Article by Steve Moody
CrowdVision’s VP of Business Development, Steve Moody, has some thoughts …….
It’s something we ask ourselves a lot here at CrowdVision. I guess that’s normal. When you are in the business of monitoring people flow, you want to know the value of your life’s work. And people flow is our life’s work. Many of my team members spend hours upon days observing how crowds navigate queues and public spaces. We mostly do this in airports, but also in concert halls, attractions and soon to be sports stadiums. And we use all the best and latest technology to help us – LiDAR sensors, LASERS, computer aided cameras, and even infrared beams. These devices observe movement, and our software analyzes that movement with machine learning and artificial intelligence. It all happens in the blink of an eye and we can provide our clients really smart insights into crowds. We can determine best movement pathways, social distancing practices, optimal staffing, or better use of equipment – all by observing people flow.
But what’s it worth? Not so easy to determine in today’s world. I think its easy to say that we are coming off our least crowded year in the history of well – crowding. Places like arenas, casinos, churches, playgrounds, and transportation hubs have remained eerily empty. 2020 was not a good year for venues built for accommodating large amounts of people.
Prior to Covid 19, CrowdVision sold our services to organizations that wanted to improve their efficiency and operations. Our valuable people flow insights allowed airport and venue managers to provide a more enjoyable experience. A better managed crowd makes happier customers, and happier customers spend more money, and then they press the smiley face buttons during surveys. It is indeed a fact that 15 of 20 JD Powers highest ranked North American airports (based on customer satisfaction) deploy an automated crowd management solution to help them control passenger flow. So our pitch was easy- “if you want happy customers, to make more money, and to win awards – you need to manage your crowds and queues better- here let me show you how…”
But now that has changed. Awards, profits, and happy faces have been replaced by a far greater motivation – FEAR. This is a bitter pill, but one we know is real because we have all felt it. Now when we are in crowds, we get an uncomfortable feeling. We fear infection and disease from our fellow man, especially if they are closer than 6 feet away, and God forbid if they cough. I think we have all resigned to the fact that we could get Covid from our spouse, family, and close friends. That is a risk many of us are willing to take, but not some random stranger in a public space. Not some anonymous person in a crowd. Crowds are evil. Crowds are called “super spreaders.”
Crowds being thought of as “super spreaders” could be totally unfounded, but I am not here to debate the merits of crowds and the spreading of Covid because it frankly doesn’t matter – perception is reality. The perception is that crowds spread viruses so the reality is that all places built to accommodate large crowds need to deal with it better.
One of the challenges is that places aren’t built big enough for new social distancing standards. Eurocontrol recently did a study concerning airports and came to that conclusion. If we applied 2019 airport traffic figures to 2021 social distancing standards, the ticketing/departure areas need to be 50% larger, gate rooms need to have 35-50% more room for seating, and security checkpoints need 100% more space to spread out queues. I am certain other industries are experiencing the same dynamic.
Increasing usable space has indeed become a fine art. We have seen medical offices, restaurants, schools and churches increase their capacity with tents and temporary structures. But you can’t artificially increase the size of most buildings, especially the ones built for the big crowds. The kind of facilities we are talking about. So what’s the solution?
The solution is that we have to do better with what we have. Concerning airports, Mike Holloway of Vanderlande puts it best…
“For the foreseeable future, the need for social distancing will continue. However, building larger airport terminals is not the answer to this challenge. Having the capability to accurately predict when passengers will be at specific waypoints in the airport will enhance safety and security while maximizing space utilization within the airport.”
CrowdVision provides the technology to predict where and when people will be at specific waypoints, and when our data is made public, the perception can change. When people know the crowding levels at various areas, they feel empowered. Queue wait-times, concession line fill levels and restroom occupancies are all very empowering to the venue population. This creates self-confident and happy visitors. Crowding will no longer be feared because the pedestrian will have some control of the outcome. They will be able to choose the path less traveled.
So what’s it worth? Right now, it’s worth everything. We only have one chance to welcome back travelers, visitors, and fandoms. Let’s not blow this chance to make stadiums, airports, and arenas big, happy, places again.