COVID19, Safety and Opening Up - In Conversation With Dr. Lou Marciani

Off The Blocks, Vol 113, May 5, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a lot of turbulence worldwide. Most industries have been shut down and companies will see a sharp fall in their business as both supply and demand are disrupted. After having assessed the situation, we are working with our partners to resolve some of the most complicated and challenging issues to get the economy back on its feet. We are tackling it head-on with our portfolio company Vottun and an ecosystem of partners in the US and Europe. To be a part of the ecosystem, please reach out to Aman Johar (aman@proteum.io).

Part 1: Back to Work Amidst the COVID19 Outbreak - A Safe Approach

Part 2: Back to Work Amidst the COVID19 Outbreak

Part 3: Covid19 and Coming Back to Life

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The Way Forward | Sports, and Entertainment - In Conversation with Dr. Lou Marciani

In the last few weeks, I have been focused on building an ecosystem of partners, aligning the vectors, and, in partnership with the fabulous team at Vottun, leading an effort to create health credentials that allow people to get a semblance of normalcy in their lives. See above for links to the previous posts on this. The economic impact of the shutdown has been devastating.

According to Bloomberg,

The high-frequency data paint a grim picture. Soaring jobless claims, empty restaurants, and a falling count for active oil rigs show the breadth and depth of the blow to the economy. Americans staying home for fear of transmitting the virus, along with government-ordered shutdowns aimed at protecting lives, have caused the economic downturn. That makes the number of new Covid-19 cases all the more important. 

Fear is the key here. As the pandemic has gripped the world, trust is in short supply. Routinely, new information comes out about the virus and its long term effects on health. A recent study showed that an increased incidence of clots, cardiac arrests, organ damage, strokes, and rare diseases amongst patients. These factors seem to have contributed to a rapid deterioration of health for people contracting coronavirus. Added to this, misinformation on the internet abounds, and decision making in such an environment has been, to say the least, a struggle. As such, people need an assurance that it is OK to start resuming their erstwhile normal activities, albeit cautiously.

One way to provide such an assurance is through digital health credentials, that can be issued and verified in a transparent manner. I have talked about them at length in the previous weeks. As part of advancing the solution, I met Dr. Lou Marciani, last week, and he was immediately captivated by the idea and its potential in helping America get back to work - safely and securely. As the founder and former Executive Director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4), he wrote the playbook for providing safety and security for spectators and fans at large venues such as NFL stadiums, NBA arenas, and MLB ballparks.

We talked at length on how an ecosystem approach can help pave a path forward for gradually opening up not just sports and entertainment options, but also provide a roadmap on how to think about building trust and providing assurance to spectators that it is once again safe to partake in activities that make us human.

Below is an excerpt from our conversation:

Aman Johar (AJ): Dr. Marciani, you have been a pioneer in sports end entertainment safety and security and have managed the US Olympic committees. Please tell us a bit more about how you got involved in this space? 

Dr. Lou Marciani (LM): In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States Department of Homeland Security identified sport venues as potential soft targets for terrorism. In 2006, USM established NCS4 in response to the United States’ emerging security needs.

Today, NCS4 is the nation’s only research center devoted to the study and practice of spectator sports safety and security.

NCS4 collaborates with professional sports leagues and venues, intercollegiate and interscholastic athletics, marathon and endurance events, and international sporting events along with professional associations, private sector firms, and government agencies. Its partnerships bring together subject matter experts from government, industry, public safety, private enterprise, and academia to explore lessons learned and share ideas about best practices, strategies, training and certifications, and technology solutions for sport safety and security challenges.

Prior to my academic role, I had extensive experience in directing several intercollegiate athletic programs and serving the United States Olympic Committee. My sports management experience was really geared towards providing real insight into addressing the issues posed by potential and actual threats and risks to the security and safety at sports and entertainment events.

AJ: What kind of security and safety issues did you encounter and plan for at the NCS4? Any lessons we can draw upon amidst the coronavirus outbreak?

LM: Since its inception, NCS4 has played a critical role in helping the ever-growing U.S. sports industry through thought leadership, professional development, and sponsorship of industry and academic forums.

Through its cutting-edge research, scholarship, thought-leader summits, and an annual forum, at NCS4, we employed research-based methodologies to develop industry best practices, quality training programs, capstone exercises, technology assessments, workforce competencies, and professional development offerings.

The Coronavirus pandemic is a serious threat.  We have not faced anything similar to this since 9/11.  We need to be prepared and many facilities are now realizing that they had great plans, but this event was not what they were expecting. 

We always need to expect the unexpected.

We need to plan, purchase necessary supplies/equipment, train employees, and communicate effectively with all stakeholders for the unknown. This is not an easy task and requires collaboration between various entities and experience in sports management, homeland security, emergency management, incident response, education, and training.

AJ: Your retirement from the NCS4 comes amidst the COVID19 outbreak when the organization may need your expertise. What are your plans now? 

LM: I have dedicated my life to the improvement and evolution of sports management education, safety, and security. I am establishing an Innovation Institute for Sports and Entertainment.  The focus of the Institute is working with domestic and global partners to solve global safety and security-critical challenges. We will be working with public safety officials, technology experts, and security directors to address these issues. 

My passion is to create fantastic fan and spectator experiences. The institute’s vision is to be the leading institute on innovative differentiators for secure and safe fan experience and a mission to provide innovative and impactful solutions to meet spectator expectations of loyalty and engagement.

Personally, I have a love for connecting spectators and fans with technology and create new worlds. So this idea of creating a health credential for athletes and spectators alike fits neatly into our objectives. Look, these are unprecedented times and we need to be able to leverage our knowledge in different domains and come up with a solution that can get us back on our feet. Safety gets its energy from an appropriate COVID19 response.

We have to be able to identify key drivers for security and safety, enhance human capital and create a more integrated solution for providing an assurance of safety.

AJ: The last few months have obviously been tough on the average American worker and the consumer. Now there is a lot of talk about letting people get back to work. How do you think about these issues, especially as it relates to a safe environment to go about conducting business?

LM: As workplaces consider re-opening it is particularly important to keep in mind that some workers are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.  These vulnerable workers include individuals over age 65 and those with underlying medical conditions. Such underlying conditions include, but are not limited to, chronic lung disease, moderate to serve asthma, hypertension, severe heart conditions, weakened immunity, severe obesity, diabetes, liver disease, and chronic kidney disease.  Vulnerable workers should be encouraged to self-identify, and employers should avoid making unnecessary medical inquires. 

The key to understanding here is that employees, spectators, manufacturing workers, etc. all need to be reassured that it is safe to go back to work. The CDC has laid out a phased approach on back to work criteria, but it remains to be seen if that is sufficient and necessary. For example, temperature screening is not fully efficient, and it is known that the virus can spread from asymptomatic patients. Further, if stadiums and public venues have to enforce social distancing, how do they do it without adequate monitoring? The biggest challenge here is that we don’t transparently know who is coming into the venues, where they have been, how long have they been virus-free (or whether they have the antibodies).

Like you are mentioning, I need an assurance that this place is safe for me to visit and all the necessary precautions have been taken, and by the way, I can transparently verify it. We need to build a public assurance system that perhaps needs to go above and beyond the CDC guidelines here.

AJ: Talking about sports and entertainment, recently you and I have been involved in working on a plan to allow the major sports leagues like the NFL/NBA and PGA championships to resume operations. There has been a lot of conversation about the use of health credentials to allow permissioned access to public venues. What's your take on it? 

LM: The key will be real-time verification of workers and those attending sporting and entertainment events. This is a complex solution that will require support from government agencies, owners, public venues, and employees.

Currently, there is no solution to identify and track populations at risk. Health credentials can provide an assurance

We can put criteria around these credentials: Which test did you go through and when? When does this credential expire? It is important to keep things as simple as they can because, in a large public venue, you need to be able to move people quickly and efficiently. It should be non-disruptive to the operations of the stadium itself and be efficient and scalable. Perhaps it is like a digital boarding pass, a simple QR code - one scan and done, and you are in a green zone.

AJ: Assuming that such health credentials can be deployed, it seems that a number of interest bound entities would need to come together and create an ecosystem of sorts involving healthcare providers, technology and system integrators, private employers, public policy leaders, etc. Who should takes charge of it and where does the leadership reside in such a distributed ecosystem? 

LM: We are literally paving the path as we go along. I suspect that the politics of a solution like this may be important as well as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may want to secure large public venues for the next two years or so, and integrate with the task force that has been set up to tackle the covid response and open up the economy again.

We have to be careful that we are not infringing on people’s freedoms. In a way, we have to find a balance between safety and security. What is interesting here is that we are only taking one aspect of medical history and testing against that metric. I think that’s how we win the case - protecting the American public and mitigating the risk and lowering the number of deaths. I am in favor of this. These are unknown times and if we can gather a critical mass, this can be a savior for the economy. People are welcome to go to work or wherever they want to.

Just like after 9/11, the government may be able to play a role too. They can relax some of the liability issues for offices and stadiums that do deploy a transparent and easily verifiable health credential solution. As a member of the public, you have to go through the system and get tested through the environment. Let’s face it, there are going to be changes and some mindsets will change. Given my experience from putting together protocols for safety and cultural acceptance, people will adapt to the change. Biometric identification is trying to find its way in as another solution, but they are far more intrusive. However, it may find more acceptance now and that’s ironic.

We are going through a “new norm” requiring new thinking.  I think that while the key endorsement should come from the government, the leadership will reside in the private sector.

AJ: Do you worry that any harsh steps taken today may become a 'new normal' for the next generation?

LM: Well, this pandemic reminds me of 9/11.  After 9/11, we adapted our security at stadiums and arenas to mitigate terrorism risk. We integrated technology, people, and process.

I believe SAFETY will become as important as security.

Thus, we will modify our behaviors, systems, and policies and procedures to adapt to the new norm.  Spectators expect to attend games with friends and families and players do not want empty stadiums. To make this happen, it is for us to provide a safe, comfortable, and clean. environment. 

There is little latitude - things may not be fashionable - but we don't want people to die - this is not a normal day.

AJ: I recently recommended a phased approach to the opening of large public venues. Once we have a cure or a vaccine that is developed, we can phase out the technology. You have a different take on it, preferring to reposition the technology for enhanced security across venues. Could you elaborate on it? 

LM: I think the keyword here is “assurance”.  Today, we must show our driver’s license or passport at the airport. TSA does a credential review on each passenger prior to boarding. I am saying, why don’t we have additional health credentialing that complies with healthcare and privacy laws. I can’t have 80,000 people back in a stadium without an assurance that they are safe and pose no threat of spreading the infection. This is a verification system at play that is not infringing on anyone’s privacy. We need to provide an environment that is collectively safe for everyone.

Look, we will be dealing with the virus for some time - possibly 18 months or longer until there is a cure or a vaccine. Even if there is a treatment, do we want to risk an infection prior to getting treated for it? If there is a preventive vaccine, how do I know if someone has been vaccinated and they pose no threat to the other people in the stadium?

You have to make it end when the cure is there.  But the ecosystem you are building out can have other uses. There can be other instances where something similar can be deployed, maybe there is another pandemic in the next few years, so a complete dismantling may not be a prudent approach either.  

Timing is important too. 


About Proteum
Proteum is a global blockchain investment and advisory firm that works with public, private and start-up companies to help them transition into the world of blockchains and decentralized applications. We help companies strategically build their ecosystem and unique capabilities so that they can own and control their future. Velocity, our innovation hub, invests in and accelerates the time to market for startups and emerging ideas.

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