Jun 202014

realzombies-187117Management was, overall, less fun than general volunteering, but it certainly did have a few exciting parts!

This year we had specific areas for queuing before panels, including a separate queuing room for Main Events, but for the really popular panels it just wasn’t enough. We did have special “overflow queuing” a little ways away (and one flight of stairs up) along a hallway, and coordinating the cut of one line and the start of another, and then moving all the people in at the appropriate time, was all sorts of stressful and fun. These were the moments I most remember, but it’s hard to convey the excitement without writing hundreds of words on it, so I won’t try.

We had to close the Arrow panel, as the room reached capacity, and we still had over 200 people outside the doors wanting to get it. I loudly informed the gathered people several times that no one would be let in for any reason, and they had to disperse. At this point I grabbed three other guys (the largest volunteers in the area) to stand in front of the doors next to me. The four of us couldn’t have done shit against 200 people, but again, the illusion of authority is what we’re going for. Someone asked whether they could go in if someone else exited halfway through the panel. This sort of thing happened all the time, at least two dozen people would leave without a doubt. And the 200 people here would all stay, clumped in front of this door, in hopes of being the ones to get in when that happened. Obviously the only correct answer is No. Hell No. No one else is getting in for any reason, so y’all should just go and enjoy the rest of the con. It took a few minutes for everyone to be convinced of this, but they did finally go.

Except for one guy and his daughter.

Ten minutes later, when I’m off to the side trying to scarf down half a club sandwich, I hear one of my door-guarding volunteers getting into it with someone. I sigh and come over to see what’s going on. The guy wants to see where it’s written in the policy that if a room reaches capacity no one else can enter later. Because when a room isn’t at capacity we leave one door open and new people can come and go as they please throughout the panel. Why is this different? (A few people have left in the intervening 10 minutes). So I tell him the truth. This is not official policy, there is no official policy. Nothing like that is written down anywhere. We let people come and go in non-capacity panels because there isn’t a mob. I cut off all entrance for this panel because it was the only way to get the huge clump of people to leave. Having them here was dangerous, it was blocking traffic, and we needed the area clear. I literally made that up, it was my call, and I’m sticking to it. If people hear that they can still get in later, despite what I said, as long as they stick around long enough, then there will be no reason for them to take my word seriously. They’ll stick around, the mob will grow, and the vast majority of them will never get in anyway. Preserving my ability to credibly tell people they will not get in and therefore move them along is extremely important to me.

The guy and his daughter understood. They were happy that I gave them an honest answer. They respectfully left, and later on that day thanked me! It was a great experience.

I had a similar-but-opposite problem for the Bruce Campbell panel. People started showing up for that two and a half hours early. We didn’t have anywhere to put them, because the queuing areas were still being used for the queuing for the panel BEFORE the Campbell panel. We told them to come back an hour before Campbell’s panel, but of course that didn’t happen. People just sort of milled around in the area, waiting for when they could get in line for Campbell over an hour later. By the time the event before Campbell’s event was opened and that queue started to clear, we had over four hundred people crowding the queuing area.

I’m of the opinion that we should have formed a pre-queue queue, but I was overruled. I dunno if you’ve ever been on the wrong side of four hundred people, but it is fucking intimidating. You realize that if anything should go wrong, there is literally nothing you can physically do. And these people are my responsibility. If people get hurt, it’s my fault. I was seriously unhappy with the entire situation. The energy in this mass of humanity was palpable, they were barely holding back from rushing forward and flooding the room. One bad shove from someone in the back trying to see what was happening up front and everything would go to hell.

Except nothing like that happened. When the last of the pre-Campbell people cleared the queuing area, all the Campbell people slowly funneled through the double-doors and into the room and lined up. There was no surge or crush. I thought the people who’d been there longer might rush to get in the door first, but everyone walked in calmly and without much jostling and no one freaked out if they weren’t right up front.

And I realized that this wasn’t a mass of humanity. Every person in that crowd was an individual person, who just wanted to see Bruce Campbell in person and didn’t want any drama, and they were going about the business of waiting to get into the room. I had stopped thinking of them as individual people with personal motivations and simply as “The Crowd”, a single organism with the single goal of getting into the queuing room. Once I was able to break them down into individual people in my sight it became much more clear that I’d been underestimating them. I was a bit ashamed at my “othering” of the attendees. And I also had my faith in humanity grow just a bit. :)

  2 Responses to “Crowd Control at DCC”

  1. I don’t think you were wrong to do that.
    You’re organizing the whole thing and are shouldering some responsibility. You have to see the big picture and ‘The Crowd” and can’t learn everyone’s name and story.
    Occasionally people do get injured or even killed in such crowds. (Although its rarely in crowds of only a few hundred, unless there is a fire.)

    I guess the ‘temperament’ of the crowd in a geeky con is different from that in a rock concert though.

    • Can’t learn everyone’s name and story, but you can remember that they have ’em. They want to have a good time and go home safe too.

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