Sunday, 24 February 2008

What technology did they use at the Celine Dion concert at Vergelegen on Sat 23 Feb 2008? Evidently, very little!

Getting there
Luckily we decided to leave Muizenberg (Southern Suburbs in Cape Town) early - we left at 16h30 for a show that advertised the gates opening at 18h00.
The traffic was horrendous and I wished that I had allowed my wife to purchase me that GPS for my 40th birthday! We figured out that the Vergelegen area was on the border of the (MapSudio) map book that we had!.. so we had limited info to "play with". We managed to find a back route to Radloff Park and when we heard that the parking was full, we decided to take the first parking that we found! It turned out to be verrrry far from the venue - but once we had realised that, it was too late to turn back.
At last, after a couple of pit stops to dig into our cooler bag, we arrived at a place where people were "queuing" - it must have been a gate... but no signs, no queuing ropes, no signs, no ushers, no signs, just lots of people waiting for the gates to open. This was about 17h15. We decided to find a spot in the shade and wait (outside the Erinvale golf course). There were (I think) "VIP cars" going slowly up and down the road - for a while, until the number of people got too large and the road then clogged it up.... then there were cars trying to use the single lane to go in opposite directions (this should have been a 1 way, and maybe even closed!) Welcome to the mother-of-all traffic-jams! Drivers (including the one-and-only shuttle bus) got stuck in the mayhem.
Police and Ambulance vehicles tried to force their way through with sirens blazing and there was nowhere for the people to move.
Some decided to leave their cars and join the "queue". By this time it was 18h25 and the crowd started "moving"... we abandoned our "place in the shade" (which by now had become over-crowded) and joined the "queue".(in the sun!).

The queuing:
We waited and waited but the queue did not seem to move, then at about 19h05 we noticed that people were going around the crowd and joining the crowd (note, I've stopped using the word "queue" so as not to flatter the "organisers"!) - maybe that was why we weren't moving. We decided to do the same. From our new vantage point, we could see the "gate"! It was a 1.5m opening and only 2 or 3 people seemed to go through every 2 minutes! Every 3 minutes or so we would "shuffle" forwards about 1m - as we got closer to the gate the pressure from behind got more and more. Still, nobody told us if we were at the correct gate! Nobody told us what was taking so long! We looked behind us, and there were lots more people there! How were we all going to get in at this rate? The people behind also figured out that the throughput rate was far too slow. They started chanting "OPEN the gate, OPEN the gate".. this didn't seem to help. We shuffled a few more times, the pressure from behind tweaked up a bit more. Then the people behind started throwing empty bottles.... at least 10 well directed missiles were thrown over the fence and the security "officials" (bear in mind that we had not seen what was behind this gate - there were too many people in front of us. That seemed to do the trick - 2 burly looking policemen appeared from behind the fence and started eying out the missile-throwers! The message seemed to have got through though - the queue moved much faster - they must have scrapped some of their security checks (or whatever was taking so long) and the shuffles became more frequent and before we knew it we were pushed through the still 1.5m gap in the fence. I felt like I had been through a birth canal, but this time it was a journey that I would remember! Our tickets were checked and we were given armbands that matched our ticket zone. The people in front of us figured out (in 2 split seconds) that the blue armbands were the ones to get! They were for the "Golden Circle seats" - in the chaos they managed to convince the "checker-person" that their tickets were "Golden Circle" tickets and they got the coveted blue armbands! Now I understand why some bone fide ticket holders found their seats occupied.... but really, I would have expected that the armbands and tickets would have been checked at the entrance to the "Golden Circle"!

The concert:
From an audio and visual point of view, I was also not very impressed! Perhaps because I was sitting too far back? But I expected to have clear, loud music... instead, I heard poor quality sound - sort of wafting in and out. By "wafting" I mean the loudness and frequency seemed to vary - perhaps it was the wind? I would have had more speakers interspersed in the crowd instead of all speakers by the stage. Same for the large TV screens - they were 4 close to the stage. At least those worked fine. I read a comment on that the AV company was: "Gearhouse".

I've never organised a concert nor an event where thousands are expected but here's what I would have done:
*) Publish route maps so that people could pick a route and change to another if/when that route got too congested. The standard "Vergelegen web site map" is not sufficient! We were listening to the 94.7 FM for (advertised) tips on where to go.... The help we got was limited to "Lourensford Road is closed... I mean it's been congested for a couple of hours, so try and find an alternate route to Radloff Park". This limited info helped us (lot) but could have been more info and more often. Another piece of info that we heard over the radio was: "Radloff Park is full, but don't worry, the Metro Police are directing traffic to other parking areas."
*) Many roads were congested in one direction - they should have had one way roads towards the venue and then reversed these once the concert was over. We were stuck in the parking "lot" for over an hour after the concert had ended - and that's after waiting in the picnic area for at least 30 minutes, and after the time it took to walk to the car (at least 3 Km).
*) Have signs to ensure people were at the correct gates
*) The gates opened too late (they were supposed to open at 18h00 but only opened at 18h25) - they should have opened much earlier [I believe tonight the gates are opening at 16h00]
*) There were too few gates (I know of only 2 gates!) and too few staff at these gates. There should have been many, many more gates (at least 20 per entrance). The queues outside should have been managed by placing fencing or ropes (and ushers) to ensure that nobody pushed in.
*) Have loud hailers/loudspeakers at the gates to let the public know where to go and what to do.
*) I saw 1 helicopter in the air - but who knows whether it was part of the "organising team". I would have used a helicopter or two "wired up" to the 94.7 FM radio station for reports every 15 minutes. They crew could also have assisted the traffic team to close and open more roads.
*) Don't tell the public not to bring in food and drink! We took the "risk" of packing a cooler bag with water and snacks for our picnic. We decided that the R300 for a packed picnic basket was a bit too much for our liking. We found out that the basket consisted of a bottle of wine, chicken roll, and a rotten apple! Good choice batman! I felt for the people that did not bring their food and drink - they had to queue to purchase (and get ripped off! R70 for a bottle of wine) - then they had to find their way back to their family and friends! Without that GPS it was virtually impossible. There were people on their cell phones trying to direct their loved ones back to their "nest". Some people resorted to waving flashing torches so that their "food bringer" could find their way back! As it got dark, these food gatherers could not see where they were walking and they fell over revellers' feet. One poor picnic'er had her glass of wine crushed when a "food bringer" landed on top of her! This food gatherer apologised profusely, but then disappeared into the crowd! :)
*) Have more traffic officers to control the traffic: closing roads, making more 1 way streets, manning busy intersections, making more turning lanes
*) Use shuttle buses to take people from the parking lots to the venue - the shuttle routes need to be for shuttles only so that there's no chance of congestion.
I'm sure there are a lot more ideas where technology could have helped reduce the chaos!
On a more positive note - Celine is really a great performer and it was very enjoyable (once we got into the venue). The moon rose over the Helderberg Mountains at about 21h45 and the wind died down and it was very comfortable.

Apologies to Celine Dion - she deserves better!

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