Weeks, months, years of planning and preparation for your event are drawing to a close. You’ve created an event, you’ve sold a load of tickets, the infrastructure is all set up. So what is next? What about just before and during the event? Introducing life in the elusive Event Control Room…
If the entertainment in question is the heart of the event, then the ECR supplies the lifeblood. It is the nerve centre of site and event management. It might be a tiny portacabin, a huge room or a block of rooms, arranged such that individuals might be near other relevant individuals, sometimes with a separate incident room for discussions without impacting the rest of the operations.
Who is allowed in?
Access is understandably restricted, but there seems to be an ever-increasing number of relevant parties! The ECR is designed to be unseen and non-intrusive – you don’t notice it, but you’d notice its absence – hidden for authorised personnel only. Such personnel typically include senior figures from the organising committee, operations team, the ‘blue lights’, security, health & safety, CCTV, a communications officer – and the event’s Safety Officer, with whom full legal responsibility lies.
There should be backup plans in place in case of technology failure or evacuation.
What do those involved need to know?
Information is king. Beforehand there will be briefings, walks of the site, production of common view maps. Everyone involved in the ECR needs to understand the event and its risks and to get to know what is normal for the venue involved. They will ultimately be overseeing all day-to-day operations – people arriving, people departing, the event taking place.
Comprehensive run sheets help enormously in communicating schedules and ensuring that everyone knows where they need to be at the right time. Viewed holistically they allow every individual’s tasks to be coordinated, or altered where necessary.
The whole process runs on information exchange. Information enters the ECR through a variety of means, working with on-the-ground teams, monitoring the (often) hundreds of screens of CCTV, and – relatively new but rapidly gaining in importance – monitoring social media. Even with these technological advances, the system still relies heavily on radio communication.
What actually goes on there?
The entire venue will be overseen and incidents will be recorded and responded to as they arise. This is where the work of the loggist(s) is vital, ensuring nothing is missed and that information reaches the right individual. A spreadsheet might be used for this, or even more manual methods such as pen and paper – or perhaps they’ll be using an incident management system which can geolocate incidents, such as WeTrack…
Quiet and calm is essential. Everyone needs to be aware of everyone else and what they are trying to do and to be able to concentrate. Open communication and good working relationships are key.
Do ECRs vary at all?
Not every Event Control Room is identical: one instance which may see particular personnel present is the attendance of a Royal. At least one Royal Protection Officer would be present in the ECR to ensure that the presence and movements of the Royal remained a priority, with their arrival and departure profiles aligned to fit in with all other activities on the day. The RPO would liaise with a number of different teams, such as security.
Hats off to those involved…
The ECR is the great unseen but those involved deserve more than a note of praise. It is the climactic culmination of all the effort that goes into planning the great events that are so loved by the public. Those in the ECR spend all day behind the scenes looking at screens, ensuring the event proceeds smoothly and that incidents are (ideally) dealt with before they affect the public’s enjoyment, hopefully without the public even being aware of their existence.
What is the future of the Event Control Room? How can something so procedural and intensive be improved through technology?
Well, incidents may seem like random chance events, but trends can be recognised and anticipated by artificial intelligence software. Multiple, repetitive hazards can be logged and better predicted. Pinch-points or areas prone to an incident can be identified and better operated. This will change the way ECRs are operated, from reactive, to proactive. There will be less potential cause for surprise.
Social media is already changing how information is being received and processed. Twitter essentially allows a worldwide instant message to be sent by anyone at the event and read immediately in the control room. No longer does an incident have to be found by on-the-ground staff before it can be reported and dealt with.
So there you have the Event Control Room – a hub of activity and response ensuring smooth operations and an amazing event!
About the Author
Peter Ward was a project manager and deputy manager of the London 2012 Olympic Park Operations Centre, the main Control Room for the Olympic Park. After the Games, he founded WeTrack to simplify operational planning for complex events.