Crowd control warning as hospitality sector reopens

As hospitality businesses prepare for a staged return to operations in coming months, security firms are urging them to consider how to control crowds and manage ongoing safety issues.

Perth-based NPB Security’s co-director, David Barrett, says it is welcome news for the hospitality sector, but managing social distancing requirements and number limits could be problematic.

“A lot of venues are just not designed in a way that allows patrons to maintain 1.5m between each other,” Mr Barrett said.

“If you look at some of the problems that occurred in the retail sector when restrictions started to be put into place, you can only assume there’ll be some challenges encouraging crowds to abide by new rules in bars and other venues designed for socialising at close quarters.”

Mr Barrett said during the early stages of COVID-19 restrictions, incident reports from security personnel at retail outlets increased exponentially.

“It was like nothing we’d ever experienced before,” he said.

“People were obviously in panic mode and that was leading to incidents like 16-year-old checkout operators being verbally abused and threatened.

“The number of incident reports we were receiving rose from less than 20 a week to hundreds a day.”

Mr Barrett said it was a similar story for most security firms around the country as restrictions came into force and continued to change over time with little notice.

With no standard procedures or training modules in place to deal with such unprecedented changes, many security firms had to implement their own.

“We had to come up with training for something that no one had ever experienced before and the general public was in a similar situation, having to adapt to a way of life that they were completely unfamiliar with,” he said.

“That was happening as we were all getting our heads around the seriousness of this virus and fear was growing all the time. People can behave quite irrationally when they’re being driven by fear and uncertainty.”

For Brendon Sim, director of CBD venues Bar Lafayette and W Churchill, while there is some optimism among hospitality business owners, there are still many unknowns ahead.

“As soon as the bars reopen, people will think the cabin fever is over and will come back with a vengeance expecting to enjoy an afternoon or evening out,” Mr Sim said.

“The problem is that bars, pubs and clubs are not designed for social distancing but to fulfil venue capacity, which will create ongoing challenges.

“Walk-ins and queues at the doors will be very hard to manage with number limits and social distancing requirements, let alone people inside venues when there are restrictions on where they can be, how long they can be there or who they can be with.

“It’s a situation that will require very careful and visible crowd control, but we’re all bleeding from the loss of revenue after being closed, we will have limited turnover for a long time to come, and many in the sector will struggle with the costs of adequately managing these new restrictions.”

Mr Sim says he has the option to operate as reservation-only venues, but many operators would need more information before they could make informed decisions.

“Commercial kitchens and bars are not designed to operate at 50 per cent capacity – it’s an expensive and time consuming process to get them functional so we need a lot more certainty before we decide to open at all,” he said.

“While it is a good thing that we can start to open our doors again, it’s going to be a long and costly exercise to do so, and there are so many unknowns ahead.

“We’re going to need a lot of ongoing government support to cover the costs of crowd control while turnover remains limited.”
Mr Barrett believes that while there will no doubt be challenges as restrictions are relaxed, business operators, security personnel and the general public will be far better placed to adapt.

“The experiences gained in going into this thing will be valuable to help us come out of it,” he said.

“We’ve mandated that all our staff need to complete the AHA’s COVID-19 course that’s been put into place, and everyone now has some experience in dealing with staged changes, so I’m predicting a more seamless transition back to some sense of normality.

“But people are going to get excited about pubs and clubs reopening, and when excitement and alcohol are combined, security issues can arise.

“However, just like we’ve seen in the retail sector, most customers will adjust to the changes and settle into a new way of doing things.”