identify the direction of foot traffic by the ratio of faces among the heads. This can be useful to alert staff if people are moving towards restricted or closed-off areas, for example, so that a security person can intervene. The camera can also be programmed to use edge analytics to trigger a security alert if a person crosses into a specific zone.
Contactless access control
Rather than check physical tickets, many venues are moving towards contactless electronic ‘boarding pass’ style credentials. Many are looking at ways in which they can integrate ticket credentials with access to specific areas such as VIP suites, beer gardens or specific viewing areas, so patrons can access the appropriate zones based on the type of ticket package they purchased.
Some venues have also used smartphone apps to help customers find more efficient paths through the venue. They may suggest parking lots that are closer to the zone where they are seated, for example, to reduce milling around inside. In some cases, these apps also allow customers to order food from their seat, for delivery or pickup, to reduce crowding around concession stands.
With a robust access control system, electronic tickets and employee access cards can be scanned or tapped when entering or exiting specific zones. This is another way to manage crowd control when reopening, and improve safety by limiting access to certain areas. In the event of a security incident, or if contact tracing is needed for reasons of public health, this data can also be used to identify who was present at a specific place and time.
Video surveillance analytics, licence plate reading, access control, intercom systems, heat mapping, and other tools are essential tools to gather data on guest behaviour and ensure sensitive areas are secured. What brings it all together is a unified physical security platform.
With a unified system, venues can more easily sort through all that data to find actionable insights. Look for a unified software solution that allows your team to create multiple dashboards that update in real time, so they can get a clear view of what is happening right now, not just what’s in the rearview mirror. Realtime mapping is another handy feature to make it easy to get a bird’s eye view of events and visitor behaviour in and around a connected venue.
With this approach, security teams can be deployed more efficiently as well. The person in the control room becomes like the maestro of an orchestra. Each team member on the ground can have their part to play, with their own dashboard on a smartphone or tablet to empower them to monitor and respond within their zone.
The pandemic has hurt the industry but some of the innovations created to mitigate COVID-19 risks are likely to become part of the new normal after reopening, because they help streamline operations and reduce common customer pain points. That means fans can spend more time enjoying their fun outing with family and friends, and less time waiting in line, worrying about safety, or fighting their way through a rush of people.
George Moawad is ANZ country manager at Genetec.