COVID-19 has been tough on the vast majority of facility owners, operators, and managers, that much is clear. The bar has been raised when it comes to cleaning and disinfection standards, and that has come at a time when revenues and budgets have decreased in a lot of places. The challenges are intense and multifarious.
As is so often the case, though, the difficulty has been magnified for the largest and most demanding facilities. Stadiums, convention centres, and other high-capacity often multi-faceted venues have faced all those challenges and more. Consider, as a leading example, the trials and tribulations of preparing for the National Hockey League’s “bubble” in Edmonton, Alberta, earlier this year.
That was a prominent topic of discussion at the virtual ISSA Show North America in recent weeks.
“The pandemic has challenged us more than we’d ever have thought, one year ago, six months ago, even two months ago,” said Patty Olinger, executive director of GBAC, a division of ISSA, at the “Lessons Learned from the Frontlines of the COVID-19 Pandemic” session.
That was a general sentiment, but it applies particularly to these large-scale, high-capacity venues. While many of the basics remain the same, it goes without saying that accounting for 20,000 people is rather different than for 20 people.
Todd Boyan, senior VP of stadium operations for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in Florida, noted his facility didn’t know if it would be operating with a capacity of zero or with a full stadium when it ultimately reopens. It ultimately determined it would be able to have a maximum of around 13,000 seats filled if season ticket holders were allowed to attend with adequate social distancing in place.
Indeed, Hard Rock Stadium relied on advice from cleaning industry experts, including ISSA, to help the facility set new cleaning standards and prepare for a post-COVID-19 reopening. The stadium also made pursuing and achieving GBAC STAR a priority. That program has come to be viewed as the gold standard of accreditation, denoting that a facility has met the highest standards of cleaning, disinfection, and infection control practices.
At large-scale facilities such as that one, of course, things have changed drastically.
As well as significant cuts to capacity, touchless cleaning technology is now front and centre, HVAC equipment has been upgraded, and myriad other adjustments have been made in an attempt to establish and maintain the safest environment possible. The sheer volume of attendance and operations amplifies the hazards and, in turn, the work needed.
David Causton, general manager of Chicago’s McCormick Place, the largest convention centre in the United States, stressed the importance of accreditation in the new world. At the “COVID-19: Where Do We Go From Here” discussion at the ISSA Show, he noted that GBAC STAR approval is hugely significant in meeting the challenges of events, from cleaning to disinfecting to foodservice.
Since March 2020, by Causton’s count, McCormick Place has lost 165 events due to the pandemic, a huge hit to the facility itself and the wider economies of Chicago and Illinois. The importance of getting back on their feet quickly and appropriately, and displaying the steps taken, is not lost on him.
“Before the days of COVID-19, you expected the facility to be clean and look clean. What customers want to see now is people cleaning,” he said.
“These facilities relied on equipment, innovation, and evidence-based methods that have been proven to work,” said Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner, director at GBAC. He added that he hopes this focus, which has given building operations staff elevated importance, will remain a top priority when the pandemic ends. COVID-19 may finally go away, but battling and controlling infectious disease is an ever-present issue.
“You need to take a holistic approach, identify the hazards and the risks that can enter a facility, and determine what the consequences will be,” Macgregor-Skinner said. “We can have events and let people in facilities if we do it in the right way.”
That’s the key as far as many facility managers are concerned: as we move toward 2021, managing facilities in the “right” way has rarely been more important.