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Your Guide to Ensuring Crowd Safety


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Sporting events attract large crowds of people, which can present risks. In order to reduce these risks event organisers must take action to ensure crowd safety at their events.

Whether it’s the Olympic Games, European Cup Final or The Wimbledon Championships, sporting events create a huge buzz as fans simmer with anticipation to find out who is going to come out on top. While most sporting events go off without a hitch, there are plenty of eventualities that event organisers should prepare for.

This guide aims to highlight the potential risks facing sporting events organisers and the ways in which they can mitigate these.


Why you should be concerned about crowd safety?

As an event organiser, it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of attendees at your event, therefore if unforeseen events should happen, you may be the one held accountable.

One of the major causes of risk at events with large crowds is ‘crushing’ due to crowd density getting too high. Thinking back to the days of the Hillsborough Disaster, we are reminded of how real this issue is. The fact that crushing has happened in the past is reason enough for any event organiser to consider crowd safety, but you should also consider who would be liable for such a disaster.

With so much responsibility being placed in the event organisers’ hands, it is essential that they prepare appropriately for any disasters that may occur. A lack of a crowd safety strategy can lead to a ruined event and a damaged reputation, which means ensuring crowd safety should always be a top priority.


What are the issues?

There are a variety of issues for sporting event organisers to contemplate when it comes to crowd safety. Venue capacity; the threat of fan violence; fire safety and terrorist attacks should all be considered in order to prevent damage to the venue, serious injury and even death. Creating a proper, structured plan about how to deal with these issues is important, but each issue comes with its own set of dangers and may need to be dealt with differently.

Venue capacity

As previously mentioned, crowd crushing is one of the main reasons for death and injury at sporting events and one of the causes of this is exceeding the venues capacity. Within a large, overly dense crowd, the small movements made within the crowd create a powerful force which creates a hazard for everyone within that crowd.

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A tragic example of this was seen with the Hillsborough Disaster, where 96 people were killed and 766 injured due to overcrowding at Hillsborough football stadium in 1989. The disaster happened during the 1988-89 FA Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, where over 2,000 extra supporters rushed into the standing terraces when a gate was opened with the intention of easing overcrowding outside the entrance turnstiles.

Fans were trapped against fences intended to prevent pitch invasions which lead to the eventual crushing. For many years the families of victims fought for justice, which they finally received in 2016 when an inquest returned the verdict that supporters were unlawfully killed due to police and ambulance services negligence. This heart-breaking example really shows the need for proper measures to be put in place to prevent overcrowding issues.

How to tackle venue capacity issues

In order to tackle venue capacity issues, you need to be fully aware of the safe capacity of the venue and not oversell tickets to your event. Not only that, but you need to hire staff that ensure no unauthorised entry to the venue and urge the crowd to spread out across the venue instead of congregating in one specific area. There should be safe exit and entry to and from the venue from all sides to guarantee no one gets trapped in the crowd due to the flow of people.

It is also important to consider the physical environment inside the venue, just in case the capacity does exceed its maximum limit for reasons out of your control. Effective crush barriers are essential, especially in areas where there is a slope. The crush barriers used during the Hillsborough disaster were not effective enough and collapsed, resulting in an increased death toll. The venue has changed substantially since the disaster, with standing terraces being eliminated and spectator fences being removed.

We advise that sporting event organisers try to avoid venues with steep slopes, dead ends, a convergence of several routes into one, uneven floor surfaces and locked access gates and doors. Try to allow free movement of the crowd and always have a back-up plan if needs be.

Threat of fan voilence

Another major threat to the safety of attendees at your sporting event is violence from the fans themselves. This will usually only involve a minority of the attendees, however it can dramatically affect everyone attending the event, especially if it is left to get out of hand. Destruction of the event venue and surrounding area, serious injury to attendees and even death can be caused by fan violence, which can spiral out of control outside of the venue too.

A recent example of fan violence presenting a real danger to attendees of the event and local citizens is the violence that happened at the UEFA Euro 2016 in France. Before the tournament had even begun, violence had started, with fans clashing with each other and the local police force. The violence continued throughout the tournament, both during games and in the streets. Many people were injured during the violence and the city was left in quite a mess, highlighting the need for event organisers to do what they can to prevent such incidents.

How to tackle the threat of fan violence

Fan violence can be one of the most difficult issues for an event organiser to tackle as they have limited control over the behaviour of certain fans. Many of the preventions go beyond the duties of an event organiser, as police officials and politicians should try to prevent known ‘hooligans’ from attending sporting events, however there are some measures an event organiser can take to help.

Using the Euro’s 2016 as an example, UEFA threatened to disqualify both the England and Russian national teams if the violence from fans persisted, with the Russian team eventually being given a suspended disqualification and a fine of €150,000 for Russia’s National Federation. Fifty Russian fans were also deported due to their actions within the stadium. These types of punishment, which not only affect the individuals involved but the teams themselves, are a great deterrent for the perpetrators.

There are also many ways in which organisers can help to create a nonviolent environment within the venue. Firstly, fans should be appropriately separated within the venue, preferably with an area of space between them to ensure violence cannot start between the fences. Sufficient security personnel should be on hand to quell any outbreaks of violence and first aiders should be on hand to help anyone injured due to violence or otherwise.

Fire safety

You may feel like there is a low chance of there being a fire at your sporting event, but it can and does happen, with devastating consequences. From fans sneaking in flares to hot food vendors and smoking, the causes of fire are ever present and without a proper fire safety plan, you are neglecting your responsibility to protect the fans, attendees and participants at your sporting event.

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In May 1985, Bradford City stadium had a fire during a league match against Lincoln City, killing 56 people and injuring at least 265. The fire was caused quite simply by a cigarette not being distinguished properly. The problem was that a major build-up of rubbish and debris was left under the stand seats which provided the fuel to the fire. With the roof and main stand being made of wood, the fire spread quicker than it could be distinguished.

How to tackle fire safety issues

The first step towards fire safety is to become familiar with fire safety legislation. You can also become ‘fire safety qualified’, giving you an advantage when it comes to preparing your event for fire prevention. You’ll want to carry out a fire risk assessment at the venue of your event in order to avoid the same problems that occurred at Bradford City stadium – the worst fire in the history of Football back in 1985 killing 56 and injuring more than 250 spectators.

Carrying out fire safety training with each member of your team is also important as it increases the number of people able to spot the causes of fire and help to dispel them. Your venue should have plenty of fire safety equipment, including fire extinguishers, alarms and exits. There should also be clear access for fire fighters to access the venue if necessary and creating a ‘fire plan’ prior to the event helps to decrease panic if a fire were to occur.

Threat of terroist attacks

Unfortunately, in modern society, sporting event organisers need to seriously consider the threat of terrorist attacks at their events. As one of the most terrifying and devastating threats to crowd safety, terrorism is an issue that has grown dramatically in recent years with events that attract large crowds being the main target.

In 2015, terrorism hit the people of France with overwhelming consequences. Suicide bombers had tried to target the Stade de France during an international friendly football match between France and Germany. Fortunately, the first bomber had been turned away from the stadium after security found the bomb strapped to his body, however the bomb was then detonated outside the stadium, killing a passer-by. Two more bombs were then detonated and then shootings occurred in Paris and Saint-Denis. This isn’t the only example of terrorists targeting sporting events which shows how important it is for organisers to prepare for the worst type of situation.

How to tackle the threat of terrorism

As we have witnessed with the recent attempted attack on Stade de France, the first step to preventing a terrorist attack on your sporting event is to have qualified, competent security professionals searching and questioning attendees on their way into the event. If they can spot something suspicious and prevent a terrorist from entering the venue, they have potentially saved many lives already.

For high profile sporting events in particular, you should choose a venue that is designed to combat terrorist attacks, with bomb detectors, metal detectors and plenty of escape routes. You should also choose a venue that is not easy for terrorists to break into, as there is the potential for terrorists to use cars and battering rams to force their way in.

It is also important to have an emergency response plan in the event of a terrorist attack. All of your staff should be aware of the plan and should ensure all processes are in place. During the terrorist attack on Stade de France, fans were brought onto the pitch for their own safety as the stadium was put on lockdown. This sort of planning helps to prevent panic and keeps attendees safe.


Interview with the expert

We spoke to Steve Allen, owner of Crowd Safety, a professional crowd management and event safety consultancy, to discover his views on crowd safety in the modern day.

What is the main threat to crowd safety?

Steve Allen: This is a question which could have equally valid responses ranging from poor planning and monitoring, through to too little space and terrorism. I would suggest one of the main threats today, when one considers the processes an event has to go through in the UK to be granted a license, has to be terrorism.

How can we prevent that threat?

Steve Allen: I don’t believe we could ever prevent terrorism, however, we can certainly reduce the likelihood of it occurring at any specific event through planning and preparation and strong safety leadership. Table top exercises and training combined with covert and overt testing of the processes are all techniques which have a long history with the military and there is no reason why these should not be adopted at events to maximise the vigilance of staff.

How can technological innovations improve crowd safety?

Steve Allen: Technology has assisted with measurements of open space when we consider the programmes such as Google Earth Pro and other pedestrian modelling software. However, the hard yards must be walked to view the topography and sense the landscape at ground level to see what the attending audience is going to experience. Pedestrian predictive modelling can provide an invaluable visualisation, to a client, of how the crowd may move yet there are so many variants that need to be considered and dynamically assessed throughout the event.

There are  software programmes that can identify crowd density at pre-set warning levels to alert the onlooker but such programmes must be verified by the mark one eyeball else show stop procedures may be initiated on the reliance of software.

CCTV has allowed those in Event Control at the Tactical level, also referred to as SILVER, to monitor crowds and has proved to be an invaluable tool for this and also for evidence. The key is to be able to identify the incident in its embryonic phase and respond with the appropriate response, to prevent the incident escalating 

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Social media has proved an invaluable tool to assist with event related issues and is an intrinsic part of major events in the control rooms. Social Media is a two way platform which allows the event to send out official updates and information and quash any rumours. A real concern today, must be the threat of cybercrime on such platforms as anyone breaking onto a major events social media platform could and would, cause utter chaos.

Do you feel that the current legislation on crowd safety is effective in improving crowd safety? 

Steve Allen: Yes. In the UK, there are processes which larger events need to satisfy, namely a SAG (Safety Advisory Group). At the SAG will be representatives of the Local Authority EHO, through to Fire, Police, Ambulance, Highways etc. Each representative can voice a concern if the plans are not deemed to be suitable or sufficient. There is also a raft of legislation that stands to protect crowds ranging from the Health and Safety at Work act 1974, the Common Law Duty of Care and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales, Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, The Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 and the Licensing Act 2003.

Finally, the UK has learnt from bitter experience, the consequences of a crowd disaster and has some of the world’s leading experts on crowds, who have accrued vast experience across multiple continents, events and cultures. Brands are also aware that a crowd related disaster which they are associated with is not good for business and as such, they seek competent crowd safety advice to protect not only those attending, performing or contracted at, but also the brand.

Who is responsible for ensuring crowd safety?

Steve Allen: This is dependent on the location of the event. In a licensed event, the DPS (Designated Premise Supervisor) has ultimate responsibility but in other venues such as a licensed Stadium, it is the person with their name on the license.

Surely though, we all have a responsibility for crowd safety but this can only be the case where a positive safety culture already exists whereby anyone reporting a concern isn’t mocked or laughed at, but instead thanked and the concern investigated. After all, this is exactly the type of scenario which could prevent a terrorist succeeding or failing.

How have crowd safety issues changed over the years? Are there any new issues occurring that event organisers should take into consideration?

Steve Allen: From my experience, it seems that Crowd Safety is now a buzz word. Everyone all of a sudden is a crowd safety expert. My advice would be that event organisers must satisfy themselves that whoever they use knows what they are doing and their skill level is proportionate to the risk. 

What is the key to a safe venue?

Steve Allen: Venues differ around the country and indeed the rest of the world. Pre planning to ensure effective crowd management is in place and good signage that is visible and reflective of the event is a must. I will come back to planning as this really is the nuts and bolts of everything and is ongoing. Crowds are not predictive, no-one really knows what is going to happen but they can certainly be guided and managed but only if those at the top have done their planning and preparation, identified the key crowd related hazards and communicated these effectively to everyone.

What are the most common issues one encounters with large crowds? What can you do if you encounter these? 

Steve Allen: Crowds form for a variety of reasons. Some share a common purpose whilst others may differ. Experience has taught me that as Crowd Management Consultants, we need to fully understand the crowd profile and indeed what the crowd’s expectations and needs are. Once we understand these elements, we can be better prepared to plan and prepare for the event.


Your next step

As crowd safety expert Steve Allen says, the best way to ensure crowd safety is to have an extensive plan in place to fully prepare for all eventualities. For the sporting event organiser, this may involve speaking to a crowd safety expert in order to devise a crowd safety strategy. With modern day technology, the opportunities for event organisers to protect attendees are even greater, however the threats are also greater, meaning that organisers need to be more vigilant than ever to ensure their event runs smoothly with no danger to the crowd.

Go the extra length to make sure that your sporting event fulfils its potential.