How to Produce a Safe Live Event in the era of COVID-19

(Photo credit: Eric Maynard.  The United States Air Force Band created a safe live event by using hygiene barriers and HEPA filters along with air scrubbers in order to perform their Annual Holiday Concert 2020 “A Season of Hope” at The Theater at MGM National Harbor, Maryland USA)

So you’re planning a live event? Not everyone has had their vaccinations yet?  Decreasing the chance of having a super-spreader event is on everyone’s mind these days.  We know a few more things about producing safe live events than we did a year ago:

Before the Event:

1) Outdoor events are safer.  Book an outdoor venue if at all possible. The odds of catching COVID-19 indoors is 18.7 times higher than outdoors according to a study by Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

2) Indoor venues can be improved with ventilation.  Have a plan to open doors, windows and include the use of HEPA filters along with heavy-duty air scrubbers when possible.

3) Seek planning guidance on having a safe event.  We recommend the newly updated Event Safety Alliance’s Reopening Guide. 

During the Event:

4) Masks & social distancing are going to be with us for a while longer.  Double-masking can block 92% of infectious particles. Recent reports show that behaviors learned during the pandemic have been helpful during the regular cold and flu season.  Also, we have the new COVID variants in our midst.

5) Limit the length of the event.  The longer the time spent in an area, the higher the chances of exposure to infection.

6) The use of Plexiglass hygiene shields or barriers can limit the spread of airborne infectious particles. They create a physical barriers against the droplets. We’re excited that the U.S. Marine Band recently called us to assist with the 46th Presidential Inauguration by supplying hygiene shields to make their live event much safer.

For more information on how we can assist with live safe event management or production please contact us for turn-key packages.  Packages include staging, audio, video/camera, lighting and truss structures. Give us a call at (410) 360-5006 or email us at [email protected].

The Return of the Drive-In During the COVID-19 Pandemic

With isolation comes loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have created new challenges to how we celebrate milestones; graduation ceremonies, weddings, birthdays, retirement parties, funerals, etc.

Ritual celebrations are important because they provide structure in an unpredictable world, they help people make transitions from one stage of life to another, they foster and confirm connections, they create memories and they preserve our social fabric and culture.

Churches and schools are the bedrock of our communities and while we can’t shake hands or hug one another, what remains irreplaceable are the mental & physical health benefits of belonging to a group and feeling socially connected. It’s one way we assure each other that we’re alright and we’re going to make it through together. We are not alone. Research has shown that “social connectedness” is at least as beneficial for your health as quitting smoking or regular exercise.

While many churches already employ live streams and webcasts, the idea of the drive-in church being that hybrid between being at home alone and being in an enclosed building with a large group of people is something to consider.

The concept is not new, it originated in the 1950s in Garden Grove, California with the Crystal Church. Similarly, schools and universities are not strangers to online learning and webcasts, however, the concept of the drive-in graduation is something that is new. How do we come together in celebration but still remain safe in our own space?

All that’s needed is a large parking lot and a position for a stage that can be enhanced with large video screens for better visibility. Everyone tunes in to the same FM station on their cars. Instead of clapping, there are horns honking. Music can be live (social distancing rules apply) or pre-recorded.

rendering of cars at drive-in event

Event Tech is ready with turn-key packages for one-off or weekly events. Packages include staging, audio, video/camera, lighting, and low power FM broadcasting. Give us a call at (410) 360-5006 or email us at [email protected].

Crew Scheduling for Live Events in a Smartphone World

LASSO is not just a scheduling tool specialized for the live events industry; it is a complete communications platform that allows companies to centralize their crew hiring and booking operations. Many rental software packages offer labor scheduling, but none are as comprehensive as LASSO.

Finding an Alternative

A few years ago I was at a training seminar put on by our rental software company. I chose to attend a session about their labor planning module lead by the logistics manager of a well-respected company. I was curious to see how an organization much larger than ours was able to use this labor module because we had been trying, but kept running into issues.

The presenter described more than ten custom fields they had added to the system to capture information the developers hadn’t thought of. They seemed to be using the software to the best of their ability, but it was still cumbersome.

When the speaker described the multiple spreadsheets they would print on paper and take to their weekly meetings, I had a realization. This wasn’t a presentation about how to use the software. It was 45 minutes about how to work around the limitations of the software. I felt there had to be a better way.

I left the training thinking about how most rental software packages treat labor and resource management as an add-on. We knew that the subject deserved more attention to really improve workflow efficiencies. Shortly thereafter, we reached out to LASSO. Their new product looked like it could fill the gap left by all of the major rental software vendors.

Making Booking Easier for Technicians

Our focus was not solely on ourselves though. Yes, we wanted a better tool for our logistics managers, but we also wanted to create a better experience for our overhire technicians. The Baltimore/Washington DC region has seen a spike in labor companies entering the market over the past few years. We needed a better way to compete. If we could offer the easiest way to present and accept job opportunities, we would have an advantage.

LASSO is actually a suite of tools including:

  • recruiting tools
  • new hire on-boarding
  • digital signature capture for policies
  • scheduling
  • communication
  • time and attendance tracking
  • document distribution
  • skills management
  • travel management
  • payroll

Making the Change

When we first started using LASSO in 2016, we understood that we chose a new platform that would need time and experience to mature. However, we approached the situation with patience and an open mind. We worked closely with LASSO’s support team, providing feedback and suggesting improvements. LASSO responded by quickly fixing bugs and teaching us how to better take advantage of their system.

Currently, we use LASSO to manage all of our production resources. This includes full-time employees, part-time overhire technicians, drivers, and trucks. Adding vehicles to the system prevents double-booking and gives everyone a more complete picture of the event.

Continued Improvement

Over the past few years LASSO has continued to develop features, which make it even more of a pleasure to use.

Centralized Communication

It is possible to centralize all crew communication within LASSO. Schedule changes can be communicated instantly with push notifications, email, or SMS. Recipients can be selected based on position and messages can be scheduled to send at a certain time. You can even require confirmation from the crew member that they received each message. Documents can be attached so they are available in the app and a full history of messages related to each event is available.
When changes are made to an event for which people are already booked, LASSO even reminds you to communicate those changes to the crew.

Crew Registration and On-Boarding

One of the most underrated aspects of LASSO is the registration process. It’s not the same as signing up for any other website. LASSO’s registration process is actually a job application for us.
New users choose the positions they want to be considered for, suggest rates, attach their resume and photo, and can electronically sign policy documents. Every step can be customized per company, from the positions offered to the thank you message. As a manager, you can choose to receive a notification when someone applies for a new position and manage applicants from the pending crew page.

Calendar Integration

Crew members can easily sync LASSO bookings to their phone’s calendar with one click. In addition, the company’s event schedule is available as an .ics feed. Our logistics team can add that calendar to their desktops and phones for a complete view of all events across our organization.

Crew Chief Features

As a crew chief or supervisor, you have access to the complete crew schedule as well as the roster. Communication is easy with one-click access to email and SMS for each scheduled worker. When the job is over, each crew member can be rated on a 5-star scale for their great work.

Final Thoughts

LASSO was built for our industry. It’s incredibly tough to solve for the complexities found within the live event industry, as they are quite unique. LASSO has set out to tackle these issues head-on, and they do so with the help, support, and feedback of the industry itself.

By offering more features and options, LASSO has built an amazingly thorough scheduling and communication platform. They understand that the smartphone is the primary communication device for most people and designed their product accordingly. Most importantly, LASSO makes it easy for technicians to make scheduling decisions with just a few clicks.

Improving Event Planning and Communication With Vectorworks

Like the tip of an iceberg, show day is just the small part of your event that everyone can see. Getting to that day takes coordination, planning, and efficient communication. Similar to the part of the iceberg under the water, it’s the pre-production work that provides flotation and allows the tip to be seen. Conference calls and emails are helpful, as well as newer collaboration platforms like Slack and Basecamp, but the best way to get ideas across is with an image.

Vectorworks – The Event Professional’s Choice

At Event Tech we use Vectorworks, the industry-leading design software for the entertainment business, to create drawings of our events. These drawings serve as the information hub – connecting clients, vendors, and technicians to make sure everyone is on the same page.

CAD, or Computer Aided Design, is the process creating detailed technical drawings and 3D renderings that depict exactly how your event’s design and production elements fit together in the venue to create your event experience. There are several different types of drawings that a special events production firm can create for you using a CAD program:

  • Floor plans
  • Lighting designs
  • Stage plots
  • Site maps
  • Cabling diagrams
  • 3D design renderings
  • Engineering drawings

3D Design Helps Set Expectations

Vectorworks allows us to design simultaneously in 2D and 3D. Most technical drawings are shown 2D in a plan view, looking down at the room from above. However, when there’s a desire to see what things will really look like in a room, we use 3D representations. A rendering is a more realistic image of the 3D space that shows all the room surfaces and can include elements like the beams of light that emanate from each fixture. Throughout the planning phases, being able to provide your clients and team with accurate 3D renderings of the final build will facilitate getting all of the stake holders on the same page. This helps to set realistic expectations before the day of the event.


Everyone Benefits From Detailed Drawings

CAD drawings help everyone. The event designer can see what the stage set and color schemes will look like. The meeting planner can see the spacing between tables and share that floor plan with the hotel. For technicians, drawings serve as the map of equipment placement and connections. Integrating data from the venue, like room dimensions and electrical access helps limit confusion, shorten set up times, and save money. And in the warehouse, CAD drawings inform our pick lists so that the right equipment ends up on site.

We also use Vectorworks to create drawings that we share with our Professional Engineer in order to prove structural stability and wind resistance at outdoor events. The engineer can see every detail about how a structure is built and will stamp or certify our drawings for submittal.

Information Sharing Through CAD

Many of the large events we stage are collaborations with other production companies. Being able to communicate effectively and share information ahead of time is key to making the load-in go smoothly, satisfy the client, and keep everyone safe. When there are multiple companies on site and space is at a premium, CAD drawings make sure that everyone knows where things go and any conflicts can be worked out before load-in. Since many similar companies also use Vectorworks, files can be passed back and forth with each vendor adding their bit to the drawing.

Event Tech offers a full range of professional CAD and event planning services. Incorporated into a full production design or offered as a standalone service to event professionals and coordinators, no matter how large your event may be or what stage of development you find yourself in, Event Tech can help put your ideas on paper. As you start the design process of your next project remember that if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.

Do You Need An AV Company?

There are so many terms used in the audio visual industry it may be challenging to figure out which company to call when you need help. The same equipment can be used in your conference room at work, your kid’s school, and at the awards dinner. How do you know where to start?

Companies and customers use different terminology based on their personal experience. If there was an AV club in your high school I’m willing to bet you get a certain image in your head when anyone mentions audio visual services.

Companies that provide sound, lights, video, and staging equipment for one-off events are part of a relatively small, niche industry described by a variety of names:

  • event production
  • audio visual services
  • presentation technology
  • show support
  • event rental and staging
  • special events technology
  • show technology
  • AV services
  • event technology

Every firm has a slightly different mix of skills but the fundamental need of our customers is always the same, to communicate a message.

Event Tech has more than 30 years of experience helping customers amplify, magnify, and beautify their ideas. In the Baltimore and Washington, DC region our particular craft is called special events production or audio visual services and when there’s something we don’t do it ourselves, we know experts who do.

Should You Rely on the Hotel’s Wifi?

CLIENT: Can you test the hotel’s WiFi connection so we know if our application will work on the day of the meeting?

ET: We can, except testing is sort of pointless.

The hotel says they’ve got a 100MB broadband link that can adequately handle the client’s application but the connection is not an isolated line and the bandwidth they need is not guaranteed. A hotel’s WiFi is shared with hundreds of guest rooms and there is no way to predict or control how those other guests will use the service at any moment. Usage patterns aren’t consistent and any time traffic increases and network congestion grows, there is a risk that link quality will be compromised.

Do you know how many guest rooms and meetings are booked on the day of your event? Even if you could predict accurately, the risks stem not only from the other hotel guests, but from every other user in a city that shares public network infrastructure. Remember, to the ISP you are not special or a priority, you’re just one of millions of users. What if there are attacks on the network? If there is a problem, how quickly can the ISP or hotel’s support staff resolve the problem, considering their many simultaneous obligations other than just your event? By the time a problem is noticed during the event, it is to late to take corrective action.

The bottom line is, there is no way to test the hotel’s WiFi for your event because we can’t replicate the conditions. There are too many variables that are out of our control.

When WiFi performance is critical to your event, there is no better way to add certainty and guarantee success than to install a dedicated, isolated line which was engineered end to end to deliver low latency and the capacity required with plenty of headroom to spare.

Event Tech partners with experienced broadband providers that specialize in meetings and events. We help clients determine their needs, fit the budget, and create a plan to make it happen – relieving them of the burden of the technical details.

Inspiration for this article came from a conversation with Tom DeReggi of Rapid Broadband, Inc.

Is Your Start/Finish Line Structure Safe?

Is the start/finish line structure for your race or walk safe? What happens if the weather changes? Is there a plan?

At Event Tech, we use tools developed in conjunction with Clark Reder, the entertainment industry’s premier engineers, to know how our structures will perform. There is no guesswork. We design conservatively with the safety of guests and staff as our main concern.

A popular choice for race and walk events is a truss goalpoast (aka truss arch). It looks like a soccer goal in its simplest form with two vertical truss sections extending up from the ground connected together with a horizontal truss running above people’s heads.

The truss goalpost can have many uses:

    • start/finish line for a race or walk
    • ground supported LED walls
    • entrance gate at a festival
    • backdrop or banner support above or behind a stage
    • pedestrian walkways
    • support for step and repeat backdrops
    • DJ lighting support
    • signage towers

Anytime a temporary structure is built outside, the possibility of weather – specifically wind – must be considered. The biggest factor affecting truss goalposts is coverage from signs and backdrops – essentially sails that catch the wind and act to either lift the structure or flip it over. To counteract those forces we make the base of the structure wider and heavier using Block and Roll ballast blocks that allow a neat, clean look. Sometimes additional diagonal bracing is added to stabilize taller sections.

Designs can be stock, from our library of proven examples, modified, or fully customized depending on the customer’s requirements. CAD drawings are produced for every structure and being able to visualize the finished product helps align everyone’s expectations and ensure a smooth event. Depending on the requirements of the local jurisdiction, we can also provide PE stamped drawings for any state in the US.

Every time we build a structure we know:

  • exactly what parts to use and how they should be configured
  • the maximum acceptable wind speed with coverage
  • the maximum acceptable wind speed with all coverage removed
  • the high wind action plan that lays out who is responsible and what to do for different conditions
  • the predicted local weather

Suspending anything above people’s heads is serious business. It’s easy to do wrong – it’s usually the tempting, cheaper option. Many times people assume they know what it is safe but they have no way to verify their instincts. Unfortunately, we see it all the time.

Event Tech can help you achieve your vision and mitigate some of the risks involved with outdoor events. Structures we provide are safe up to established limits and when those limits are reached we have a plan for what to do next.

Out With The Old, In With Shure ULX-D Wireless Microphones

For more than a decade Event Tech relied on the Shure UHF-R series for all wireless microphone applications. We recently turned over our inventory, selling off all the old gear and buying new.

Our clients’ needs were the driving force that led to the purchase of 32 channels of Shure ULX-D Digital Wireless systems. In small meeting rooms with high wireless channel counts we would get complaints about the size and appearance of our front of house tech areas.  It became obvious that the console and outboard racks would have to shrink.

While there is plenty of reason to geek-out over the technical specs, upgrading to ULX-D has practical benefits for meeting planners and anyone who cares about the look of the event. Most importantly, the tech area can be smaller and less noticible to attendees.

Ok, time to geek-out.

  • The increased density of the ULXD4Q Quad Channel Digital Wireless Receiver allows us to pack more channels into a smaller space.
  • The Dante network connection on the ULXD4Q along with some off-the-shelf network switches allows all of the wireless audio to get to the console over one CAT-6 cable (with a second cable for redundancy), so no more heavy, copper audio snake running through the room for guests to trip over.
  • Control data from the ULXD4Q can be monitored natively on our Yamaha QL5 console, meaning we can hide the wireless rack anywhere and still see battery status as well as RF and audio signal levels on the console screen.
  • Better audio quality! 24-bit digital audio allows greater than 120dB of dynamic range, which is 15dB better than the old UHF-R.
  • Allows more channels to operate in a smaller frequency space.
  • Compatible with the newest FCC spectrum changes.
  • Already owned by many of our local vendors. We always have access to more channels!

What to Consider Before Choosing In-House AV

Does your meeting planner know that when you use in-house AV services, part of your budget goes right back into the hotel’s pocket?

Ever wonder why the in-house AV bill is so expensive? AV companies pay a portion of their earnings back to the hotel or convention center for the privilege of being positioned in-house. That premium shows up as part of your total. You’ve already paid for the ballroom and the catering, and on top of that, they manage to get a portion of your AV budget as well. What if you were able to spend that money to make the event better?

Have you noticed that events in hotel ballrooms mostly look the same? Did you ever think about why? The in-house AV comapny has a limited inventory of equipment they try to optimize by setting up the same way over and over again. There aren’t many options for you as the customer to express yourself or be unique.

When you use an independent event production provider, they are dedicated to you and your event, not worried about the other show down the hall. Your ideas are no longer limited by the equipment in stock. Event Tech has the flexibility to provide solutions for different budgets and if we don’t have a piece of gear, we can get it. With your concept and our creative support we provide custom stages and sets, help with the decor (furniture, tableclothes, centerpieces), make sure the lights match your company’s logo, and design custom signage and branding to make your event stand out.

Put more of your money to work for your event by hiring an independent production company.

Portable Wheelchair Lift Makes Stage Access Simple

Accessibility and ADA compliance is always an issue when we design stages and structures for special events. A wheelchair ramp made from our Staging Dimensions stage decks is one option, but when space or time is limited, our portable wheelchair lift provides the best way to access the stage.

Our wheelchair lift can be moved, set in place, and operated by one person. Made of lightweight aluminum, the lift does not require power. Anyone can silently lift up to 600 pounds in about 20 seconds without breaking a sweat. The lift is big enough for any wheelchair or mobility scooter and can reach a stage up to 5′ high.

Check out Ryan and Miles in this video showing the wheelchair lift in action.

Call us at 410-360-5006 for help with your next event.