After spending time looking at crowd disasters and the dynamics of how it happens I am always left asking the same question, how did all those people get into the position where they lost their lives; surely they could see the danger they where in?
In the field of crowd management we look at events and mass gatherings and implement year’s worth of learning from the mistakes of the past to prevent it happening again. We spend our time looking at maps, plans, strategies, staffing deployments, information and management processes. Do we ever look at it through the eyes of the customer though, the families, couples, kids, the over excited, nervous and lost?
When it comes to any event, there is a high chance that may be the first time that customer has been there. Even if it is an established venue and the person is a repeat visitor, it is the first time they have been in that moment, with that person standing next to them, the ground conditions the way they are, the lighting and noise level that way, their energy levels that way, maybe a few drinks, maybe answering a message or talking on the phone. Each event is different, in some minute way every person attending is going through that event for the first time.
In all the planning that we do, the information and management systems we provide, for a high percentage of them we rely on the compliance and customers understanding of what we want them to do. If the customers do not understand the information around them and the management systems fail, our job becomes harder and the degree of risk increases.
We can take it that the chances of our customers understanding the basics of crowd density or flow rates are going to be rare. I am sure you will hear them saying ” it was a bit busy in there “, ” I could hardly move “. These are indicators that they realised that the density in an area was becoming uncomfortable and it is only after it they think about it. If the person is already in the situation and it worsens, how do they get out of it? This is where the risk arises, when the situation escalates and the people cannot resolve it for themselves.
If you observe customers at a rock concert you will witness people getting themselves into high density situations, crowd collapses, shockwaves and all in intense, high energy environments. In all the events I cover I am less worried about hard rock fans than any other and that is not me be negligent. The participation of the customers at these concerts trains them for the environment they are entering.
- First thing is they want to be there.
- They understand what is going to happen
- Those around them also understand the environment
- There is a common goal to enjoy the event and experience
- There are basic rules on what is acceptable behaviour and not
- They help one another and look after one another
The perfect training environment for a basic understanding of crowd dynamics and learning how to survive them. Those that have learnt through experience, pass on to the ones that are just starting to venture forth. In an ideal world, we would all operate like this, but we don’t live in an ideal world, so what can we do to improve the basic understanding of how a crowd related incident can occur. Maybe through basic education we can save lives.
How do I act in crowded environments?
After years of going to concerts – mostly hard rock, I have served my time in crowd surges and lateral movement, at the bottom of a crowd collapse, walls of death, crowd surfing, split second crushing and cuts and bruises. I have also been trapped in corridors with locked doors and evacuated during fire alarms. All good training for a young lad heading out into the world. As I matured and had kids, my respect for the fragility of life came to the front and my need to protect my kids and myself raised its head. With this came some basic rules that I stick to.
- I always look for the exits when I enter a room
- If I am going somewhere outside I look it up on a map first and I know the roads and paths in the area
- If I enter a street and I cannot see a clear path down the pavement and spaces I can walk into, I stop and wait. If the path does not make itself know and clear, I cross the road and look for an alternative route
- If I walk into a room and cannot see a clear path to the opposite walls then the room is too busy.
- When in the room I always make sure I can see a clear path to an exit and when I can be as close to one as I can
- If on public transport and it is busy, I always wait to be the last person on or off the carriage. I never get on if it has too many people on it. I also never exit first where the rest of the carriage empties at my back, I do not know how busy my debarkation area is and I do not want stuck in the middle of people moving in opposite directions.
- I don’t queue to enter a door that is not open
- If I am out at night at an event, I carry a torch
- If attending an outdoor event, I look up the weather forecast, see if I can find a bit about the attendance, transport services and social media activity.
I guess that you could say I am paranoid or my job has changed me. I see it as down to my environment and being brought up in the age where I had to watch on the news; the devastation of Hillsborough ( live news ) Bradford’s Fire ( live news ), Heysal disaster ( the game live )and being born in Glasgow the year of the Ibrox disaster. I guess this changed my outlook on life and how dangerous it can be when we all gather in one area.
Where can we start to educate others with basic information on what to look out for when attending a mass gathering?
What is a “Stampede”? – Education of the press
Green field sites – festivals
Night clubs and bars