By Mike Lewis
Since 2009, the three-day Electric Zoo Festival has been held annually on Randall’s Island off of Manhattan in New York City over the long Labor Day Weekend. At that time of year, the average temperature is around 80º F (26º C), but has been known to soar as high as 100º F (37º C). Several comparable summer festivals around the world experience similar temperatures, and safety is generally a chief concern.
“Heat-related illnesses have become a huge issue across the entire industry, so our first priority is always the safety and comfort of our attendees,” said Rutger Jansen, Director of Production and Operations for Electric Zoo. “Although things like water stations and misting cannons aren’t particularly memorable items, they contribute significantly to a positive overall experience, and they’re essential for the growth of events like ours, which has already expanded to other locations around the globe.”
Heat Issues and Regulations
The type of surface patrons stand on to watch the two outdoor stages at the event are grass and cement. Cement can absorb and retain more heat than grass, raising the temperature of the crowd. However, a grassy area does not necessarily mean a lower temperature. The tightly compacted mass of people vigorously dancing contributes significantly to the heat, regardless of the surface.
“When a crowded and lively area is in the direct sun with no wind, even though the forecast says 80 degrees, the temperature can seem like it’s over 100 degrees,” Jansen explained. “That’s when we get the most activity at our medical aid stations.”
Long-term exposure to heat and sun, along with vigorous physical activity, can result in heat-related maladies such as dehydration, severe sunburns, heat exhaustion and sunstroke. Although the symptoms can vary based upon the severity, the results for all four generally require a visit to one of the three permit-mandated medical aid stations at the event. Two stations were located near the main stage, where organizers identified the most heat-related problems, and one near the entrance closest to where ambulances arrive.
Also required in the festival’s permit were water refill stations, which were located throughout the grounds. Organizers exceeded the regulatory obligations by training special staff, called “ambassadors,” to identify patrons displaying signs of potential heat-related illnesses. Once the ambassador recognized symptoms, the individuals were safely escorted to water stations, shaded rest areas or medical aid stations, depending on their needs.
Three atomized misting machines were strategically placed on the festival grounds, disbursing tiny water droplets over a wide area with their powerful fans. Two were positioned in the middle of the crowd near the main stage, and another was set on the right side of the large outdoor secondary stage. The devices lowered the ambient temperature, improving the comfort and safety of the crowd.
Controlling Atmospheric Temperature
The misting cannons have a spray manifold on the front end of a heavy-duty barrel design with a powerful internal 7.5 horsepower ducted fan in the back. The units propel a long cone-shaped plume of engineered mist as far as 100 feet (30 m) through the air. Attached to the manifold, specially designed atomizing nozzles fracture pressurized water into millions of droplets approximately 50-200 microns in size – slightly less than the diameter of an average human hair and light enough to travel long distances on ambient air currents. As the droplets move through the air, they evaporate — beginning with the smaller sizes first — raising the relative humidity of the area and significantly lowering the temperature. The units at Electric Zoo had a 70º horizontal automatic rotation range with a 0-50º vertical adjustment, but machines are also available with a 359º oscillator that allows a single unit to cover 31,000 square feet (2,880 square meters), or approximately half of an American football field.
Mounted on a wheeled carriage, the cannons can be easily moved throughout the festival grounds and pointed to areas of need. However, organizers chose to place the machines in a fixed location in the middle of the crowd and connect them to municipal water spigots using a standard 5/8″ (15.80 mm) garden hose. Although the crowd surrounded the units, attendees found that the noise they emitted was not disruptive to the music in a festival setting.
“The fans on the machines were blowing for most of the day, but because the temperature for the festival this year was pretty manageable, we didn’t need to turn on the mist until mid-afternoon,” Jansen pointed out. “But when we turned the water on, people really gravitated toward them. The crowd literally turned away from the DJ and started dancing in the spray.”
Patrons standing a few feet from the machines experienced more mist than others, but organizers observed no standing water or mud in the area at either of the stages. Moreover, the DJs, musicians and technicians experienced no adverse effect on equipment or electrical issues from the presence of mist.
Since adding the water stations, roving ambassadors and mist cannons, the organizers have seen an overall reduction in heat-related illnesses. Staff members in charge of the atomized mist equipment say that when they approach the machines to turn on the mist, people are excited and thankful.
“We are really happy with how well the machines work and will use them for Electric Zoo events in the foreseeable future,” Jansen concluded. “We’ve already been using them at other events that we organize, such as the Rock in Rio festival in Las Vegas. Even though that event is in springtime, it’s still the Nevada desert, so it can get extremely hot, as well. I would say atomized mist cannons are an essential addition to any summer festival.”
Mike Lewis is sales manager of BossTek.