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The Forgotten Discipline of the Safety and Security Branch - Crowd Management


With this week’s article, I will try to scratch the surface of a safety and security topic that does not really exist in our SSMS studies, although it’s a very interesting one. SSMS covers a lot of topics ranging from terrorism to media work but what is actually missing (yet) is event security. Of course, it is impossible to teach all existing concepts related to safety and security in a four-year study program, and I decided to fill this gap by working for an event security company for my internship. In this article, I will write about a certain concept that is currently gaining increasing importance in the event security branch but is nevertheless still relatively unknown in most European countries: crowd management. I will give you an overview of what crowd management is, describe examples of crowd crises to show its importance, and tell you how to become a crowd manager.

What is Crowd Management?

All kinds of events, from soccer matches to festivals, demonstrations, or concerts, usually attract large masses of spectators. Although these crowds contribute a large portion to creating a we-feeling and making an event unforgettable, they also pose a significant threat to all people involved. For example, visitors pushing from the back end can cause rapidly increasing pressure on the visitors at the front end, and the pressure caused by only five rows of people can lead to the ones in the front dying due to suffocation. Therefore, it is decisive that the safety managers at events know how to deal with the immense forces of a crowd and its movements to reduce the risk of injuries and deaths. This is where comes crowd management into play.

The academic and engineer John Fruin is often called the inventor of the crowd management discipline. His research was mainly focused on pedestrian traffic and how urban spaces can be best designed for crowd flows. However, his research can also be applied to events with mass gatherings. He describes it as follows:

Crowd Management is defined as the systematic planning for, and supervision of, the orderly movement and assembly of people. […] Crowd management involves the assessment of the people handling capabilities of a space prior to use. It includes evaluation of projected levels of occupancy, adequacy of means of ingress and egress, processing procedures such as ticket collection, and expected types of activities and group behavior.”

It is important to differentiate here between crowd management and crowd control, as the latter is an approach currently used by the majority of safety managers when they must deal with crowds. Crowd control is mainly focused on designing the technical and static elements of an event location to “force” the crowd to move (or not move) in a certain way. Moreover, the application of crowd control includes, for instance, blocking routes with stable barriers and demonstrating authority by arresting and disobeying crowd members. A classic example would be police officers forming a solid row with their shields and pushing crowd members in a certain direction. Thus, this discipline is mainly about reacting to a crowd crisis that is already happening and preventing an escalation with restrictive measures.

On the opposite, crowd management focuses on human factors as a basis for dealing with a crowd. Therefore, the emphasis lies on understanding human inclinations and persuading a crowd to cooperate with authorities. Instead of blocking certain areas with hard barriers, these areas are designed to be less attractive for visitors so that they won’t stay there, for example, by positioning the toilets there. Crowd management also means applying preventive measures, for example, leading a crowd to a certain destination over a longer route around a location to disperse it, instead of using the short straight route where the crowd would form a dense mass. Moreover, the crowd management discipline combines, on the one hand, mathematical and physical elements to calculate visitor flows or densities, and focuses, on the other hand, on psychology and visitor behavior. Thus, safety managers can ensure that they comply with laws regarding event security and reduce the threats caused by crowds before crises occur.

Why is Crowd Management so important?

As already described above, crowds can pose significant threats to their members. I have prepared two different examples of crowd disasters that occurred in different circumstances to demonstrate the detrimental extents and consequences occurring if a crowd is not properly managed.

As a soccer fan, a very memorable crowd disaster was the one happening in the Hillsborough soccer stadium in 1986. The FA-Cup match between Liverpool and Nottingham took place in this stadium providing around 10,100 standing places for the Liverpool guest fans in four different blocks (or areas). Due to only seven turnstiles, the entrance of the fans happened very slowly, and many were pushing to reach their places before the beginning of the match. Moreover, almost all fans headed to the two blocks in the middle of the stand to have the best view, but these two blocks got overcrowded fast, and the pressure in the front of the blocks at the fences separating the stand from the pitch increased rapidly. However, the fans entering the stadium could not see the critical situation at the fences and kept pushing to enter the middle blocks. Additionally, the police opened another entrance to speed up the ingress process which led to 2,000 fans crowding in within just five minutes adding even more pressure. The fans in the front were pressed against the fences which impeded breathing and caused 96 people to suffocate due to the pressure. Pictures of dead fans clinging to the fences were published by the press all around the world.

Another more current example is the crowd disaster that happened during Halloween celebrations in Seoul in October 2022. As one of the first public events after the COVID restrictions had been terminated around 100,000 young people gathered in the narrow streets of the district Itaewon. At one point the crowd reached a critical density of more than five people per square meter which led to persons being unable to move independently from the crowd and being lifted off their feet. The long narrow streets and alleys contributed to the upcoming disaster by not posing any escape routes. Additionally, many people stumbled while trying to escape the situation which caused a domino effect of people falling and piling up on each other. Several persons lying at the bottom of the pile suffocated due to the weight of other people pressing them to the ground. However, it is even possible that some victims died due to suffocation while they were standing upright and were pressed against others. In the end, more than 150 people died in this crowd crash.

How to become a crowd manager?

Currently, there are barely any universities offering crowd management study programs or courses. A few can mainly be found in England, for example, Coventry University offers a Master’s program called “Crowded Places and Public Safety”. I don’t want to crow about my internship (maybe just a little bit) but my boss Oliver Kastens is actually one out of very few crowd managers in Europe who holds an academic title for this discipline as he studied “Crowd Safety Management” at the Buckinghamshire New University. If you want to know more about crowd management, you can search for experts in the field such as Keith Still, Daniel Helbing, or John Fruin. And who knows, probably we will also have such an expert teaching it for SSMS one day.

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