Venues Safety in COVID19 Times: From Intelligent Evacuation to Auditing Measures and Restrictions

For several decades, operators of large-scale events venues like stadiums and sports’ arenas were concerned with the security and safety of tens of thousands of spectators. Specifically, they had to deal with the orderly management of large crowds during normal operations, as well as with the establishment of effective disaster management procedures (e.g., evacuation plans) for emergency events like a fire outbreak. Ensuring the safety of thousands of people required emphasis on the details of the venue’s operation, while preparing for abnormal situations. For example, during a fire, the evacuation process must take place despite low visibility due to smoke. Likewise, in many cases stadiums must be evacuated at night, where visibility is generally poor or even non-existent when lights fail. To cope with these situations, venue managers take advantage of various technological solutions. For instance, they use simulation software packages to help them setup and evaluate evacuation scenarios at scale. As another example, they deploy CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) Systems and Situational Awareness software to implement complex evacuation strategies.

Following the COVID19 outbreak sports venue operators and their disaster managers are faced with an entirely new reality. For several months, i.e. during the period between March and September 2020, many events were cancelled, while most of them were carried out behind closed doors. Moreover, some stadiums had to cease their operations, as part of governmental measures against the pandemic. The situation has slightly changed during the last couple of months, as events with a limited number of fans into sports venues are allowed. More such events are taking place as lock-down measures are relaxed. The organization of such events does not ask for managing large crowds, yet it is demanding in terms of monitoring and enforcing COVID19 restrictions.

Events during COVID19: The State of Play

In the COVID19 era sports events are organized subject to several coronavirus restrictions. First and foremost, spectators are admitted on a limited basis. For example, following the expected end of the lockdown in the UK, outdoor venues will operate at a 50% capacity limit. This limit will be lower in the case of indoor venues. Beyond capacity restrictions, venues must apply certain hygiene and safety measures such as:

  • Physical Distancing Rules: Seats must be spaced further apart in-line with social distancing mandates for COVID19. In the USA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends an approx. 10 m2 distancing per person. Moreover, Physical Distancing must be respected when fans enter and leave the stadium i.e. walking shoulder-to-shoulder with other spectators should always be avoided. Similarly, any food ordering must take place through electronic means (e.g., via an app) rather than through queuing in bars and concession stands.

  • COVID19 Symptom Checking: Venue managers must make provisions for checking employees and spectators for COVID19 Symptoms. For example, they must implement temperature screening for both fans and stadium workers. Likewise, they need to selectively test fans for COVID19 symptoms via rapid tests.

  • Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Deployment: In many cases fans are obliged to wear masks. At the same time stadium workers must be equipped with their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The use of PPE is obligatory when interacting with fans during temperature checks and other screening processes.

  • Hand-Washing Stations and Sanitizers Availability: Venues should facilitate guests to wash their hands and to implement good hygiene practices, especially when touching cots and plastic surfaces. In this direction, the venues should make widely available hand-washing stations and sanitizers.

COVID19 Measures Auditing: A New Playground for Intelligent Evacuation Systems

The graceful operation of the venues is highly dependent on the venue operator’s ability to setup, enforce and continuous monitor the application of these measures. The goal is to ensure a safe, comfortable, healthy, and trustful environment for both venue staff and the spectators. On the other hand, failure to apply the measures can lead to fans’ distrust and regulatory penalties. In this context, venue operators can greatly benefit from technological solutions that help them enforce and audit COVID19 measures.

The good news is that state of the art emergency management and evacuation planning technologies can provide readily available solutions for the COVID19 era. Specifically, such solutions can support:

  • Managing Paths for Entering and Leaving the Venue: State of the art evacuation planning systems can be flexibly (re)configured to support orderly entering and evacuation. Specifically, proper entering and evacuation paths can be prescribed to avoid unordered crowd flows that violate physical distancing rules. Crowd modelling and crowd management solutions can play a key role in configuring and deploying such solutions.

  • Masks and PPE Deployment Evidence: Leveraging on leading edge crowd analytics and visual scene analysis software, it is possible to automatically identify spectators that do not wear masks and workers that do not carry their PPE. Relevant notifications can be provided to the venue personnel in order to warn fans or other workers of their non-compliance.

  • Single Point of Access to Common Operational Picture and Situational Awareness Information: Several emergency management and evacuation planning technologies provide a single point of entry to a unified information about the status of the venue before, during and after the competition of an event. In the COVID19 era, this integrated display of a common operational picture for the stadium provides venue managers with an overview of issues regarding COVID19 measures and their applicability.

  • Spectators’ Support App: COVID19 measures and support information can be pushed to Spectator’s mobile apps. This includes for example location aware push notifications regarding entering and evacuation paths, alerts in emergency cases (e.g., the detection of a COVID19 positive case), access to information about washing hands stations and sanitizers, as well as direct communication with the venue’s personnel. Furthermore, the spectators’ apps can be flexibly enhanced with location aware food and drink ordering functionalities, as a means to avoid queuing in bars.

  • Stewards’ Coordination App: This app could support the personnel of the venue in coordinating the enforcement and auditing of COVID19 measures. It can provide an overview of the status of the venue, during spectators entering, seating and evacuation, including alerts for cases where deviations from physical distancing rules are spotted. Furthermore, the apps can support the stewards’ collaboration upon the identification of fans with COVID19 symptoms or of cases of noncompliance to measures (e.g., not wearing a mask).

With the right technology infrastructure at hand, the transition from intelligent emergency management to COVID19 measures monitoring can be fast and effective. This is especially true for emergency management platforms that are flexible configurable in terms of evacuation paths, crowd models, image analytics, as well as in terms of notifications and alerts supported by the Spectators’ and Stewards’ mobile apps. The EvaGuide product, developed by the H2020 EvaGuide Consortium is an excellent example in this direction. Following the COVID19 pandemic outbreak, the Consortium has implemented a COVID19 pivot of the product to support the setup and auditing of COVID19 measures. The Product is currently offering excellent support to Venue managers that are operating with capacity restrictions and hygiene measures of the COVID19 era.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, under grant agreement no 831154.