By Doug Bruce, alumnus, Emergency and Disaster Management
Author Note: The thoughts and suggestions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employers or other affiliated organizations.
When we think of the challenges facing public health officials as we try to recover from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, we certainly do not think of music festivals, arena tours, or the arts in general. And yet show business has a lot to offer the COVID-19 crisis and the vaccine rollout challenge.
Since 2020, music venues have been shuttered, tours have been off the road, and live entertainment theaters have gone dark. And entertainment aside, those behind the scenes who produce the shows have been largely out of work, eagerly awaiting the return of live events. It could be said that COVID-19 “stole the show.” According to the Associated Press, the live event industry alone lost more than $30 billion in 2020.
Not often thought of, but the industry has thousands of people who wait in the wings or work backstage working as forklift operators to front of house audio technicians, from caterers to custodians. Some event producers have helped operate testing sites or helped with other aspects of the pandemic response.
A Vast Amount of Staffing and Infrastructure Will Be Needed to Build Vaccination Sites
A vast amount of staffing and infrastructure will be needed to build vaccination sites all over the nation. Many of the companies that build event sites would eagerly welcome the opportunity to help. Event producers are familiar with staffing, design, management, and delivery operations to produce high quality venues on tight timelines and often tight budgets.
Industry professionals often build and tear down a small-town’s worth of infrastructure in just a matter of days. After all, if you attend a concert or music festival the act performing is only one aspect of the production. Many of the important details are less considered by the show-going consumer, such as traffic management, bathrooms, food & beverage, ticketing, security, marketing, and more.
Live event industry leaders such as Live Nation, AEG, and the National Association of Independent Venues (NIVA) sent a letter to President Biden on January 26, offering their assistance. They promised to open their doors, manage crowds, and produce vaccination sites with their skills that are unique to producing events. Some well-known venues such as convention centers, baseball stadiums and Disneyland are already positioned to assist.
The live event industry is uniquely qualified to assist emergency managers and public health officials roll out the vaccine inoculation effort because their skill sets “make the show happen.” It takes a small army of people to build a music festival or to run a concert tour around the world. Their dedication, attention to detail, organization, reliability, adaptability, communication and other attributes could be useful in a mass vaccination effort.
What’s more, many of these companies have custom assets used for special events that are in storage now and might be useful in the construction of vaccination sites. These assets include traffic management equipment, tents, video screens, lighting, fencing and crowd control barriers, temporary workspace trailers, communication equipment, trucks, forklifts, generators, and ticketing technology. And perhaps most importantly, many of the industry personnel that have been out of work during the pandemic would be eager to assist public health officials in their efforts. These workers are generally skilled at wearing multiple hats and are used to being a temporarily scaled-up workforce.
Once on site, crowd management personnel, ushers and security staff, can direct arrivals to their proper lanes and places. Guest services staff can ensure that the arriving public has what they need, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), proper identification, and can answer questions. Security staff can help screen for prohibited items.
Those who may need a little more assistance or accessibility options would likely be happy to see staff waiting and willing to help them through the process. Public health officials should see this as an opportunity to build public trust and engage with the community. Ideally, there would also be signage in a variety of languages, perhaps video screens showing the vaccination process, and easy to find help or additional sources of information.
In the bigger picture, use of this valuable human resource is about more than just assisting in the recovery from the pandemic. It’s about venues, event producers, labor companies, and other vendors becoming familiar stakeholders with emergency managers so even after the pandemic is defeated they can be a useful resource in disaster response and recovery.
About the Author: Doug Bruce is a freelance event producer, safety advisor and consultant to entertainment organizations on safety and security considerations. Bruce earned a MA in Emergency Disaster Management from American Military University, and previously a Bachelor’s in Electronic Media from Spring Hill College. Bruce has worked on high profile brand activations, tours, music festivals, Film/TV productions, and more across the United States, U.K, Asia, and the Middle East. When not on the road, Bruce is an Outreach Preparedness Trainer and is on an Incident Management Team in his community.
For his Master’s thesis, Bruce conducted a thought experiment applying new COVID-19 event safety guidance to the framework of a previously produced 10,000 person festival in the Midwest. The study endeavored to determine if emerging guidance could be used to return to producing a specific event, with implications that may enable the live event industry to return to holding concerts. Find Doug Bruce on LinkedIn. Bruce is a member of the Colorado Emergency Management Association (CEMA), the Event Safety Alliance (ESA), and several other organizations.