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THON Pass System: What Went Wrong, and Why It Was Still OK

In addition to working as Managing Editor for Onward State, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a THON Technology captain for the past two years. My duties as a Technology Captain centered around the Pass System. The Pass System is used to control access to the event level of the Bryce Jordan Center during THON weekend, in order to maintain fire code regulations as well as to provide a reward to organizations based on their fundraising levels. Unfortunately, the system also necessitates that we limit the number of guests who have access to the floor. Because of the significant number of people wanting to get on the floor, long lines have formed historically on the concourse level of the BJC. Last year was plagued with some of the longest lines that THON had ever seen.

Coming into THON 2011, I knew that my biggest goal for the year would be to minimize the amount of time that people had to wait to get onto the floor. I sat down with the Rules and Regulations and Technology Overalls last April to try and figure out a course of action that we would take to improve the system for 2011. The result of that meeting was a two-part plan that we hoped would both increase the number of people who would be able to access the floor, and cut down on the amount of time people would have to wait to get onto the floor. The first part of the plan was to time limit Organization passes to 4 hours, using a rotating color system that would have groups of people swept off the floor every hour. The second part of the plan would involve creating a text-message based waiting list, where a guest would check into the system at kiosks around the concourse and then go enjoy the event while they waited for their text message.

The texting system was an ambitious project that we hoped would revolutionize the way people experienced THON. We began development of the system over the summer, picking up speed in the Fall semester when the Rules and Regulations captains were picked. Eventually we had a system in place that we thought we could bring to THON.

THON weekend brings a tremendous set of challenges, that despite our attempts, we could never accurately simulate. The sheer amount of people looking to access the system, combined with being in a building whose cell reception levels were suspect, and an unfamiliar network had us apprehensive about the potential success of the system. As it would turn out, those apprehensions were well founded. Our initial attempt at the system THON weekend resulted in some errors, and we had to resort back to the old system of having a line form and having people wait. This was something we had planned for. The Pass Team had meet with Kirsten Kelly and several other members of the Overall Committee prior to THON weekend to determine our plan should the texting system not pan out.

The resulting line was a source for consternation for many, and though we were eventually able to get the texting system back online, we later switched back to the original system due to long lines forming at the check-in kiosks. We hadn’t succeeded in eliminating the line, just creating 4 of them around the concourse.

Despite all of this, the original system performed significantly better than it had last year. The length of the line didn’t change, in fact at points I believe that it was longer than last year, but the amount of time that people waited in the line was cut down by about 75% on average. Last year saw waiting times approaching 4 hours. This year, almost all of the people I talked to said they waited for about an hour. This is because the event floor never hit its capacity and we were able to continuously allow people access to the floor. This is a true testament to the time limited passes, by capping the amount of time one person was able to stay on the floor, we were able to get more people through the system than ever before.

None of this could have been done without the hard work and dedication of my fellow captains on the Rules and Regulations and Technology committees who developed and implemented the systems, as well as the Rules and Regulations committee members who displayed tremendous amounts of professionalism working the system. THON’s advisor, Barry Bram, put it best when he said to me, “Come Monday, the Pass System isn’t the story that people will be concerned with.” He couldn’t have been more correct.

About the Author

Chase Tralka

Chase Tralka is a Senior majoring in Information Sciences and Technology with a minor in Security and Risk Analysis. He is from Northern New Jersey and is involved in far too many organizations to list here. He enjoys photography, cycling, and listening to obscure free jazz music.


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