Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Crowd Planning for Public Safety

Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Crowd Planning for Public Safety

Article excerpt

With a growing population, an increasing urbanisation and a growing threat of terrorism, there is an increased potential for crowd disasters causing injuries and death. This feature article uses the examples of Glastonbury Festival and the 2012 London Olympics to depict how crowd management must start from early design stages and is not a purely operational activity.

A major crowd incident with multiple injuries and deaths is tragic for those involved and a public health failure. Regrettably, there continue to be disasters around the world in high crowd density environments such as nightclubs, festivals and events, stadiums, railway stations and city streets.[1] The potential for more frequent crowd disasters is increasing as global population, urbanisation and urban densification rise, increasing the number of crowded and complex buildings and facilities (stadiums, metros, etc.) and the frequency of large events. Terrorism, which often targets busy places, also increases the risks to public safety,[2] and even the fear of terrorism can lead to crowd disasters. In 2005, over 1,000 Iraqis died during a stampede at a festival triggered by rumours of suicide bombers.[3] The UK Government and its agencies such as the National Counter Terrorism Security Office provide advice on increasing the protection of crowded places from a terrorist attack, and these considerations are included within the planning process. Consequently, there is increasing need to consider crowd safety and security[4] in the design and management of complex permanent buildings and temporary events.

Delivering crowd safety is often perceived as an operational activity: crowd management or control by stewards, police and barriers and so on. In fact, delivering crowd safety should start in the design phase or earlier and adopt an approach that integrates design and management.[5] Safety through design is more effective than procedural safety which relies on fallible human behaviour. The corollary to this is that the risks arising from poor design cannot necessarily be managed by operational afterthought. This is a familiar dynamic in which public health professionals operate: there are large gains to be realised in moving 'upstream' in the planning process.

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Crowd planning delivers benefits beyond safety, including the efficient use of space and enhanced experience for visitors,[6] which ultimately improve the financial performance and reputation of the 'crowded' place or asset. Usually, the earlier in the project crowd planning takes place, the greater the benefit that accrues. Working together, professionals could be raising the safety performance of the urban built environment while delivering wider social and economic benefits to citizens.

This article provides a short description of the risks to public safety associated with crowds and then illustrates the application of crowd planning for public safety during planning, design and operational phases of crowded places, using the London 2012 Olympic Park and greenfield festivals, including Glastonbury, as examples.

Risks To Public Safety Associated With Crowds

Crowds are not of themselves risks to public safety: there are millions of people at high crowd densities inside metro trains in world cities every day, but since the crowds are standing, the risks are usually limited. It is largely the movement of crowds - walking, running, swaying, surging - that creates safety risks. At high crowd densities, the movement of crowds can generate forces sufficient to result in injuries and deaths in a crowd crush or collapse such as at Hillsborough[7] and Heysel.[8] The majority of deaths are via compressive asphyxia - pressure on the lungs and abdomen which prevents breathing - rather than trauma from trampling.

Therefore, a key objective of crowd planning is to identify and prevent conditions where high crowd densities and moving crowds could create a crowd crush or collapse. …

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