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Expert Insight

Drive-Ins + Safety

McLaren Engineering Group's Vice President of Entertainment, Bill Gorlin, PE, SE

Are Pop-Up Drive-Ins really safe? With Covid-19 forcing the entertainment industry to reimagine a “new-normal” for the upcoming summer season, business owners are scrambling for innovative and safe ways to generate socially distanced events. The biggest challenge centers around how to bring the public together, while avoiding tightly packed gatherings and providing a new standard of cleanliness demanded by both patrons and local authorities. One solution gaining much traction across the nation is the resurgence of the drive-in movie theater and the evolution of other automobile-centered performances.

The Safety of Pop-Up

Pop-up Drive-Ins and Safety

Once considered a kitsch relic of American culture, drive-ins are now being hailed for their ability to provide a show-going experience that adheres to our current pandemic health protocols. Prepaid spots, delivered refreshments, and hundreds of people sitting inside their own cars to watch a film, seems like a perfect solution to preserve summer revenue while keeping patrons socially distanced and entertained. With only about 300 operating drive-ins left around the country, numerous local businesses (many inexperienced in the production of such events) are taking a leap and converting existing parking lots and open spaces into pop-up drive-ins – but is the drive-in experience really safe?

Incorrect example of people not adhering to pandemic health guidelines while in line
Example of not adhering to pandemic health guidelines.
To ensure true safety, precautions for these events cannot solely focus on COVID-19 related measures. While many owners and event producers will inevitably be emphasizing the social distancing aspect, there are other traditional safety concerns that cannot be overlooked. Makers of these local pop-up productions need to also consider fire safety, security, weather safety and structural safety. Protecting the public from preventable dangers, such as LED screen supports that are vulnerable to high winds, is equally as important as adhering to pandemic health guidelines.

For these pop-up drive-ins, tight schedules and limited budgets put events at risk for lapses in overall safety measures. When developing a live event production, owners who are not familiar with the logistics and complexity of such an undertaking, may underestimate the costs associated with the equipment and related safety planning. Likewise, in today’s lean market, event production companies may be hungry for work and could be vulnerable to cutting corners to provide a quick and inexpensive solution. With local officials and businesses eager to bring economic activity back to life, it is important to understand that skimping on traditional safety measures and only focusing on COVID-19 precautions, can cost owners and patrons more in the long run.

When all factors are considered, the drive-in experience can be a great option for entertainment events this summer season and well into the future. However, when pop-up events are created with only COVID-19 measures in mind, patrons are at risk for other potential hazards. Pop-up events and specialty productions should always involve experienced professionals who understand local guidelines and are well versed in important industry standards like the ones listed below:

the Author

McLaren Engineering Group's Vice President of Entertainment

William B. Gorlin, PE, SE

William B. Gorlin, PE, SE, Vice President – Entertainment is the driving force behind McLaren Engineering Group’s flourishing  entertainment division. Through his 35-year career, he has engineered and overseen thousands of projects in the Live Entertainment industry including iconic concerts and tour staging and rigging, temporary and pop-up structures, theatrical production engineering, TV and film production support, and performer flying systems and equipment design. His work also includes awe-inspiring theme park engineering, rigging, staging and equipment machinery, architectural theming, signage and displays and structural engineering of entertainment venues around the world.