Why Crowd Simulation Technology Could Be The Key To Preparing Stadiums For Future Pandemics

Crowd entering a stadium after being checked by officials

By Sébastien Paris, CEO of ONHYS

With the advent of the Euros and the return to sport, sports event organisers are already looking towards safely returning fans to stadiums. Yet, stadium operators must be prepared for future epidemics with researchers warning that we could soon have a pandemic every 10‑20 years. Developing strategies and solutions that help facilitate the safety of all attendees, is therefore paramount.

The key to this, as with much of what has driven global innovation in recent times, is data. Today, crowd movement can be modelled at a granular level to account for crowd behaviour, as well as diverse risk points such as entrances, exits and the disparate movement of fans.

Just a few weekends ago, Wembley stadium welcomed around 21,000 fans through its doors for the FA Cup final between Chelsea and eventual winners Leicester City; each attendee had to present a negative test result in order to enter the stadium. Whilst this is a test‑run of sorts, there should be no doubt that data‑driven crowd simulation solutions will represent an important tool for event managers to help improve event safety and drive a better user experience in preparation for future pandemics.

The Importance Of Pre‑Event Crowd Modelling

Before stadium managers can open their doors to the general public, it’s important to understand exactly what number of fans can safely return without increasing the viral load. Carrying out in‑depth simulations prior to events that account for variables such as environmental factors - topography and topology for example - pedestrian height, weight, speed of movement and interpersonal distance gives a more realistic and well‑rounded view of crowd movement during a live event.

These simulations allow event organisers to test different scenarios of pandemic spread, and to subsequently evaluate at what point the safety of attendees is affected. This then allows them to see potential outcomes, enabling them to develop strategies and make informed decisions to optimise for KPIs such as mobility, safety, and service provision.

Solutions now exist to enable stadium managers to evaluate the progression of viral transmission according to the number of attendees there are at the stadium, for example taking into account the half‑life of the virus itself on surfaces and in the surrounding air. Such solutions combine Artificial Intelligence (AI) with Building Information Modelling (BIM) technologies, and by using digital mock‑ups of the space in question, enable managers to predict crowd flows and areas of high risk, for example entrances or exits, and tailor their approach accordingly. With safety parameters and adjustments implemented, operational logistics can then take centre stage.

Operations Management And Real‑Time Crowd Tracking

But there’s more coming in the future. New technologies are currently in development to enable smart management of sites and events, which will enable real‑time tracking of on‑site pressure points with high densities such as entrances and exits.

Currently, even if an event organiser runs a simulation in advance of an event happening, it is difficult to adapt dynamically to real‑time risk vectors and crowd behaviours changes at short notice. The key aim of real‑time tracking for operational purposes would be to ensure that risks of infection could be managed on the fly to mitigate against the risk of viral loads in an optimal way.

This type of smart event management solution would help venue managers dynamically track on‑site pressure points with a high density, such as entrances/exits, walking speed and density. Facilities managers would be able to monitor the movement of crowds within their venue and respond immediately, enabling them to optimise resources, crowd flows and the overall event experience. For example, if a stadium has multiple entrances/exits with some not in use, these gates could be opened during a live event, or a one‑way system diverting people to a specific exit could be introduced in a scenario where one exit is heavily populated.

Such solutions would also enable operators to adapt procedures after realising they were not optimised and would also allow them to communicate confidence to fans, media, and other stakeholders that current procedures in place are top of the line. This would feed a virtuous loop whereby real‑time data could improve pre‑event simulations in their own right by providing an insight over a location’s flow dynamics, further enhancing the end result of a safe and healthy sporting event.

Optimising Preparation And Reacting More Effectively

The pandemic prompted many public spaces to close their doors to limit the spread of infection. As governments across the world begin to reopen their economies and resume normality, they must be able to do this in the safest and most effective way. Venue owners and event organisers will continue to face the challenge of creating a safe environment for their visitors whilst also maintaining financial stability.

Making use of cutting‑edge technology will actually make the experience of live events even better than before the pandemic. By taking advantage of crowd simulation technology to prepare and map‑out potential crowd movement scenarios, and then using those insights as part of operational planning, operators will be able to optimise flows and procedures in a way that ensures their procedures facilitate a smooth flow of fans without overcrowding.

This epidemic is an opportunity to rethink our cities and venue infrastructures to improve safety, resilience and user experience. For stadium managers, taking such a data‑led approach will mean that they are sufficiently preparing for future epidemics and ensuring that they can respond in a timely and effective manner.

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Why Crowd Simulation Technology Could Be The Key To Preparing Stadiums For Future Pandemics