Crowd Safety in Emergencies
JUN, 2016

Event Mangement

Ensuring that an evacuation of people from spectator events can occur safely and efficiently is an important area of consideration in any crowd safety plan. It will ensure that in emergency situations people are kept as safe as possible and undoubtedly will save lives.

 Every venue will have emergency signage, lighting and plans to direct people to the emergency exit that should be used during emergencies. However, when disasters happen, some of these exits might not be usable because of safety problems due to the emergency itself, incident management of threat outside the venue or because of the distribution and congestion of people within the arena, stadium or green field site.

The average flow of people in such emergencies will depend on the crowd density. Therefore, if all the people follow the same exit route, or follow a route without knowing the risk of convergence ahead, they can end up being part of that convergence, adding to it, which will result in a reduction or slowing of the flow rate to a point where the exit flow will fail.

For these reasons it can be shown to be a vital part of the safety plan to design evacuation contingency plans that inform people how fast and in which direction to move, based on real-time information that can respond to the distribution of the crowd at any given situation.

With the recent Hillsborough Inquest verdict ruling that the 96 victims were unlawfully killed in 1989 and the German Courts ruling that the 2010 Love Parade tragedy where 21 died, will not now go to trial, crowd safety and the actions of event organisers, safety management teams and emergency services has never been in sharper focus.

The main factors that will contribute to the ability of people to safely evacuate an open space or building will be building designcrowd psychology, the competency of crowd safety planners and management to ensure this can be tasked safely, supported by appropriately trained and competent safety stewarding staff to implement the evacuation.

Early Crowd Science Theory v today’s theorists

Throughout the twentieth century a number theories on crowd behaviour were introduced into Crowd Science. These include the classic theories of Le Bon (1908), French psychologist Gustave Le Bon’s 1895 best – selling book ‘The Crowd’ was the first to highlight perceived negative traits that characterise crowds. He argued that crowd behaviours were pathological and abnormal with civilised behaviour being replaced by primitive savagery within the anonymity of the crowd. His (1908) Group Mind Theory is one of the classic early theories of Crowd Science. He proposed individuality is lost along with responsibility for actions, as a person becomes an anonymous member of a group.

That being in groups gives these individuals a sense of power and invincibility, a ‘contagion’, that leads individuals to become debased resorting to primitive and savage instincts. Many of these concepts are no longer considered sustainable and indeed are seen as dangerous to rely on as an explanation of crowd behaviour (The Cabinet Office and Emergency Planning College, 2009).

When examining typical mass emergency behaviour an aspect to define will be the real or perceived physical danger. Anthony R Mawson in his Social Attachment Model, (Mawson AR 2005) posits that familiar people and surroundings has a calming affect and actually reduces the “flight” response where will people may be inclined to push and stampede. He stated that in fact social norms of behaviour rarely break down. According to John Turner (Turner J 1987) in his self-categorisation theory, disasters and emergencies can create a feeling of a common identity or ‘we-ness’. The behaviours manifested would be orderly, altruistic and shared as people escape a common threat.

There have been a number of world disasters that following investigation and analysis show how this might be so.

In the 2001 Twin Towers collapse, 2983 people were killed. Research afterwards revealed that the building evacuation time varied from minutes to hours for people to leave the buildings even when aware of the threat. People sought information to analyse before taking the decision to evacuate (Fahy and Proulx 2002). This lack of action contributed to the many fatalities more so that a mass panic. From reports many people left immediately from Tower 1, yet many more carried on with “routine” activities. In 2001 people reported evacuating from 90th floor in around 45 minutes.

Research undertaken into the July 7th London Bombings (Drury, Reicher, Scholfield, Langston and Cocking 2007) showed that there was individual fear and distress due to the emotional reactions to the explosion. However during the evacuations people were calm and orderly and Londoners demonstrated a collective spirit, helping each other before their own interests. Despite smoke filled carriages and platforms on the underground, there was no evidence of panic, there appeared to be a shared social identity, shared goals and solidarity to helps others with an expectation that others would help too (Drury 2016).

It appears therefore that in adversity and confusion people can resist panic, maintain a social cohesion and display a high degree of resilience.

Studying for a Degree – preparing for every eventuality!

The above is just a short extract from the final dissertation written for my degree in Crowd Safety Management. After three years of study at Bucks New University I have been introduced to so many essential elements of crowd safety. My passion is the need to share widely in our industry to ensure that we keep our customers as safe as possible and learn from the mistakes from the past.

“How prepared are our Sporting Stadiums, Music Arenas and Festival sites for mass evacuations should a natural disaster or terrorist threat occur?”


What actions have been taken to reduce the likelihood of an incident occurring and measures to take in the event of an incident to halt its progression. Applying sound advice, guidance and intelligence reports to the event and a range of activities including counter measures.


The ‘tick list’ of critical actions to create and sustain an operational capability to protect against and respond to emergency situations. Continual assessment of risk and control measures.


Direct actions employed at an incident, short term immediate action drills designed to prevent and limit the risk to and loss of life. Injury and damage to property.


A restoration phase where a coordinated return to normal is managed. Services are reestablished and the venue returns to a state of operational capacity.


Lessening the impact of the emergency event for people and the organisations involved. A focus on social welfare post incident (Working with Disaster 1993) has shown to be important to allow those traumatised by events return to a new normal state.

Getting this right is so important. In terms of saving lives this is paramount. Most recently the evacuation of Old Trafford it was reported cost Manchester United £3 million ( )

The economic affects of getting this wrong cannot be sustained for long before events are cancelled and sport is played behind closed doors?

Should venues now be looking at incorporating a live evacuation practice regime to ensure their contingency planning and systems actually work?

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