Tips to optimize a sports venue during lockdown


As the sports industry, among many others, face a trying time as the world copes with the spread of Covid-19 and its fallout, Henderson Engineers and Henderson Building Solutions partnered with IAVM, Venue Solutions Group, and the San Diego Convention Center for a webinar discussing how to best optimize your venue amid our current conditions.

As we all adjust to our new “normal” centered around social distancing, several venues quickly convert to temporary medical facilities or homeless shelters, and many others are sitting virtually empty. With federal guidelines currently limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer, venue managers have entered a challenging extended period that few – if any – have ever encountered before.

Henderson teamed its expertise with Clifford “Rip” Rippetoe, president & CEO of the San Diego Convention Center, and Tom Williams, partner at Venue Solutions Group.

During the webinar, it was stated repeatedly that the worst thing you can do during this time is turn everything off and let it sit. Operators will undoubtedly have problems and have to make emergency repairs before re-opening the building. This discussion helps analyze what needs to be done specific to a venue’s circumstances so that when you return to full operation, it’ll be prepared. Below you’ll find some of the most important tips shared to help maintain a venue’s essential building systems during this unprecedented time.

Fire and life safety

Fire protection and life safety systems are critical with a full house, but even in a venue with only essential staff, protecting lives and the structure itself is vital.

Check sprinkler system control valves

Anyone who has ever attended Academy for Venue Safety and Security (AVSS) or enrolled in the trained crowd manager course taught by Henderson Director of Fire Protection Engineering Paul Villotti and IAVM Director of Education Mark Herrera knows that there’s never been a multiple loss of life fire in a fully-sprinklered building. Sprinklers are unmatched when it comes to controlling and extinguishing fires and can also save property from major loss from fire. They are your best fire protection investment, so don’t forget to confirm all sprinkler system control valves are in the open position. This is an easy visual inspection that you’re probably already routinely checking; continue that now. You may also consider securing the sprinkler control valves in the open position using chains to thwart or reduce the consequences of potential arson attacks

Monitor fire alarm off-site

The best friend of a sprinkler system is a fire alarm system. A fire alarm system alerts building occupants so they can evacuate quickly and some systems will contact emergency services to allow rapid response to fires in a venue. Ensure your system is operational and, if the building doesn’t have 24/7 occupancy during this time, is monitored offsite. This way small fires don’t go undetected and grow into large fires.

Inform local fire & police departments to occupancy & operational changes

Let the police and fire departments know if you are operating with reduced staff or if you are scheduling portions of the day with no staff present in the building. This alerts them to pay extra attention to the property while they are out and about in the area performing regular patrols and other duties.

You should also review your emergency plans to determine what changes are needed to be made. How will the fire department gain access to the property or building if gates or doors are secured in the closed position? Where your emergency plan states that staff will meet and assist emergency responders, how will the emergency personnel be affected if no one is there?

Also consider having the responding fire station visit your venue to inform their pre-incident fire planning. This can increase the safety of the responding fire fighters and reduce property damage due to delays and ineffective firefighting strategies.


One of the biggest concerns for building systems when a facility isn’t fully operational is continuing to run a HVAC system at a level that prevents humidity-related issues. Instead of turning systems off completely, we recommend taking them down to minimum run times. This will allow to not only save energy and money while not running at full capacity, but also protect against high reopening costs if the facility is not properly maintained.

Control humidity to protect finishes

The relative humidity in your venue is critical. The last thing you want to do is shut everything off and return to warped floors, mold, or other issues. Instead, run your conditioning system so that your facility maintains about 50% relative humidity. (An indirect perk of this setting is that some preliminary data from the CDC shows that 50% relative humidity also helps limit the longevity of Covid-19 outside a host body.) Where your venue is located will have a major impact on how you need to operate your system to achieve this goal. If you’re located in a climate where warm moist summers are the norm, you must have 55° F leaving air temperature from the cooling coils of your air handling units to limit potential humidity issues.

You can lower your costs while still protecting your venue by operating air handlers at a minimum. We’ve heard of some venues choosing to lower their energy use by reducing the amount of outside air ventilation. While it is better to reduce the amount of ventilation and just keep both make-up and exhaust to a minimal level, if you do choose to close off all outside air, make sure you also close off exhaust. (And know that you may return to some odor issues that will need to be addressed.)

Utilize your controls system

This is the time where you’re best positioned to use your controls system if you have one installed. In some cases, you can even operate the system remotely from the comfort of your home. You can use occupancy schedules in your control system to change the set points so that during certain periods of the day you’re cooling at a lower temperature than you would during an unoccupied condition. Also, if you have the functionality to separate your arena and auditorium from the back of the house, this is a good option.

Use your occupancy schedules to extend the durations of your unoccupied set points. If you normally keep the venue at 73 F during most of the day, change the occupancy schedule so that you run 78-80 degrees for longer durations, and cool the building to dry it for brief periods in the mornings and late afternoons.  Have your controls vendor add a switch that automatically starts a four-hour occupied period if the relative humidity approaches 60%.

A controls system is the backbone of how you operate your building. In the post-COVID-19 world, these will continue to play a much bigger role. With a robust building automation system that can integrate multiple systems and orchestrate their workings, you’ll be ahead of the game. Our team specializes in helping navigate these systems to full optimization.

Complete overdue maintenance

Do some of your heavy-duty maintenance work on mechanical systems like the changing of belts, greasing of bearings, and cleaning of cooling and condensing coils. Tune your systems to as good condition as possible so when you start again, they will work more efficiently. A lot of this kind of maintenance is ideally suited to the current social distancing standards as it will only require one or two staff members to complete.

Review/update policies & procedures

There is no better time than now to review and update your policies and procedures. Analyze those written policies that are sometimes hard to maintain during busier times. This will help with future business functions of your venue and provide the ability to enhance your internal training, explanation of duties, and proper methods of execution during full operation.

It is also a good task to keep staff members busy and valued during the slow period. Many employees relish any opportunity to help create solutions and more efficient processes, which can further develop trust and loyalty to you and your venue.


We can’t stress enough the importance of security during a time when the outside world predicts your venue is empty and not holding events. Unfortunately, there are destructive people in society, and with less security staff working, you may be putting yourself at risk. The risk isn’t only for venues that have ceased operation. Facilities that are serving as converted healthcare spaces risk being targeted by criminals seeking media attention. We must be vigilant to prepare for the worst.

Make physical security measures seem large, even if you’re operating lean

You can run lean and still maximize security to appear that you have a full guard force. Incorporate presence from key individuals – whether it’s guest services personnel or safety officers – to be located at key locations, very visible, on radio, and engaging with the population coming through the doors (especially at a conversion or shelter venue). You become bigger in physical presence by engaging people as they come forward.

Should a threat arise, have a clear plan and hold your security personnel to the highest standards. Consider providing ongoing training in your security measures.

If your venue doesn’t have a robust camera system, like a large stadium or arena might, consider investing in temporary cameras.

Avoid or limit patterns

Threats identify patterns. Change these up from the norm. Don’t make it easy for someone to predict your patrols. It’s key to maximize access control measures and to shift them often so you don’t develop potentially vulnerable patters.

Reprogram your key/card access system. Only essential personnel should be granted access. The most vulnerable side of this is from recently laid off employees who know the facility inside and out. Prevent their unwelcomed re-entry.

Use light and sound

Add exterior lighting either through motion detection or switches that come through the base station. Have speaker systems installed with public address (PA) functionality so they can back up the cameras. You can speak authoritatively that you are watching, officers are coming, you need to stop what you’re doing, etc.

Analyze whether the risk of turning your lights off at night and being vulnerable outweighs the reward of saving money on utilities.

Determine who owns the liability

Clearly understand who has jurisdiction. When you make a decision about how you’re going to be present and create a safe environment, you must own it. There cannot be any confusion on who has authority. Failing to do so will confuse critical decision-making. Always know whose call it is. Discuss your security measures with city officials and your board of directors to prevent any confusion.


When your venue isn’t occupied or fully operational, there’s a lot that can positively impact your electrical bill, like turning off parasitic loads. But in executing cost saving measures, make sure you aren’t unintentionally shutting down critical areas.

Determine what can (and can’t) be shut down

Big data centers that aren’t serving their usual purpose with a busy ticketing system, may be able to have portions turned off. Look to isolate loads, but always know what you’re turning off and be selective in the electrical loads you turn off. Keep critical systems like refrigeration, fire protection, controls systems, and HVAC up and running.

Make sure the refrigeration systems are going so perishable foods don’t go bad, if you haven’t already disposed of them. If your coolers are empty, raise the temperature setpoint to 50 or 55 degrees, but don’t shut them down.

Disconnect or turn off at device level rather than the breaker

Turn off or disconnect at the device level when possible. When shutting down at a breaker, you risk unintentionally shutting down a critical system.

Check generator to ensure proper working condition

We often don’t think about the generator until we absolutely need it. Be certain your generator is in good working order. The weakest link in diesel generators is often the quality of your fuel. Check regularly for water in the fuel and look at the clarity of fuel. This is something your staff can do on a monthly basis, even during normal operating times. Diesel fuel left unattended turns to jelly, and when you try to run the generator, it will fail.

If you have the available budget, consider a load test. This way, when you do need it, you’ll know it’ll be there.


While it’s certainly not the sexiest part of maintaining a building, keeping your plumbing system fully functional is vitally important. Plumbing systems are the unsung hero of any building, but to maintain efficient and reliable systems that stand the test of time, they require attention and maintenance.

Keep boilers operating

You’ll want to keep boilers in operation. They can operate at a reduced set point but be careful not to lower the setpoint too far. Some boilers can tolerate low temperature setpoints, but many do not.

Service grease traps

People often forget about this until they have problems with it. While your venue is down, this is a good time to take care of it. Besides clogging, issues related to outlet and inlet piping can arise. You might not be treating the trap correctly or it could be undersized relative to actual demand. If you’re having to have your grease trap pumped every two weeks, consider either adding to what you have or replacing it with something larger.

If you haven’t pumped out your grease trap since the start of this COVID event, get it done, even if it isn’t full. The grease can solidify to the point that it will block the operation of your sanitary waste when you go back into service.

Clear sanitary sewer lines

Sanitary sewer lines below your flooring require heavy maintenance. All plumbing lines don’t run true. Without regular use, you can have build-up that clogs the pipes. Use water jetting or a rodding tool to clear lines of any built-up debris.

Avoid dry traps

If you have an older building, go around and flush the traps and floor drains. Make sure they’re not dry — the smell will be noticeable if they are. This is particularly important in your mechanical rooms where the methane gas from a dry floor drain can be drawn into your air conditioning system, or the fumes can build up in the room to a point where it can ignite.

Consider small improvements

Water softening is an outstanding way to reduce the operating cost of your building. Reduced soap use, better ice quality, and even reduced additive scaling that can build up in your domestic hot water boilers are benefits of this small project.

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