A little information can be a dangerous thing, particularly when it’s used as the seed for new policies and regulations that turn out to be unnecessary. A brief discussion at the Flagler Beach City Commission last week makes the point.
The discussion was about “crowd managers” and the need to train some and have them in place at such events as First Friday because, allegedly, crowd managers will now be required at any event where 250 or more people gather: at least one crowd manager for every increment of 250 people. But that turned out to be only one of several errors, exaggerations and misstatements made at the meeting, mostly by Commissioner Kim Carney but also by Commissioner Marshall Shupe, as Carney suggested that city staff look into the matter, though the city attorney had already given a hint that the discussion was unnecessary.
“Have you heard anything about crowd managers, or the new federal law on crowd managers?” Carney asked Drew Smith, the attorney.
“Not a word,” Smith said. He hadn’t heard of it because there is no such federal law.
“The Flagler Auditorium just went through training for 15 crowd managers, it’s new legislation to help get people that are in a crowded area” to safety in case of an emergency, Carney said. She was right about the auditorium, though the auditorium certified eight people, not 15.
“They actually have to be present at any group of gathering that’s more than 250 people,” Carney continued, “so I thought of First Friday, with all the people that we have. It does not necessarily have to pertain to inside auditoriums, it’s also going to pertain to football games, anywhere where there’s a mass of people.”
No, it does not pertain to football games, festivals or First Friday, let alone “anywhere there’s a mass of people.” It does, in fact, pertain only to enclosed buildings, according to Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito and Palm Coast Fire Marshal Jeff Pattee, and according to the code that originated the requirement for “crowd managers.”
Commissioner Steve Settle, who’s had considerable experience dealing with Carney misstatements or exaggerations, asked his fellow commissioner: “Kim, what is the authority for this?”
“I would have to find out but Lisa told me it came down from the federal government,” Carney said, referring to Lisa McDevitt, the Auditorium director.
A regulation that has nothing to do with Homeland Security and doesn’t apply outside of buildings.
“It’s part of homeland security, it’s an offshoot,” Commissioner Shupe said.
No, it isn’t.
The concept of crowd managers originates with the National Fire Protection Association code, a non-binding code that various state and local governments choose to adopt and incorporate into their codes, giving it the authority of law or rules. The matter of crowd managers in the NFP code dates back several years, but has now been incorporated into state law, Petito, the Flagler County fire chief, said.
A few months ago at Hijackers’ Restaurant Petito and Flagler Fire Marshal Joe King made a presentation to the arts alliance and some of the county tourism bureau’s staffers about fire codes and how they should be applied to various events. King brought up the matter of crowd managers. “In a nutshell, if you exceed a certain amount of people in an assembly, like the auditorium or one of the commission meetings, you have to have a crowd manager,” Petito told them.
Not outdoor events at First Friday or Town Center? “No, because it’s really not an assembly inside of a building,” Petito said. “The commission chambers at the Government Service Building, when they had a Sea Ray meeting, it was well over 250 people, so we had two crowd managers there. Kevin Guthrie is one, and Joe King is was the other one.” Guthrie is the county’s emergency management director. The meeting dealt with a land use matter relating to a Sea Ray expansion. It packed three levels of the Government Services Building.
There are also exemptions to the 250-person rule, such as in churches, where no crowd managers are required for up to 2,000 people.
King said it takes just two hours to be a certified crowd manager, and the certification ensures common-sense things such as knowing where the egress points, or ways out, of a building, are, keeping doors open, ensuring that people don’t string computer wires in aisles and aisles are kept clear. It doesn’t get more complicated than that. Nor do crowd managers have more authority than as observers and more knowledgeable ushers in case of an emergency.
Even the enforcement side of crowd managing is very vague. “Nobody’s really gotten into enforcement or backlash from it yet, so there’s really not been any people dealing with any complaints coming,” King said. “Do we have the right to go in there and bring in crowd managers and charge these private agencies because they’re not meeting codes? Those are the questions we’re actually asking at our meetings.”
Pattee, the Palm Coast fire marshal, said there are no enforcement mechanisms in place right now—no fines and such.
“It’s not really clear,” King said. “It’s in the code, we’re having to enforce it, but what do we do if they’re not meeting the requirement of that code?”
McDevitt at the auditorium is not taking chances. She was very interested in King’s points about crowd managers. He gave her his card, suggested the county could help pre-plan her venue, and she went ahead with training her staff and a couple of volunteers.
“In the past, we have explained to every volunteer their duties and where they would go, as far as the doors and the exits,” in an emergency, McDevitt said. “now we have crowd managers, those are the people they’d look to for any kind of direction.” Every member of her staff is a manager. “I don’t want to have any questions, I want to be certified,” she said.
But the Flagler Beach City Commission can exhale. The crowd manager code doesn’t apply to anything the city does—the city commission meetings are limited to well under 250 people, for starters—and First Friday is an outdoor event that doesn’t need managers.
The National Fire Protection Association code section 18.104.22.168 on Crowd Managers:
Assembly occupancies shall be provided with a minimum of one trained crowd manager or crowd manager supervisor. Where the occupant load exceeds 250, additional trained crowd managers or crowd manager supervisors shall be provided at a ratio of one crowd manager or crowd manager supervisor for every 250 occupants, unless otherwise permitted by one of the following:
This requirement shall not apply to assembly occupancies used exclusively for religious worship with an occupant load not exceeding 2000.
The ratio of trained crowd managers to occupants shall be permitted to be reduced where, in the opinion of the authority having jurisdiction, the existence of an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system and the nature of the event warrant.