In this interview Unions NSW’s Senior Campaigns Officer Todd Pinkerton outlines how Covid-19 marshals can help ensure safety during demonstrations. He also provides insights into what equipment is needed and how to organize teams of marshals.
Your approach to ensure your events are safe and successful should be informed by the values of your organisation and the current risk-settings that we operate in. As organisers we have a responsibility when we ask people to take action, that we do our utmost to ensure that action is carried out safely.
For those who aren’t familiar with the use of marshals at events, could you tell us what roles those associated with Unions NSW play and what kind of events they assist with?
We’ve always had a practice of deploying marshals at public demonstrations to fulfil a variety of roles: handing out water, encouraging people to travel along the agreed route, doing welfare checks on people, etc. These demonstrations range from stationary protests, picket lines, marches, or a combination of all three.
In the Covid climate, we’ve adjusted these roles to help ensure the action follows all relevant Public Health Orders – ranging from getting people to sign-in using a QR code (usually printed out, enlarged, laminated, and attached to a clipboard), handing out masks and hand sanitizers to those who need it, and instructing people to socially distance and wear masks where appropriate.
How do you usually go about finding people to play this role and are there any skills you expect them to already have?
We normally source these roles from within our existing staff and teams or from those of unions taking part in the action – typically if we are holding an action that involves multiple organisations, we will ask each to provide a marshal for the event.
The role could though equally be served by supporters or volunteers who are committed to the action and have demonstrated a lot of reliability.
In our experience, the only major skill required is a measure of assertiveness. They need to be able to instruct people to follow the public health orders (whether that is wearing a mask, remaining socially distant) or take part in the action safely (such as staying off the road or crossing any roads safely).
What kind of training do you generally provide marshals with?
Before each event, we will hold a ‘marshal-briefing’ run by the ‘head-marshal’ (usually the overall event/action organiser). This is normally 30-45 mins before the action is set to take place, it could alternatively take place the day or week before the event for significantly larger events or actions.
This briefing will generally run through;
- The run sheet or plan for the day;
- The purpose of the action; what we are trying to achieve;
- The current Public Health Orders that apply to the action;
- Their roles for the day.
Followed by answering any questions that they may have.
At this briefing, we also provide marshals with high-vis vests, a clipboard with the QR Code for the event, hand sanitizer, and a box of disposable masks.
How do you coordinate marshals during events?
At the very least the head-marshal should have the contact details of each Covid-marshal handy, so they are in a position to contact them if needed. Another method may be to set up a designated message thread, slack channel or another method of communication for marshals to remain in contact with each other during the action.
The method of communication and coordination should be determined by the head-marshal and clearly communicated to all marshals in advance of the event.
What resources and technology do you provide to marshalls, or are they expected to bring, and how has this changed with the pandemic?
We provide marshals with a high-vis vest for the event (a few of these with your organisation’s branding is a worthwhile investment for anyone considering doing actions regularly), a clipboard with a laminated QR code, hand sanitizer and disposable masks.
Could you provide us with an example of the kind of timetable marshals have followed at a recent event?
In organising an action that requires marshals I would work to the following timetable:
- Once all details of the action (date, time, place, run sheet) have been confirmed I would determine the number of marshals needed per the event (usually 1 for every 20-30 people).
- I would then recruit marshals from organisations taking part (usually one per organisation), our staff, and if needed regular supporters/volunteers.
- After confirming the marshals, I would email them each the run sheet for the day.
That run sheet would normally involve:
- A briefing either the day before or morning of the event (usually 30-45mins beforehand). That briefing would include:
- Introducing the marshals to one another.
- The purpose of the action: what we are trying to achieve
- The run sheet for the day: what we expect to happen
- The current public health orders that apply to the action – and what we need to do to ensure we are complying with them.
- Their roles for the day: who will oversee where, who will be responsible for the marshal, etc.
- We would then make sure there is time for them to ask any questions they may have.
- As people start to arrive the marshals will go around and get people to check-in using the QR code, ask people if they require any hand sanitiser or a mask, and let them know if they have any questions or issues to check in with someone in a high-vis vest.
- We would then conduct the action. Depending on the type of action the head marshal would from time to time check in with different marshals.
- If the type of action is changing – saying going from a picket line to a rally, or from rally to a march – the head marshal should check in with each marshal in advance of the change to make sure everyone is ready.
- At the end of the event, the head marshal should check in with each marshal, thank them for their assistance and ask if there were issues that they should be made aware of.
Any other thoughts concerning the importance of marshals or tips on how they can be most effective?
While we typically use Covid marshals to ensure compliance with Public Health Orders, some organisations may wish to take a more cautious approach and apply a higher standard (such as mask-wearing outside, social distancing, etc).
Your approach to ensure your events are safe and successful should be informed by the values of your organisation and the current risk settings that we operate in.
As organisers we have a responsibility when we ask people to take action, that we do our utmost to ensure that action is carried out safely.
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