Ep. 1 Emma Stuart on Crowds, Civil Disruptions & Climate Change

In this episode, Matthew Kowal and Tom Clareson interview Emma Stuart, an experienced event and operations manager. They discuss the challenges of crowd behavior and disruptions at events, including the changing dynamics post-COVID. They also explore case studies of incidents at a Spanish theater and a Travis Scott concert. The importance of collaboration, planning, and training for staff is emphasized, as well as the need for preparedness in handling potential threats. The episode highlights the unique nature of festivals and events and the importance of creating safe and enjoyable experiences for attendees. The conversation explores the importance of having plans in place for mass gatherings and the lessons learned from past incidents. It highlights the concept of Zone X and the technological advantages in managing crowds. The discussion emphasizes the need to practice for handling mass gatherings and the value of building relationships with emergency responders. It also delves into preparing for civil unrest and the importance of collaboration and mutual aid. The conversation touches on protecting the audience, communicating effectively, and centering accessibility and functional needs. It concludes with the significance of fresh eyes on plans and engaging staff with emergency plans.

This episode is brought to you by Majestic Collaborations & Performing Arts Readiness.

Emma Stuart is a highly experienced Event and Operations Manager working for over 9 years in both Europe and North America.

Emma has extensive experience of delivering events for both Public and Private sector organizations, including uniquely in large Royal and Ceremonial Events in the UK. She has also had the opportunity of working on some of the biggest and most challenging events on both continents in recent years. These have included Canada 150 Celebrations, Nuit Blanche, London’s New Years’ Eve celebrations, Tour de France, London Hyde Park Concerts, Pride, the London Marathon, and the London 2012 Olympics.

Emma’s experience of planning and delivering such a wide variety of events has enabled her to advise and consult event organizers on a range of event topics including: Permitting, Crowd Management, Event Safety, and Emergency Planning. Her varied career and international experience have led to her working closely with event safety organizations and developing new strategies for the safe execution of events. Emma ensures that she is at the cutting edge of event safety and sits on the Advisory Board for Event Safety Alliance Canada.

Emma has a passion for improving Event Safety globally through teaching and showcasing safety ‘good practice’, working alongside both Local Government and the organizers of ‘Major Impact’ events.

Connect with Emma on LinkedIn

Welcome to the Art of Mass Gatherings podcast for conversations and insights at the nexus of festivals and emergency preparedness. Since 2017, my co -hosts and I have convened symposiums around the US and Puerto Rico and met some truly inspiring thinkers and doers. This podcast transcends traditional event management, exploring how arts and emergency professionals can inform each other to develop diverse and savvy leadership, to expand what we mean by accessible.

From temporary and improvised innovations to permanent infrastructure optimizations, we can learn through the best of times to survive and thrive in the hard times. I’m Matt Kowal, co -founder of Majestic Collaborations. Our mission is to advance and enhance the power of gatherings. By organizing hundreds of events for over a million attendees, we’ve cultivated a distinctive approach that focuses on creating a lasting positive impact. We refer to this approach as the four pillars of resilience: safety, sustainability, accessibility, and community engagement. There’s lots of advocates dedicated to each of these topics individually, but we’ll explore them collectively with my co -hosts and other topic experts. We’re grateful for the unwavering support from Performing Arts Readiness, whose dedication to venue preparedness has been crucial for numerous organizations. Join us in this exploration and become an active part of our conversation by sharing your insights directly in the Spotify player. Thanks for being here, and now let’s get into it.

I’m excited to have my co -host Tom Clareson from Performing Arts Readiness on with us today. Tom, are you here? Yes, definitely. Glad to be talking with Emma today and covering a lot of topics.

Emma Stuart is our guest. She is a highly experienced event and operations manager working over 14 years in both Europe and North America. She’s got extensive experience in delivering events for both public and private sector organizations and almost uniquely in large, royal and ceremonial events in the UK. She has had the opportunity of working on some of the biggest and most challenging events on both continents in recent years, including the Canada 150 celebrations, Nuit Blanche, London’s New Year’s Eve, Tour de France, London Hyde Park concerts, Pride, the London Marathon, the London 2012 Olympics. And she’s been doing webinars for performing arts readiness for a few years. They’re excellent, they’re free, you can check them out. And they’re gonna be covering lots of topics we’re interested in like permitting and crowd management, event safety and planning. And we’re gonna talk about how all of this could be of more use to you as our audience interested in these sort of things. Tom, would you like to tell the story of how you guys met, how you found this brilliant person? Sure. It was really an interesting situation. We were both in Montreal for Folk Alliance International, a great conference with a group of people who have really been taking a look at these issues quite a bit. And, um, it was just sort of the beginning where they were starting to focus on this and we got up there and everyone arrived in a blizzard. And I’m really glad Montreal has tunnels because none of us would have ever gotten out to get anything to eat otherwise, because I think it was probably 21 to 24 inches of snow. So all of us were in the conference hotel and Emma and I got a combined program. We were speaking on similar subjects and we got a combined program and have been continuing to work ever since because by the time I heard her speak on this program, I was like, we’ve got to figure a way to have her work with performing arts readiness a little bit more. So yeah, Emma, I don’t know if you have any memories about the snowstorm in our program.

I definitely remember the snowstorm and Montreal in wintertime can be beautiful, but incredibly cold for a British person heading out there. And it was just wonderful to actually meet Tom in this situation and almost be able to really delve into a lot of our concerns just generally. I’d been in Canada at that point, I think maybe three or four years, but we were seeing these kind of recurring themes coming up with a lot of our programs, our events, our venues. And so just to kind of chat through, actually we’re seeing really similar issues that are consistently coming up. How can we kind of help educate? How can we try and improve? How can we kind of engage our community to try and make things better?

Emma and I had an opportunity to have lunch before our program and she was talking to me about the range of events that she had been working on. And some of the things that you mentioned, Matthew, but I was just floored by the variety, the type, the size, the fact that there were some governmental related things, but others that were other types of events. And Emma, I think if you could talk about some of the sort of most formative events that you worked on when you’ve been looking at all of these issues for crowd safety, I think a lot of people would be able to learn a great deal from that. Yeah, so I think it’s been a really interesting few years. Obviously, we met actually a few years before COVID hit, but we’ve seen almost our challenges change in some ways. We’re now having to deal with a different crowd. And I speak to it a lot during the webinars that we do for PAR about how crowd and people’s behavior is very different post-COVID and what we thought we knew on the plans that we could kind of bring out for all of our annual events.

Actually we’re having to adapt and we’re having to adapt to a new crowd, a post -COVID crowd, which we’re seeing time and time again and you can see things like, you know, people wouldn’t necessarily show up to events all the time if they didn’t have tickets. Now they are. You look at what’s happening with Taylor Swift concerts across the world. There’s a huge focus around Zone X, the kind of the last mile, that area that isn’t your venue exactly, but sits just outside your venue and that area of responsibility. And that’s where we’re seeing more and more of our crowd issues happening. It’s a really interesting behavior as well. There’s almost this kind of not for all events, but for a large number, that idea that people have a sense of entitlement as well. So if you are having challenges with kind of non-ticket holders or people that are actually escorted out, actually those behaviors are proving more and more challenging and the people that it’s impacting, not only the audience around them, but also our staff.

And with, you know, I’ve engaged a number of companies and venues where they’re really having challenges with that kind of that behavior towards staff as well, which, wasn’t such a big problem before COVID. So yeah, it’s definitely interesting that as our threats and as our challenges for all mass events and venues has kind of developed, that’s been almost a new thing that we’re also now having to look at as well.

I’ll pop in for a sec. I had this, I was reading a book about the Grateful Dead: the band was writing these letters to their fans. And then they were saying, hey man, I’m gonna paraphrase like the voice “Man, it’s not cool if you come without a ticket and you’re hanging out in the parking lot and causing trouble.” And they had some issues with some gates getting pushed down and some rough. Where that Zone X you’re talking about was, you know, the parking lot culture was, you know, when it was going well, I think some people were like, we just love the pre-show and we’d go kind of like tailgating. But then it became like as many people outside the venue as there were inside and maybe kind of a harbinger of these things that might come up later when there’s this, you know, outside the venue. But yeah, your entitlement thing there too of when you’ve got a festival and they’re like, hey, you need to deliver my entertainment. And it’s not so much of like coming for a social or an experience, but then blow my mind with the entertainment. Give me, you know, gimme, gimme, gimme, and Art of Mass Gatherings is one of the ways we’re like, hey, we want to try to work with beloved events more so than anything else. Although, if you want to make a living, you probably have to work with all sorts of events from soccer to, you know, superstars and whatever. And I think people are wanting more from these things as well. I think almost that kind of that time, where they were stuck inside and not able to go to think their level of expectation has really kind of increased as well. So even any kind of like slight delay as well is causing people to get really irritated very quickly. And that just idea of behavior and aggressive or kind of unpleasant behavior is coming out earlier that we’re definitely seeing that.

That’s an interesting observation, Emma, I think, the idea of the delays. Yes, you know, you don’t usually have the Washington Post and New York Times covering Madonna being two hours late starting her concert and pre -COVID with some of the tours that I saw, you know, with Kanye coming on two hours late or with bands being switched in and switched out at festivals or changing times. People went with the flow a little bit more. I think you’re right. It’s more exacting. And this is maybe a little bit off the tab, but maybe not. The idea of the throwing things at artists. Now that has calmed down a little bit, but for a while there, that was becoming distressing to me that people were doing that type of thing. And I didn’t know if you had had any thoughts or any experiences with that type of thing as well.

I wish I hadn’t, but unfortunately, yes. And it’s not just kind of concerts that we’re seeing at or festivals as well. We’re seeing it happening in our theatres. We’re seeing it happening. I did one of my big events last year was the King’s Coronation, you know, the most highly policed, huge levels of security, huge levels of policing, military, everything else, and we still were seeing it consistently happening at various locations across the route, people trying to disrupt almost. And so it almost is across the board. It’s the festivals, it’s the ceremonials, it’s the theatre, where there’s that kind of idea that disruption is okay. And not only is that kind of really upsetting for the artists, those involved, but also the staff and the people around them as well. We’ve definitely seen that at a lot of our major events, this idea of disruption in it, almost with whatever you have with you, which is incredibly hard to stop, if I’m being completely frank. That’s really challenging thing to try and stop kind of fullback. And I think that’s why almost once we saw those types of videos go viral, it then almost encouraged that behavior as well, in a kind of certain group of people. And yeah, I think you’re right that it really has hit so many types of activities, even with some of the bicycle races like Tour de France and other things with people, you know, jumping out with signs, trying to get in the way. It’s people inserting themselves in the action, maybe a little bit more than they have in the past. And yeah, it is, I think, difficult to stop and difficult to know when it’s going to happen. Mm hmm. And how do you how do you protect your artists? How do you protect your performers? How do you protect your staff against always this kind of it’s a it’s a known threat, but given the fact that they could do it at any time at any point with anything, that’s incredibly challenging. The question of what’s the sort of artful things we figure out despite all of these headwinds is, but before we get there, let’s go a little deeper down the rabbit hole.

I have a couple of like case studies that maybe showcase some of the different ways that psychology can get worse. I recall, I think it was a Spanish theater during COVID. They have pictures of the balconies and people were like seated shoulder to shoulder in the seat, the cheap seats. And then down below, people were spread out, you know, and they, it looked like they oversold the cheap seats and crushed people together more so. And they got almost to a riot where they were looking down at the high price tickets and they weren’t, they felt like the, it was like a class, a class division that got, you know, badly planned.


And then I think the Travis Scott one had probably an overlay of, you know, Travis Scott’s Fortnite appearance was one of the largest online viewings. I think there’s just millions and millions of people tuned in for this Fortnite world, which, you know, the game is like a multi -person shoot them up kind of cartoon, you know, people running around, hunting each other by the hunt, you know, a hundred people on each team or something. And then Travis Scott came in as this giant, uh, avatar into the game and it turned into a concert and everybody, and then it kind of went back to what it was, which is like, you jump around the built environment and hide behind buildings and throw grenades or whatever. And then if you look at, you know, what happened at the, the Texas event with the gate jumping and kind of treating the built environment like a obstacle course, you know, I think there seems to be some correlations between like a fantasy world, then coming back into the real world clash. Yeah, and I think as well, kind of speaking particularly around the kind of the Travis Scott scenario, the incident, which is absolutely heartbreaking to watch is that looking at kind of I’ve read through some of the investigation, the police reports, a lot of that behavior was happening significantly earlier in the day. A lot of the ticketless attendees going through gates, jumping over things, trying to get in, was happening even before doors opened, that sense that this is, we are getting in here. And then you just tended to see, when I was reading through some of the reports, that behavior just continued. But there almost, it almost seems that no one really knew what to do next. What, how do you, how do you stop this? How do you kind of like manage, manage these individuals? Because there was just so many, how do you try and possibly try and kind of get those individuals out? And yeah, we’ve definitely kind of, seen that– I’m just thinking kind of New Year’s Eve in London just recently, bearing in mind, you know, it is ticketed, but a very minimum like ticket price and fireworks are kind of up in the air– that idea that people wanted to get as close as possible. They were going trying to get through every kind of kind of scrim harris, you know, big steel shield, even though if they looked up, they’d be seeing exactly the same thing. But interesting that you brought up that idea of kind of the the lower ticket numb kind of like prices and it being really, really kind of jam packed and then kind of the more expensive ones. But this idea that they always had a right or wanted to get down there. He saw that absolutely at New Year’s Eve. Whereas if individuals had just looked up in the sky, they would have got exactly the same view. Which is ironic, but what it actually did was cause huge issues and almost no fear about, you know, what was going to happen to them even if they did get this kind of huge eight foot steel shield down and there were lines of police and everything else. They actually didn’t care at that point. They were just determined to get as close to the front as they could, which is really interesting from a kind of a crowd psychology point of view. And, you know, living in Texas for a number of years, late 90s, early 2000s, I think another thing about the Travis Scott situation that was of interest and surprise and shock to me was that Houston had been known for years with good relations between concert promoters and the police fire EMT. I went to a number of things at the Astrodome, Astro World previously, and I always felt that there was a good level of relations there. I think that can be really important no matter where the event is. One of my favorite events that I go to every year is called Incarceration. And it’s a heavy metal and tattoo festival at the Mansfield State Reformatory, the old state reformatory that was used in the Shawshank Redemption and other movies. And they get 20, 30, 40,000 people a day for three days there. And it isn’t a heavy police presence, but it’s a good heavy staff presence and it’s quite controlled. And I think that planning aspect of things is really important and that reaching out to some of the community services can be important too.

Yeah, I remember you forwarded me some of the email communications that went out by Danny Wimmer and he had a tone that was very much like a, “here’s how we’re going to do this”. “We’re going to do these COVID precautions”. It just didn’t seem unsure. It felt like it was leading in a good way. And the follow through ended up, as you told me, working out pretty well that everybody kind of knew their role and it squashed a lot of the uncertainty around how their COVID policy was going to work. Yeah. And I mean, those festivals have become communities really, you know, a lot of the same people going back year after year, I’m going to try to go to aftershock now over in Sacramento in the fall, um, because it’s another one that is run by that group and it’s just generally well put together.

So the festivals that are a little bit weird, I call them like platypuses, like things that are put together in a way that’s kind of unique, right? The mammal that lays eggs. And you both know well, the Folk Alliance is such an interesting configuration for an event, a festival. It’s a hotel that’s taken over, multiple floors are turned into performance. All these hotel rooms are then turned into micro performance suites and there’s hallways that used to be more jam -packed than they are now. I think there’s been a lot of consulting with Parr and Majestic and Steve Adelman and they’ve done a lot of them. But what can we learn from places that are strange and different in the way that they’re set up that are unique because we can tell from this conversation now we’re like, whoa, there’s a sinking feeling of like some of these zombie apocalypse where Brad Pitt, you know, zombies jump the gates. But we have to find a positive way to build skills and positive ways to see what can work.

I see that you’ve done Pride Fests before. The first Art of Mass Gathering was at a Pride Fest where, you know, there’s a fine line or there’s a blurring of lines between what’s like a protest or a civil rights action, like a demonstration and a festival that’s celebratory. And when you get something like a Pride, it is that sort of turducken of those things going on. And that’s been sort of our approach is to say, okay, well, let’s go into those circumstances where it is, you know, there’s a threat of violence against Pride festivals going back decades. And they had to collaborate on safety plans. They had to get their volunteers trained up, these are a lot of moms and dads who are allies, who are, you know, wanted to help with these Pride Fests. And Denver had two or 300 of their volunteers go through Stop the Bleed training, trauma -informed security practices, and it creates this force magnifier multiplier for all of these volunteers to be on the same team. And your experience with that, I think, is maybe a place you draw on to think about how to, where the lines there already kind of, the stakes are pretty high, you know, at Pride Fest.

Yeah, and I think Pride’s a really great example. And we have a lot of carnivals as well in Europe, especially the biggest one we have is Notting Hill Carnival. And again, unfortunately, sometimes it attracts kind of the wrong attention despite it being very celebratory. And for me, whenever I’m engaged in festivals, especially unique or unusual– I love the idea of the platypus, I might steal that, if that’s the case, something that’s a bit different. Sometimes people kind of say, oh, with everything you said, you’re now saying that we can’t do it. And I never ever kind of ever want any festival or anything to not do something. What we try and do is just make sure that people have that awareness and that knowledge and I’m all about knowledge is power and it’s about preparedness. You know, you can do a lot of things, you can make kind of the experience for your audience, for your performers, for your staff incredible and you can kind of push the boundaries and do really, really exciting things.

But the thing that I really pushed during a lot of the webinars that we’ve done and the lot of engagement that I’ve done with these types of organizations and festivals is that idea of collaboration, that kind of knowledge is power, the training, as you mentioned, do all these really amazing things and give your audience the best day or the best evening that they can possibly have.

But just be aware. And I’ve spoken to some venues, especially in the States in the last couple of years, where they’ve also been the subject of potentially an attack because of the type of performer or the type of speaker that they’re looking to engage. And I always say that preparedness is your best defense. See, you know, that engagement with your local police force, see what’s happening kind of not just locally but nationally, how can you best prepare your staff for something that may happen in that and that local engagement and collaboration is so key because then you are prepared, you know, nine times out of ten, hopefully nothing will happen. But if it did, then you’ve best prepared your event, your attendees, your staff, in order to be able to deal with it effectively.

And I think for me, kind of sometimes, you know, we engage with these venues and say, oh, but if I train kind of my staff in stop the bleed or kind of these certain evacuation procedures or what to look out for and all that, will that not just scare them off? And actually what I tend to find is actually by preparing them and by giving them the knowledge and the training, they’re in a much better position to be able to do their job. Kind of we always talk about when as Pride’s a really good example, we’ve, well, I’ve done a few Prides all kind of both in North America and in Europe. And there’s one in particular that I remember where actually it’s right at the start line of the kind of the big parade, there was a… it looked like kind of a handmade shoe box, I guess, but stuck at the top of a telegraph pole with a couple of wires coming out. Oh boy. Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah. So you can imagine, and we found it as we were doing our sidewalk, pretty petrifying. We put our plans in motion. We evacuated the area. Obviously, local police were there incredibly quickly. And it was a complete dud. It was a complete fake.

And we’re very lucky and relieved about that. But it wasn’t there to cause us harm. The people and the horrible people wanted to disrupt the actual event. They just wanted, thought that we may then be able to cancel the full event. And we didn’t. We used our plans. We used a secondary start line and then carried on.

But if we hadn’t had those plans in place for, OK, well, if this area isn’t available, then can we use the second one? We are kind of constant engagement with the police, us standing next to each other in a control room and saying, are you concerned this is a threat? They weren’t. Are you happy we carry on? And also, I felt like by us continuing and by us kind of enabling us to have the event, it kind of, it meant that that personal or those individuals didn’t win. We wouldn’t have been able to do any of that if those kind of plans hadn’t been in place.

Emma, there was something really interesting that you were talking about, the idea of the subject of the attack, if there’s a speaker. And I was remembering in summer of 2022, I was going with some friends to a couple of different events, Metallica in Buffalo, and then the very next day, the stadium tour with Motley Crue and Def Leppard in Pittsburgh. And what happened and what did we hear on the radio in between that Salman Rushdie had been stabbed and Chautauqua knew your work. And so we had these two, you know, 50 to 60 ,000 person events, but something where it was a small speakers type of session was where the violence happened at that time. So you’re right, being aware of what you’re presenting, being aware of all of those things. And this ties back to a little bit of what Matthew has talked about with the protection against civil unrest being so important.

Zone X, what a great term. I’ll tag that again right now. You brought up earlier, but you mentioned it as being like a mile perimeter, which I think is wonderful that people and, you know, unfortunate, but that that distance gives you time. You know, time equals distance equals time. And then I think we’ve got some good technological advantages now with closed circuit TV not needing to be hardwired.

You know, previously, you know, that would kind of slow down how many maneuvered cameras you could deploy. And you can do a large network of cameras now and manage crowds and see hotspots and deploy assets and resources, you know, a lot more smart with that. But I just was really excited when you were talking a minute ago about, like, not being afraid, building in, you know, preparedness and skills. And I think what those demonstrations and what 2020 showed us is that large mass gatherings are going to happen one way or the other. It could be an emergency or a disaster and people have to move from one place to another. It could be a demonstration for whatever reasons and that we’ve got to get brave about practicing for handling mass gatherings. And so we might as well do them during a time when it’s fun.

You know, some cities have got the goalie mask on and they’re like, we’re afraid of mass gatherings, so we’re just gonna, you know, really limit them. But then they don’t have the muscle memory across their agencies and their organizations for when stuff gets heated. And I bet there’s so many cities that love you and are like, Emma is the brain we want with us when, you know, there’s a hot time because, you know how to be a concierge between the different needs of a public and the agencies and I think that’s just so valuable for them to have people like you who can step into that and other sorts of event experts and safety, there’s, you know, there’s a cadre of us around the world who I think we’re sort of saying, hey, look, we want to be involved in this. City is undergoing fast change. Like, how do we practice using fun times to get ready for hard times?

Absolutely. And, you know, as I always say, I don’t want to be, I don’t want my first engagement, my first meeting with kind of, the emergency responders or those decision makers to be in a time of an awful scenario happening. I want them to be engaged with them during these type planning processes. How can we build those relationships early so when something or if something should happen, we know them, we’ve built up that level of trust, we’ve built those relationships: kind of we’ve got that collaboration piece already almost done. And so one of the hardest bits is actually kind of done almost, you’ve built that relationship. And so should something happen, actually a lot of that groundwork is done because you know, you’ve engaged with them, you’ve tested your plans during those kind of those weeks and those months and you’ve built those relationships with those kind of key agencies, which I think is really, really important.

Yeah, it’s like playing basketball to get in shape instead of just doing push -ups. You know, you had fun while you were building your skills. Right on.

Tom, we were thinking about these civil unrest things as being perhaps more important during an election year. You know, in the States we’ve got a big one coming up. You might have heard of it. There’s a link we’ll put in the show notes to get to an infographic about preparing for civil unrest for venues. And I think our approach probably leans a little bit more into the sorts of non-profits and, well, just like beloved community events, beloved community centers, their arts and cultural centers. They may not have as many resources as like a large production company, but they’re the center of their community, kind of like a resilience hub, if you will. What other things have come to mind that you might offer to those organizations that might be resourced like that to think about their buildings and their places of work and so on for civil unrest preparedness?

Do you want me to answer that?


Emma, I think that if you could give some of your viewpoints on this, you know, we’ve been thinking about it, but I think that you’ve worked with a lot of these civil types of activities, especially in the idea of the coronations and some of the other governmental type of activities. And I think a fresh viewpoint from the international experience that you’ve had might be helpful for us as we’re ramping up to primaries, ramping up to some of the other things that are going on.

For sure. So yeah, so I think one of our biggest challenges just generally is, or has been the kind of the lack of notice previously that maybe we’ve had towards this civil unrest. And when it started is the longevity: how long it’s lasted and our smaller venues, our community hubs not necessarily being as prepared. What we are looking to do now is try and engage them very early. We’re making sure that they are signed up to local notifications, just getting an awareness of what is happening locally and if there are concerns, how we can best support them. And we get them to look at whether their venue could possibly be a target in any way, shape or form, kind of how they can best protect themselves and also looking at how their audience can be protected as well because a lot of the smaller venues can’t afford necessarily to just cancel their events even if they are concerned about kind of local disruption and civil unrest. So how do we best kind of advise them on how to protect their audience, how to communicate with their audience as well is really key. And again, that kind of that idea of that local collaboration, not just with those kind of emergency responders, those emergency agencies, but actually locally kind of within the local streets, how can they kind of work with their neighbours? …to basically best protect themselves as well and how to best protect the audience members that might be coming in.

So what we’ve tried to get them to do is look back, see if they’ve been a target before, whether there’s some temporary measures they can get in that they can deploy pretty quickly, even if it’s things, you know, that they may have in their basements or kind of in storage that they might have used maybe to protect them from hurricanes and things. So is that something that is helpful for kind of a couple of days where they know that there may be some significant disruption locally? Seeing what else they can do, you know, a lot of kind of local building yards and things like that may be able to support them as well, just to protect the venue itself. And then, looking at how they, if they are going to put on kind of performances, put on events during these times, kind of of civil unrest, are they able to adjust the times to maybe be earlier, kind of in the afternoon? We tend to know just from our experience over the last few years, once it gets dark, it does get that bit more dicey and just kind of unpleasant. Is there something that they can do with their programming that would mean that they’re kind of less at risk? And just kind of going through, almost going through their kind of like a bit of a checklist. Is your venue protected? How can you best protect your kind of staff? Are you actually engaged in your audience as well? I think that’s really key, especially for a lot of our local organizations: as Matthew said before, that kind of community hub idea. We want our audience to feel safe and we want them to not be worried about coming out, you know, they were scared enough, kind of just after COVID, how can we make sure, how can we reassure them and best protect them? Because it, you know, especially with significant media coverage, it can be quite unsettling. So we need to make sure that our hubs, our venues, all those places that they feel safe and are still part of that heart of the community.

Wonderful. I’ll go ahead and jump in with a hot take on some bullet points of things that I bet are on your list already, but maybe get specific. So like the construction yards or the home depots or whatever in the States we’re talking about plywood; we’re talking about having as many sheets of plywood in the basement as you got windows and drills and all the things that would take to get those up. Necause if we have a mass event or a large scale these things get short supply we saw supply chain issues with that right and then same with graffiti remover chemicals because once graffiti starts it tends to keep going, so like getting that stuff up off the walls as quickly as possible.

I loved your suggestion about like preparing for a bit more of a long haul, you know, that this can last a while and just being ready for the marathon of that. I’m sure that’s, gosh, that’s a great suggestion. And then I think one of the words, the phrases that comes to mind is a mutual aid agreement with another venue, right? So like you said, you know, maybe you’ve got abbreviated times or your venue needs to shut down for a while, but you want to keep that program going. So you call that other theater and say, hey, can I have your Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday nights for us to do our programming over there? Or you could do it here, but that mutual aid for staffing. So on, those are great suggestions. Anything else that the short bullet list?

I think a lot of the things, you know, we talk about a lot of the small venues being worried about the money piece, in addition to everything else: how much is this going to cost? I have no doubt if you’ve built that kind of local community, that local neighbourhood group already, seeing what everyone has, almost kind of getting what you can and seeing what you’ve got in your storage. A lot of our venues have sets almost coming out of our ears. So actually, what can you utilize that you’ve already got, that you may not need again in the future? You know, your next door neighbor may have something– those kind of things that actually you hadn’t thought about– and seeing what you can kind of, you can work together on. Because, you know, if just generally, if there’s a kind of a street all looking fairly well protected, then it looks less vulnerable to attack. Whereas if there’s only kind of one or two that are kind of boarded up and shot actually, then it may be more at risk of becoming almost a target.

Broken windows kind of. Yep, and looking around your perimeter for things that could get turned into projectiles and getting that planter maybe goes inside or whatever for a time.

Don’t give the ammunition to them if you don’t have to. A point that you both have brought up, the idea of mutual aid and working with other venues. I think that that can be something that can be useful in times of large events in general, in times of potential civil unrest. But that is something that I have seen work very well in times of disasters. In Houston after Hurricane Harvey, there was a great use of alternative venues where a number of places, where theaters, art galleries were underwater, and somehow or other, University of Houston was able to open their doors, open their arms, and have a lot of organizations move their performances, move their exhibits there.

And I think if you can build that kind of community, again, as you’ve been saying throughout the discussion here, Emma, build that kind of community beforehand so that you know that another venue, another organization has your back. I think that’s really helpful. Absolutely. And, you know, that idea that, you know, you can help out someone else and then they’ll be able to help you out in times of crisis– not even, you know, crisis nationally or locally, just maybe a venue crisis– is really, really useful. And that’s certainly some things that we saw, as you said, Tom, throughout COVID and the natural disasters. And now I think we need to kind of almost implement that level of mutual kind of helpfulness during times of potential civil unrest.

Well, we’ve got five more minutes and I’ve got a fun topic. Well, it’s an important topic. Let’s say it’s important. Our beloved co -host, Jessica Wallach, is an accessibility specialist and thinking about centering people with accessibility needs or functional needs. What have you learned, Emma, about how centering that concern early on in the planning and having resources and time for that, how can that benefit everyone if you plan for folks with those needs? And I guess she would also say, what do they have to offer us, as opposed to just having needs, you know, what’s the… there’s a lot.

Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the more disappointing things that I’ve noticed in the last few years, is that although a lot of events say that they are accessible and they do make quite big bold statements about this, when you do look thoroughly through their emergency plans, through their evacuation plans, that hasn’t necessarily been reflected in those. Even looking at how they’ve calculated emergency egress, they use a very standardized number, which is for kind of, you know, middle -aged able -bodied person to get out of a venue or get out of a festival and those numbers don’t necessarily reflect necessarily the audience that they will see. So that’s something that I’ve definitely been quite keen to push and to engage them with, to ask the hard questions really, you know, if your audience makeup is actually this, how would you evacuate those groups of people?

And there’s definitely some improvements coming. We look at dedicated kind of stewarding and security, especially if we’ve got kind of elevated platforms for those kind of wheelchair users, say, to make sure that they have their dedicated resource to help them egress from venues should there be an emergency, but also making sure that during our briefings and during our training– that’s actually a real kind of key bit that I think maybe has been messed up until recently. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with, you know, when you do a fire emergency evacuation, everyone leaves the building. Well, we’ve done some tests and we do some training where we demonstrate that’s not actually as easy for some people. So how does that impact your evacuation plans? And actually, when they almost see that in real life or in a test scenario, it makes them go back and actually fully reflect on that some changes need to be made.

The second part to that is we do a lot of work with venues about their kind of emergency messaging. And again, they’ll be very good about kind of saying, well, you know, we’d have voice of God or we’d have PA announcements that are all very scripted. However, if someone has a hearing impairment, how actually is that communicated to them? So they’re making sure that that message is then reflected on screens or actually how do we kind of make sure that people that can’t see those get the same emergency messaging?

I think that’s really, really key. It’s important to have a voice of God. Moving slowly, however, definitely seems to be a missing part of the puzzle in some cases. So it’s definitely something that I think needs more work, but by really kind of delving into those emergency plans and making sure that actually those emergency plans reflect the audience that will be coming who have very, very mixed accessibility needs is really, really key. We’d encourage folks to apply for a venue or festival audit, the Performing Arts Readiness has got some funds available for that sort of thing. And I think, Emma, you’re eye-opening to, you know, thinking of how you can get a venue to see that sort of stuff. Inviting somebody to join on that audit team that has some functional needs and do the walkthroughs can really help kind of see.

Absolutely. Yeah, Jessica would say it’s about so much more than getting people in the door, getting them out the door as well. You know, you’re like, hey, come one, come all. But then what? We need to get them home safely. And that’s all of our audiences. And yeah, that’s critical for us. Well, Tom, do you have any other thoughts before we bring it on home?

You know, I was thinking one of the questions I had wanted to ask Emma since we started planning this session was what were your top concerns and top tips for 2024? But my goodness, throughout the discussion today, we’ve gotten these wonderful tips. Are there any other things that you want to add that have sort of been at the top of your mind as you’ve been working toward some of the events and activities that are going to be happening this spring and summer?

I think the one key thing for me is having sets of fresh eyes on your plans, on your venue. I think a lot of us have worked in some of our venues for a very long time and almost we’ve become, even when we get the plans out every few months and we rehash them, having some kind of fresh eyes coming into our venue, seeing it for the first time and seeing those plans for the first time, I think is actually really, really crucial. And I call it kind of, you know, a shopper experience almost getting, even if it’s a new member of staff to walk through the venue and follow as an audience member would do. Same for a festival. And having that paperwork kind of reassessed in 2024, I think is key. And I do that, I get someone to review kind of my paperwork when I’ve been working on it for a good year. Having those fresh eyes is really, really key. I love that idea.

And I think that’s a way to bring someone who is new on staff or new on the event in at a very important role real quickly. That’s great. And back to our class discussions. Why not invite someone from your custodial staff to take a look at it? And boy, have we seen people who work around the clock on that venue cleaning up after hours, or in the case of the hotels where we’ve seen some active shooter things thwarted: in Denver one was thwarted we think by housekeeping staff who saw something out of the ordinary. And a lot of times these safety plans can be kind of done at an executive level or something like that and it misses things.

Absolutely. And I know you’re really short of time, but that’s probably my last point, actually, kind of these lovely emergency plans that are huge kind of folders sitting on our desktops or in the bottom drawers, I think having them out and actually engaging the staff with them. I think a lot of our emergency plans have tasks or responsibilities for staff that we anticipate or expect them to perform. If we don’t engage them and let them know and get their understanding within those plans, I think that’s a potential for a real opportunity for failure during any time of crisis. So not keeping it kind of in the bottom drawer in the CEO’s office, but actually having it out, discussing what people’s roles and responsibilities are during those times is really important.

Well, thank you so much. You are brilliant. I see why Tom thought, get her into this organization. And I’ve enjoyed watching your webinars. I look forward to the new ones.

Listeners, you can find them at Performing Arts Readiness. Emma Stuart does them pretty regularly and they’re well worth your time. You’ll get your money’s worth. They are free and more. So thank you Performing Arts Readiness for the enduring support and partnership with this Art of Mass Gatherings podcast and the other activities that we do. Thank you, Tom, for co -hosting and Emma so much for being a guest today and I look forward to the next time we get to speak or meet. Thank you so much.

Thank you both.

Thank you Emma.

Timestamps are approximate.

From 13:45

The crew looks at the November 2021 Astroworld Festival, where a crowd surge caused ten deaths and multiple injuries, to examine issues of crowd safety in our current social environment. Emma outlines a few findings from the Houston Police Department’s (HPD) investigation: read/download their 1266-page report. Some additional postscript: The incident led to the creation of a city and county Task Force on Special Events, a Texas Report on Concert Safety, and an updated event management agreement for NRG Park, where the festival took place. A county grand jury, convened prior to the publication of the HPD report, found that no crime occurred and no individuals were responsible for the 10 deaths that occurred during the event.


Platypuses are considered one of the strangest mammals in the world, possessing unique traits like laying eggs and having 10 sex chromasomes instead of the typical two. You could say they extend the diversity of genes and traits “available” within the mammal kingdom should evolutionary pressures go a certain direction. It’s a Majestic shorthand for events that have unusual traits, with the idea being that some of them might turn out to be useful adaptations for the present/future that other events can draw from.


Matt describes successful tactics used by Danny Wimmer [Presents] in their event e-mail communications. This is the LA-based music festival production and promotion company that hosts the Inkcarceration and Aftershock festivals that Tom mentioned a moment prior.


During the Folk Alliance International Conference, ordinary hotel rooms transform into pocket-sized music venues, with nightlong lineups. Pictured here: Musician Dan Navarro’s Cantina Navarro during the 2022 FAI Conference and a performance by the band St. Catherine’s Child.


Yes, Matt just cited turducken in a podcast about event safety and resilience. Yes, that turducken: a rather elaborate meat dish consisting of a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey (apparently in some places it’s known as a three-bird roast). Here we’re using it as shorthand for mass gatherings which don’t neatly fit into a single category: for example, an event that’s a little bit of a music festival, a little bit activism, a little bit community celebration.


Matt and Emma give a few specific suggestions for how venues can prepare for civil unrest, like having sheets of plywood on hand to board up windows, stocking supplies for graffiti removal, removing materials from your public spaces that could be used to cause damage. Check out this quick guide for more tips, including the below graphic. As always, one of the most powerful ways to be prepared comes from your existing relationships with your local network: pooling resources or putting mutual aid agreements in place (hear more on this from Tom at 41:30 from his experiences following Hurricane Harvey).


Learn more or apply for a Four Pillars venue or festival assessment of your very own. Our partners at Performing Arts Readiness are making five audits available through 2025 at no cost to the recipient.

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Episode Snapshot

The Four Pillars of Resilient Gatherings

The foundation of the Art of Mass Gatherings is a unique four pillar framework: safety, sustainability, accessibility, and community engagement. These factors are critical for the safety and success of public gatherings of all kinds, from festivals to political demonstrations to disaster response sites.

Artist Credits

The artwork used in the podcast thumbnail was created for us by illustrator, graphic novelist & concept artist Dion Harris. It represents the intersectional roles that professionals trained in the Art of Mass Gatherings might play in their communities: from performers to event producers to teachers to emergency response professionals.

The intro & outro music is written & performed by podcast host Matthew Kowal with his band The Reals. Listen to the original song, "Fairly Natural."

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