Safety in Numbers

George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, is implementing a crowd manager program in response to Virginia’s adoption of International Fire Code (IFC) Chapter 4 Section 403.3 Crowd Managers:

“Trained crowd managers shall be provided for facilities or events where more than 1,000 persons congregate. The minimum number of crowd managers shall be established at a ratio of one crowd manager to every 250 persons. Where approved by the fire code official, the ratio of crowd managers shall be permitted to be reduced where the facility is equipped throughout with an approved automatic sprinkler system or based upon the nature of the event.”

During recent discussions with my colleagues regarding the challenges of implementing a crowd manager program at institutions of higher education, several issues were brought to the forefront. The absences of specific guidance regarding what constitutes crowd manager training and the financial implications of establishing crowd managers at large public events raises a series of questions. Which party is responsible for providing trained crowd managers: the venue, the lessee, or third-party contracted security and event staff? How are responsibilities and costs distributed among stakeholders? What are the legal issues that must be considered when establishing a crowd manager program?

A Scenario to Consider

To illustrate these questions, consider the following hypothetical scenario: a national circus company will hold a multi-day performance at a public venue on campus. The venue is a moderately sized arena with an occupant load of 10,000 persons (including vendors, facilities management staff, and security). Given the ratio of one crowd manager to every 250 persons, this event would require 40 crowd managers. According to the code, the local fire code official can grant an allowance for fewer crowd managers; however, the following issues may complicate this process and preclude venues from executing a standing agreement for leniency. This exception is yet another issue that needs attention; is an allowance to this rule granted on an annual basis for each venue or specifically for each event?

If the lease agreement contains the ubiquitous and ambiguous clause that stipulates that the lessee is responsible for providing the necessary personnel to ensure that the event is held “in accordance with state, federal, and local environmental and safety regulations,” does this clause adequately address the need for crowd managers, and if so, does it assign responsibility for this obligation to the lessee? This language can be interpreted to include crowd managers; however the lessee may logically deduce that the venue is responsible for providing crowd managers as a sub-function of security and event services. Each interpretation has financial implications for both parties.

If it is determined that the venue is responsible for providing crowd managers, additional costs will be incurred for personnel, overtime, training, and administration (i.e. record keeping, scheduling staff, etc.). How are these costs estimated, managed, and accounted for? Presumably the cost of implementing a crowd manager program will be passed on to the lessee in the form of a higher venue lease price. Many venues contract with a third-party vendor to provide security and event management staff. Does the venue assume, that in addition to security services, the contracted security and event staffing firm will also serve as a pool of crowd managers? If so, how is this additional service reflected in the vendor’s rates and subsequently venue lease rates? In an area where multiple event venues exist, the addition of crowd manager costs to rental prices can reduce the appeal, competitive advantage, and potential profitability of a venue.

The Legal and Financial Perspective

From a legal perspective, if the venue fails to provide a sufficient number of crowd managers and is subject to an inspection by the local fire official who determines that the event cannot be held due to noncompliance, is the venue liable for the lessee’s financial loss under the auspices of “breach of contract?” Worse yet, if an individual is injured during a fire or emergency, which party will be named as the primary defendant if criminal or civil charges are filed?

Now let’s assume the less likely scenario that the lessee is responsible for identifying and providing crowd managers. If the lessee is responsible for providing crowd managers, the cost of the performance increases, which affects ticket pricing. The derivative impacts of increased ticket pricing include venue selection and attendance, which have financial implications for both the lessee and the venue in the form of event profitability.

If the lessee or contracted security and event staff are responsible for fulfilling the duties of crowd managers, how are they educated on specific building features, egress routes, and the fire safety and evacuation plan (IFC Chapter 4 Section 404.2)? How is this training administered, how is it documented, and what obligation does the venue have prior to the event to verify that crowd managers are appointed, properly trained, and able to execute their duties? Should the venue be prepared to augment contract and/or lessee staff with venue staff to ensure that a sufficient number of crowd managers are available? How is this cost captured, and which party is liable if the lessee or contractor is unable to provide a sufficient number of crowd managers? All of these questions have legal and financial implications because they demand additional coordination, staffing, logistics, and time from venue and lessee staff that should be reflected in event contracts.

There is a general consensus that the next generation of IFC crowd manager requirements will be expanded to include specific responsibilities and training requirements or will, at a minimum, include interpreted guidance. In the meantime, institutions of higher education must develop a crowd manager program based on best practices and practical application of the code, and consider the logistical, legal, and financial challenges of ensuring audience safety at public venues.

Following are some considerations that venue management and administrators should consider when developing and implementing a comprehensive crowd manager program:

  1. Engage internal and external stakeholders in the process of developing a crowd manger program to identify and address venue, event, and operations-specific issues.
  2. Appoint at least one staff member at each venue who is familiar with and “trained” in crowd manager requirements to oversee the program and ensure that it is followed.
  3. Consider the cost associated with providing crowd managers for major events and determine how this cost impacts budgets, event pricing, and personnel management.
  4. Clarify who is responsible for providing crowd managers in contract language: the venue, or the lessee.
  5. Determine what role contracted security and event staff will play in the crowd manager program, and include appropriate language in proposals and contracts.
  6. Establish a documented Crowd Manager Training Program to educate internal staff, contracted security and event staff, and lessee staff with facility features such as egress routes, exits, areas of refuge, and designated assembly areas and associated emergency plans.
  7. Review the documented Crowd Manager Training Program with the local fire code official to validate content.
  8. Contact your local fire code official to determine if the ratio of crowd managers can be reduced for one or more venues if the institution determines that reducing the number of crowd managers does not jeopardize the safety of patrons and the public. 

Ultimately the responsibility for ensuring the safety of patrons and staff rests with venue management; however providing a safe environment during an event is a collaborative effort between the venue and lessee. Consideration of the financial and legal implications associated with crowd manager requirements can assist institutions of higher education with developing a crowd manager program that has the right blend of risk, cost, and administrative controls. 

 

David Farris, MBA, is director of Emergency Preparedness and Response at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. He can be reached via email at dfarris@gmu.edu.

 

 

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