SVG Sit-Down: Alpha Video’s Jeff Volk on System Integration During COVID-19

Some projects, such as Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, are continuing as planned

As work and safety restrictions begin to lift in parts of the country, sports teams are able to continue construction on new facilities with fewer obstacles. In the case of system integration, projects that may have been tabled are being resumed, and some that had forged ahead have the greenlight to finish on schedule.

SVG sat down with Jeff Volk, VP, Alpha Video, to discuss how more governmental leeway has allowed construction to be adjusted accordingly, why safety remains a priority, how clients have been understanding during this time, and how control-room design could change moving forward.

Alpha Video’s Jeff Volk has maintained a healthy and safe environment for employees throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

How have current projects adjusted to the coronavirus pandemic?
System integration has been deemed an essential business from Day 1. The state of Nevada was on lockdown, but both the [Allegiant] Stadium site and [Raiders] team headquarters in Las Vegas were considered essential infrastructure, so construction at those venues never stopped.

[The situation] creates unique challenges. Normally, six to eight individuals would work in a rack room at the Raiders facility to get everything configured, built, and ready to come online. Now they must do that with safety programs and social distancing: instead of having two or three people working on five racks next to one another, one person is working on a rack, and the next person is working three racks down.

In another example, we have a collegiate client in a metropolitan area, and they were slated to start physical construction inside of their arena to build out the control-room spaces that we needed. Then, the arena was transformed into an overflow hospital for that community, so the venue construction was stalled and stopped. Now that this phase has passed, they are thoroughly cleaning and prepping the facility, but there is still not a definitive construction timeline. It makes planning, not just for that project but for all of our projects, very difficult.

How are safety protocols being enforced?
Outside of our technical staff, which reports to our office to build racks and other things, most of our staff has been working from home since March 16. Since there is a human factor to consider, we have a set of both at-home and onsite safety protocols. While we must consider our contractual obligations, the safety of our employees has always been the primary consideration.

Onsite and in addition to our own protocols, things like handwashing stations and other strict safety measures have been put in place by general contractors to help mitigate risk. To our employees’ credit, they all answered the call and understood what we needed to do as a company to get projects done. Internally, we are working with vendors and our team on what the training curriculum looks like in a one-on-one setting once the installations are complete. People that are getting trained can’t sit right next to each other, and they are working on it together, so we are working on video recordings of sessions and other options. We are reconfiguring and rethinking how we are actually completing these projects.

How are clients working alongside your team during these challenging times?
You’ve heard a common theme that the biggest challenge is one of logistics and [being able to] understand what could happen in different places. One campus or venue has a set of rules that is different than another. It has been taxing on our team, but I think clients have revised their expectations as well. They understand that we are working in an unprecedented time, and everyone is working pretty creatively together to figure out how to best get it done.

How do you foresee this pandemic’s changing control-room design in the future?
I think what this has made us all look at is how we innovate. From manufacturers and teams to venues and integrators, we have been trying to figure out what that innovation looks like in practical applications. Even before the coronavirus, some of these things were happening. Ultimately, everyone anticipates that they are going to get back together in their control rooms and that fans will be back in the stands. We all envision that people are going to get back together in communal spaces. The pandemic has created more of a demand on how we innovate to get back in those rooms today than what control rooms will look like in the future.

Today, there are simple things like partitions, UV cleaning, providing individual headsets for each operator, and limiting the amount of staff, but it is also utilizing some of these new technologies that exist. While these applications weren’t necessarily front-of-mind before, the coronavirus is making people take a look at them and ask, “If I’m a collegiate program and I’m in a market where I don’t have a lot of freelancers or it’s difficult for me to get student staff, why wouldn’t I enable my system so that I could have a graphics operator from Dallas dial into my system in Stillwater and run graphics for my event.”

I think that it will be a slow adoption because some attitudes must change in terms of how we staff and produce these events, but, in the long term, it’s not very expensive to enable new technologies. Plus, any time that you are developing creative ways to produce content, I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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