6 Steps for a Safe and Effective Crowd Management Strategy

Event organizers have a responsibility to ensure that health and safety risks are properly managed for all attendees, including staff, contractors, volunteers and members of the public. This might not seem like a challenge when walking around your empty venue, but as soon as a crowd starts forming it doesn’t take much for minor or major injuries to occur.

We spoke to Maltaward, a company that specializes in public safety solutions, about how to make sure an event with a large volume of people runs smoothly and safely. They told us there are six key steps that appear in the planning of every big event, whether it’s a sports match, music festival, enthusiast convention or tourist attraction.

1.PLANNING
Crowd management is integral to running a safe, enjoyable event, and should be considered in the earliest stages of your planning. Even as the organizer, you’re not expected to plan the event entirely on your own. Consult with key figures both inside and outside of your organization, including:

  • Your heads of department/team leaders
  • Event contractors
  • The venue owner (if it’s not you)
  • Local authorities
  • Emergency services, first responders
  • Local transport providers
  • Neighboring businesses and other third-parties affected by your event

2. UNDERSTANDING YOUR CROWD
Working out how many attendees your expecting might be challenging, depending on the nature of your event. Some companies have got crowd calendars down to a fine art, while others are almost entirely at the mercy of holidays, weather, or special attraction timetables. Base your estimates on previous turnout, advance ticket sales or attendance at similar events.

Be aware that your venue will have a maximum capacity and plan accordingly – not only for those inside, but in case there are guests queueing outside to get in. If there is any chance that your event will reach (or exceed) capacity then you must have a contingency in place to manage excess numbers. Make sure that your site is accessible for everyone, with facilities and safe travel routes for wheelchairs and children.

Keep in mind the expected demographic of your event. Are they likely to be familiar with the venue or format, or will you need to provide a lot of direction? Will fans arrive early to get a good spot, or do you expect people to be constantly flowing in and out? Certain behaviors can be predicted, like music fans surging to the front during a popular song or sports fans getting emotional at the end of a game.

3. ASSESSING THE RISK
It may be part of your legal requirement to assess the potential risks at your event, from malfunctioning equipment to fire and bomb threats. Considering the risk generated by the crowd itself is not always as straightforward.

The main health and safety risks associated with crowds are to do with its movement. Swaying and surging can escalate to crushing and trampling, so identify ways to safely manage the motion of large volumes of people while they are gathered in one location and while they move through your venue.

Depending on the layout of the space, you may want to consider: 

  • Staggering the entry process
  • Arranging concrete or plastic barriers to keep pedestrians and vehicles separate
  • Using fencing to keep emergency access routes clear
  • Employing stewards to supervise entry and exits to keep the flow of guests moving
  • Navigating people away from areas likely to cause bottlenecks (stairs, narrowing corridors, gates or turnstiles)
  • Ensuring all walkways are well lit
  • Keeping the pathway between main attractions clear from obstacles

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4. COMMUNICATING WITH THE CROWD
The most effective methods of getting a message to your attendees will depend on the nature of your event and venue.

Prominently displayed signage is the easiest way to communicate key information, either with a fixed notice or LED board showing updates. Try to position signs so that they are visible from afar, making it less likely that guests will need to stop and crowd around signage. Give guests access to maps – either on signs or on your printed promotional material – so that they can find alternative routes around the venue. Mark these out clearly on your map and include any accessibility issues that might make them unsuitable for certain guests.

Aside from signs, you may want to consider a PA system, or employing stewards to share information about designated areas. An information desk may also be appropriate in larger spaces.

5. COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR TEAM
Having a clear line of communication between team members around the venue is essential, particularly in case crowds start to become difficult to manage. Two-way radios remain the most reliable method of communication, although telephone systems and verbal messages may be adequate in a smaller venue.

Establish a formal language and procedure to use over the duration of the event so that all vital information can be communicated effectively. In the event of an incident, you will need to know who is calling, where they are and their situation. Agree on codes or names to ensure there is no confusion and consider keeping one line for emergency use only.

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6. REVIEW
Once your event has finished – whether it’s been an evening, a weekend or an entire season - resist the urge to simply pack up and go home. Reviewing how the event unfolded with your team is as important as your initial planning and doing so while incidences are still fresh in their minds is a huge benefit. If you can’t speak to every individual team member, make sure that you at least meet with team leaders and any key witnesses to particular issues.

Assess which approaches worked well and which could have been improved, making notes that you can refer to in the planning stages of your next event. Even if you’ll be at another venue, working with a new team or managing a different crowd, learn everything you can at each event.

GUEST AUTHOR: Dakota Murphey

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