How to prevent crowd disasters

Stadium concerts, football matches, or any kind of big celebration are all hot spots for crowds. When a large number of people gather in one place at one time, a crowd is formed and there are dangers to be aware of. When communication is lost, huge disasters can unravel. Thankfully, technology is at hand to help battle the causes of crowd catastrophes and accidents. In addition, technology such as pedestrian modelling software, is now available to help architects to design buildings that are safe for their users.

Architects can plan ahead with crowd management in mind. Many firms are investing in technologies that analyse, evaluate, and provide data regarding the safety of a crowd. By law, event organisers are obligated to keeping crowds safe – so these technologies can be utilised efficiently within this endeavour. Dangers that are listed by the government are as follows:

  • Crushing between people
  • Crushing against fixed structures such as barriers
  • Trampling
  • Surging, swaying or rushing
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Dangerous behaviour such as climbing on equipment or throwing objects

The dangers

Crushing tends to be the most common cause of disaster within crowds. Believe it or not, trampling does not cause it. It can be something as small as one person tripping or falling, and then that movement having a chain-reaction throughout the crowd and causing a huge crush against barriers or walls etc.

The movement of people can become a powerful force, and in some cases, it can be up to a force of over 4500 Newtons, or 1,000lbs. Objects that are supposed to protect a crowd can also become a potential hazard, as steel railing can be bent and cause injury to passers-by. These types of pressures can cause compressive asphyxia, a leading cause of suffocation within a crowd and the most common cause of death.

Event organisers and venue staff should be using pre-emptive technologies to spot dangers before they happen. This technology can be crucial for preventing a potential disaster and saving lives. For instance, in 2003 70 people were crushed while trying to escape from pepper spray that was being used to break up a fight. This may not have happened if technology could have established that this wasn’t enough space per square meter for people to leave the building safely.


There are several reasons why a disaster can emerge in a crowd. The most common examples are:

Lack of communication: In 1981, Greek football fans were killed when they tried to leave a match in Athens stadium, finding the gates locked. The rear of the crowd had no way of knowing this was the case and continued to press forward, causing 24 deaths.

Reaction to perceived threat: A riot by English and Italian fans in 1985 at a European Cup Final in Brussels led to a flight by spectators trying to escape the violence, which led to 38 deaths by asphyxia. Over 437 people were injured.

‘Craze’ behaviour: in 1989, 96 people were killed and more than 170 injured at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England. A larger than expected fanbase was trying to enter the stadium, which caused police to open gates to relieve crowd pressure. Instead, the crowd surged into the stadium, crushing fans into enclosed terraces.

How to avoid crowd disasters

Technologies are changing attitudes towards crowd disasters and making it easier for event organisers to prevent potential disasters. It is important to set a limit of the number of guests that can attend the event to make sure there aren’t too many people trying to squeeze into on space that simply can’t hold everyone – however, bear in mind that this can often be an unrealistic method at larger events such as religious gatherings.

It can be difficult to implement good communication in a crowd. The use of stewards to help promote communication is a recommended measure as they can prevent the issue that comes from a communication breakdown between the head and body of a crowd.

It’s vital to ensure proper access and exits are in place. This is something that can be considered in the design and construction phases of building a new venue. With new technologies, architects can plan for safe crowd management before the building is built. A timed exit in a large event, where people from different levels exit at different slots of time, is another popular prevention method.



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