In sports, a playbook is a book that contains a team’s strategies and plays. When a new situation presents itself, a coach or manager will use the playbook to figure out what to do next.
Security teams, too, rely on a playbook of sorts, a physical record that can contain everything from the layout of a venue, contacts, event details, and evacuation procedures. But books and binders can be bulky or misplaced. Worse, they may not be accessible when you need them most. What then?
A new crowd planning technology aims to answer “what if” for those in charge of “what’s next”. Designed for venues, live events, law enforcement and first responders, Playbook replaces the physical with the digital, making your plans readily accessible to relevant stakeholders or anyone of your choosing. Like a binder, Playbook is portable, but that’s where the comparison ends. There’s little fear that Playbook will be left in an office or lost, because Playbook is accessed from an app on your cellphone. And when was the last time anyone left a cellphone behind?
How does it work, and what are the implications for the security industry? We turned to Jim Martin, founder and president of Venue Intelligence, the Indiana startup which created the platform, to find out:
You’re not exactly an IT guy. How did you wind up in software development?
You’re right. I’ve made a career of sitting in between the business and tech communities, often times playing interpreter. At Simon Property Group, it really reinforced the need for business and technology to be on the same page. When you’re working for the market leader in an industry that is getting completely disrupted, there’s an opportunity for huge wins and losses. Being able to identify, own and develop “technology businesses” at both the corporate/enterprise and mall level was a lot of fun and very rewarding.
Tell us about your Simon Mall years.
Prior to Simon, I was involved with another startup that dealt with retail facility management. This was during the dot-com era, and we built an online platform that allowed facility managers to better manage their store maintenance and thousands of contractors via the internet. We were in the early days of moving them out of excel spreadsheets and sticky notes and onto the Web. This sparked interest from Simon, who liked the product as an innovative solution they could potentially offer their tenants, as well as a solution to enhance their own maintenance management. Over the next 12 years, I worked for Simon first as VP of new business development, then as VP of new business development and building automation. In both roles, I was responsible for creating new businesses that would generate revenue, drive property efficiency & savings or a combination of both. Given my background, most of those initiatives were technology-related.
During that era, you also worked for Simon’s Chief Information Officer. How did that lead to where you are now?
Like most real estate companies, Simon made some big changes during the recession and I had an opportunity to go to work for the CIO. Prior to that, I had spent a significant amount of time working with the corporate security and property management departments. Our guard tour software was outdated, and I sourced a successor product that was pretty unique at the time, a web-based platform that combined guard tour management with incident reporting. The software was a game changer for that business unit; it allowed us to be better informed about the deployment of a very expensive part of the business, and it gave us the ability to push out information in real time. So, for example, if we received an important intelligence bulletin, we could create a real time update and push the information out to our public safety officers who were walking our shopping centers. The experience left me with a new appreciation for how people, process and the right technology coming together can be such a significant “force multiplier”.
At the same time that we were extending best practices through the use of technology, we were also developing written guidelines and emergency plans, reaching out to all the key stakeholders who’d potentially be involved in a crisis at the local and regional levels, much like we’re seeing across various industries now. That exhaustive documentation obviously had to be stored somewhere and it’s the image of that massive binder on a bookshelf that stuck with me when I started Venue Intelligence. In what many are calling the “new normal” of today’s operating environment, venue operators and event organizers should be building documents that are readily accessible to staff, volunteers, public safety officers, first responders or anyone else who needs them. I view binders as a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem.
Tell us about Playbook
Playbook lets you build new (or cut and paste your existing) plans into a web browser that formats them neatly on your phone. Emergency plans are organized alongside event plans, maps, and event-specific contacts, all accessible with a couple taps on your phone. No more searching for what to do. Check your pocket. It’s in your Playbook.
Couldn’t I just carry the binder with me? Why is Playbook the better option?
You could, but who does? Plans aren’t read because they aren’t accessible and tend to be lengthy and tough to navigate quickly. With Playbook, you not only have quick access to the documentation, but you now have the ability to find what you’re actually looking for. And while you could communicate with staff via radio, radios are expensive and obviously, not viable for conveying images of any kind. Playbook is accessed on hardware that everyone already has with them.
How does Playbook work?
You can build your own Playbook online or with our assistance, if you need it. The first thing to do is to create a venue, whether that is a city block or a physical building. Then you add an event at the venue, which includes your emergency & event plans and maps. Finally, you assign event-specific roles and invite your contacts. Once published, Playbook will light up the phones of those you invited. If plans change, simply go online, unpublish, update, and republish. A new alert will appear regarding the update.
What happens once the event is over?
The event and the related information expire and disappear from the mobile app after 3 days. The app itself stays on your phone for you to receive new invitations to future events. The event information is always available through the Admin web interface and can be duplicated for future events with a single click.
Can anyone download the Playbook app?
Yes, it’s free to download but unless you’re invited to an event, you won’t get access.
Just about everything can be hacked these days. How secure is this?
We’re running in a highly secure AWS environment with some pretty significant 24/7 monitoring tools. We’d be notified right away and can shut down access to an account. We feel it’s a significant improvement over sending a PDF via email and certainly more secure than a paper copy that tends to be left behind or thrown in the trash. People don’t leave their phones behind, and most phones have passwords.
Not everyone has cellular and WIFI can be spotty. What then?
That was certainly a consideration when we built the app, particularly thinking about large venues where networks can be oversaturated with use. The app works like many others. As long as you’ve brought down the documents the first time, you could put your phone in airplane mode and still have access to them. You don’t need connectivity to make it work; you do however, need connectivity for the notifications
Can you give us a real world example of how Playbook is used?
We’ve done events ranging from the largest, single day sporting event in the world (The Indy 500, SEAR 2) and the Rio Olympics to conventions, summer camps, street festivals and numerous running events. We see everything in Playbook from pictures of race credentials to foodservice schedules to the down-to-the-second singing of the national anthem. We get consistent feedback that the more complex the event, the more valuable Playbook is. I think that clearly suggests the ease with which you can not only find information on your mobile device but administratively, the ability to make changes and redistribute them in seconds. I’ve literally sat in planning meetings where a change is made to a document and it’s a mad dash to the printer to run copies to hand out to volunteers and various agencies that night. With Playbook, I made the changes and everyone had it on their phone before the printer had time to warm up.
Unfortunately, the other thing we see, regardless of the size of the event, is planning for more extreme safety & security issues, regardless of event-type. Certainly, bad weather tops the list for outdoor events. As you know, the number one concern for our 38,000 athletics directors nationwide isn’t an active shooter – thankfully, it’s still a weather event. But when you have Homeland Security the week of the Indy 500, suggesting that fans “visualize worst-case scenarios, identify emergency escape routes and arrange for a meeting place with family & friends in case of attack” (enjoy the race!), it suggests a new level of candor and coordination between the public and our events and venues moving forward, given the breadth of scenarios for which we now need to prepare.
O.K., it’s nice to have access to PDFs, but I don’t need Playbook for that. Where’s the added value?
If you’re just looking for online PDFs you don’t need Playbook; you could just use Dropbox or another file sharing product. It’s important to note that you can export your entire Playbook to a PDF if need be, so that format is always available when using the service. But Playbook has a combination of other features that make it unique and powerful. For example, if you’re in charge of a 5K road race, there are online templates, where you can access best practices and customize them for your events. We’re in the process of building those out for a variety of industries so people can easily tap into best practices. Obviously, the notifications capability can be used a variety of ways during an event, really using Playbook as a complement to your existing communication strategy.
Who should have access to Playbook?
Typically, it’s used by a combination of staff, volunteers, first responders/medical & law enforcement. It really depends on your venue and events you manage. I could have made a case for our tenants to have Playbook when I worked in the mall space. Our 3rd party safety officers should have had it, as well as local law enforcement. Any critical asset or event has an entire supporting cast that needs to understand a certain level of preparedness. That said, we’re not trying to be Facebook or Twitter. This is generally not considered content that is suitable for the fan, guest or public. But unlike binders, paper or PDF distribution, Playbook allows you to give more thought to who really are your key stakeholders.
What do you mean?
We’ve talked with farmer’s markets about making sure their vendors have it. We’ve spoken with summer event planners about sticking Playbook in the pocket of their bartenders. We’ve got board directors who need to know the plan for their event but don’t want a binder or wad of paper in their pocket. In rec leagues and fundraising 5K’s, how many people know where the AED’s are? We find that event people acknowledge their volunteers and staff need to be informed so that they are an asset rather than liability. They’re event people, not necessarily safety people, but they still should be aware of procedures because, right or wrong, they will get asked what to do by the public and you need them to have the right answers. They are your force multiplier. There tends to be many more volunteers at most events than law enforcement or third party security and you want them all operating off the same sheet of music. Conversely, safety and security professionals are quasi public relations and can be a source of information that can improve your event.
Here’s how: We put Playbook in the pockets of the Indy Metro PD to assist with the Fanfest event going on during the Big Ten Championship, then asked how it changed their job. One officer had an out-of-state guest approach him about a shrimp eating contest going on later in the day. The officer knew he had the information back in his car, but decided to check Playbook first, which detailed the overlay of the event and pointed out the day’s schedule, including an autograph signing session with celebrity contestants. In effect, Playbook converted that officer into a marketing agent for the town and enhanced that fan’s experience, which tends to be the single biggest goal for anyone producing an event.
Are there applications for Playbook beyond the stadium or event setting?
Our big focus in 2017 is on the running industry where we believe Playbook could add another layer of information sharing and protection during their events. Numerous marathons sponsor a kid’s day in addition to the actual marathon. Kids often wander off, resulting in a panicked parent in search of assistance. Many current practices call for pushing an alert out over radio or PA which can be heard by everyone – not ideal in today’s world, according to law enforcement. Furthermore, many plans ask the parent to leave the location where they lost their child to head to a central reunification point. That’s a difficult ask of a frantic parent who doesn’t want to leave the location they last saw their child. Playbook offers a different solution. Every parent has pictures of their kids on their phone – many even have one or two taken the day of the event. What if that photo and some basic information were dropped into the Playbook platform, published, and pushed out to the event’s vetted volunteers? Rather than just having two cops on bikes looking for a lost child, you now have 100 vetted individuals armed with a current photo. The ability to be discreet is a powerful option, and may be a game changer.
Training is a condition of hiring, and written into the contract between a venue and security company. If the officer is already trained in policies and procedures, is Playbook still relevant?
At Venue Intelligence, we like to say “you play the way you practice and you practice what’s in your Playbook”. We believe training is an ongoing effort, particularly as you encounter turnover in your workforce and introduce new policies & procedures as world events force us to rethink safety standards. As an example of that, the attack in Manchester has some of our clients rethinking the hardened perimeter during egress of their events. They can quickly work through that decision, update Playbook and it’s on the phone of 200 people working that event. We need to be more agile with communicating changes to our plans and we think Playbook provides you that additional tool in your toolkit.
The other perspective is that training simply isn’t enough. Many of the venues that security companies are asked to protect are multi-use, mass gathering nightmares: retail, co-mingled with entertainment, rapid transit, convention space and hotels. The reality is that there are layers of emergency plans for each of those operating environments and nobody can retain all of that in their head. They can, however, have easy access to all of those plans, right in their pocket.
Beyond contracted security teams, law enforcement, first responders and even volunteers want to go into a situation with their eyes open. I speak with law enforcement all the time who acknowledge they’ve “never been to that event” or “have never been in that building”. At the most recent NCS4 marathon summit, a law enforcement professional shared “I’m not concerned about my race director who brought me to this meeting. By virtue of the fact that she’s attending this conference, she has her act together…it’s the two dozen others that are running events in my town that have no idea what they’re doing…I just know we need to show up and deal with their mess.” From a law enforcement perspective (or anyone who deals with a variety of events & venues) one of the most exciting aspects of Playbook is that you could have all of your events in one place. Last summer, I had probably 30 different events on my phone in Playbook. That would have represented more than 75 binders of information. In three seconds and two taps, I had access to contact information, maps & plans for any of those events. That’s really powerful. As we attempt to help venue owners and event managers mitigate risk and produce that optimal fan experience, we think Playbook is the perfect ally.