Managing large crowds safely


In the age of Internet and social media, it is more and more frequent that large crowds gather together whether it be for sporting events or for live entertainment shows. Unfortunately, we also see situations where such large crowds are vulnerable to terror attacks or life-threatening factors such as fires.

Thankfully it is not difficult to find support and advice on the best ways of guarding against such dangers. One such guide is published in the UK by the Health and Safety Executive and is entitled “Managing Crowds Safely“. It aims to provide practical guidelines on managing crowd safety in a systematic way by setting out an approach which can be utilised by organisers of any event or venue.

The Danger of Crowds

Whenever a large number of people are gathered together in an open space, there is potential for minor or major injuries.The venue may be used regularly, for example, shopping centres and sports grounds, or occasionally for fireworks displays and agricultural shows. Crowd dynamics are such that if people are fleeing from something that seems hazardous, then they may all head in the same direction. If that space is smaller than the space where they started then many bodies may become jammed together. This may even result in deaths for the more vulnerable members of the crowd.

Planning How to Control Crowds

Whenever an event organizer is expecting that large crowds will attend, then planning how to ensure the safety of those crowds is a critical part of their job responsibility. The nature of the visiting crowd will influence the planning and choice of venue. Children, people with special needs and the elderly need special consideration. People frequently attend events as a family or small group and will not want to get separated or leave each other, particularly in emergency situations.

Safe management of such crowds must consider what must be done in the event of an emergency, eg due to a fire or a bomb threat. Crushing, trampling and suffocation are all potential hazards that can arise from the dynamics of crowd movement. Arrangements should be made to ensure there is never a large number of people with unrestricted access to a single area. It is much better to divide up the area into smaller sub areas which hold smaller numbers of people.

Controlling the flow of visitors

If this approach of dividing the large crowd into smaller crowds is being followed, then it is essential that the outflows from one subarea to another can be controlled. Merely having small entrances with human gatekeepers is rarely sufficient. It is much better by far to use turnstile security systems. These will ensure that the number of people in any subarea is not excessive.

What to do in an emergency

The real test of any crowd control system is if unfortunately there is a major emergency. Although terrorist acts are rare, the possibility of such an act must be considered in devising the total crowd control plan. This will include the provision of two exits widely separated for any subarea so that people are able to leave the area relatively fast if this should be necessary.