Safety first at Stadium

Take That fans at the Stadium of Light on Saturday night'Pic by John Millard

Take That fans at the Stadium of Light on Saturday night'Pic by John Millard

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The pressure’s been on for the team tasked with ensuring some 250,000 visitors to the city stay safe. KATY WHEELER finds out more.

THE Take That and Kings of Leon concerts will see the city flooded with 250,000 extra visitors.

For the group – or to give it its full title, the Sunderland Stadium of Light Special Event Safety Advisory Group – responsible for their safety, the operation is a mammoth task.

Ken Scott, Sunderland City Council development manager and chairman of the group, is the man responsible for pulling together the expertise of the organisations which make up the group.

This includes the council, SAFC, Northumbria Police, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, NHS, North East Ambulance Service, University of Sunderland, British Transport Police and transport providers such as Nexus, Go Ahead, Stage Coach, taxi firms based in the city and more.

Ken explains: “Preparing for 250,000 visitors to the city is a significant operation which takes a great deal of preparation and partnership working.

“As with any major event in Sunderland, the planning for this begins at least nine months in advance.

“This starts with a debrief from whichever major event last took place.

“This is a chance for the group to sit down together and discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and any lessons we have learnt which we can put into practice for the upcoming event.”

The Safety Advisory Group becomes involved in the process from the moment SAFC announces it is planning to stage blockbuster concerts.

Representatives of all of the organisations which form the group, have the opportunity to discuss and offer comment before SAFC applies to the council’s Regulatory Committee for a licence for the Stadium of Light to hold the events.

Ken said: “In final planning, the group puts the plans to the test with a table top ‘what if’ exercise.

“This essentially means we ask, ‘what if’ this happened, and this is where we discuss a whole host of potential problems and different scenarios which could arise, and more importantly plan how we can go about coping in the event that they do happen.

“The key thing to remember for events of this scale, with about 55,000 people attending each concert, is that there is no such thing as absolute safety.

“The task of the safety advisory group is to make sure we identify and mitigate the risks wherever possible.”

How efficiently people can be transported to and from the stadium plays a major role in the overall success of a concert.

For the Take That concerts, about 15,000 concert-goers will be from Sunderland, while the other 40,000 people need a means of travelling into the city.

In order to minimise queuing at stations and allow concert-goers to get to and from the gigs as easily as possible via public transport, Nexus is offering special edition DaySaver wristbands available for purchase on its website.

Bernard Garner, director general of Nexus, said: “The public transport network has a vital role to play in getting people to and from the concerts at the Stadium of Light.

“The Metro system will be an especially important means of getting into Sunderland.

“We have made sure there are no planned Metro modernisation works taking place on the concerts dates.

“There will be extra Metro services running until 1am when the concerts are on and we expect the trains to be busy.

“Go North East will also be running late night special services for people to use to get home after the concerts have finished.”

“Hot debriefs” after each concert mean that members of the safety advisory group are still discussing the success of the plans they put in place long after concert revellers have left the stadium.

The group works until the early hours to act fast to address any problems in time for the concert taking place the following day.

Ken added: “This year is complicated by the fact that there are four major concerts taking place over five days, which is a new experience for the group.

“Preparing the city to safely host so many people involves painstaking attention to detail. This includes things which might not normally be an issue.

“For example, in a football match, the operation involves keeping people off the pitch, whereas in a concert, we are trying to encourage people on to it.

“On a normal SAFC match day, men make up the majority of supporters, but for the Take That concerts, 80 per cent of people inside the stadium will be women, so making sure there are a suitable number of female toilets available becomes an issue.

“For concerts, we are dealing with a lot of people who are first time visitors to the Stadium of Light, so signage and stewarding are extremely important aspects of the operation to keep people safe.

“The logistics involved in moving 55,000 extra visitors around the city present a very different challenge to the normal nine to five working day.

“In Sunderland we are lucky to have substantial expertise at our disposal and the organisations which make up the safety advisory group work together in fantastic partnership.

“Just as in previous concerts, I’m sure visitors to Sunderland will be able to travel to and from the Stadium of Light safely, so all they need to worry about is enjoying the concerts.”

Those wanting to find out more about this summer’s concerts and keep their finger on the pulse of the city’s music scene can checkout the official concert Facebook page, at: www.facebook.com/stadiumoflight.