While events like the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics are fantastic occasions of celebration for the country, they are also very challenging for the police service in terms of crowd management.
When Queen Elizabeth enjoyed her Diamond Jubilee river pageant on the Thames, the police had to make sure that the 1.2 million people who had congregated in London that day were managed in a safe way. Police were commended for the fact that only a few arrests were made on the day, and the event was handled in a calm and reasonable manner.
However, large events aren’t always trouble-free, and it is because of these events that the Crowd Behaviour Network has their website: http://www.crowdbehaviournetwork.org.
The Crowd Behaviour Network prepare for and manage large crowd events and researchers, professionals and experts convene on the forum to share their knowledge and make these events safe.
The Crowd Behaviour Network is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, and it is hoping to capitalise on the Understanding Crowd Behaviours research that was funded by the Cabinet Office over the next few months. This research investigated crowd behaviours in normal and emergency situations.
A new research project has been launched: Improving Crowd Event Perparation and Management: Combining Academic and Practitioner Perspectives to Enhance Knowledge and Practise. This principal investigator on this research grant is Rose Challenger, a researcher in organisational psychology at the Socio-Technical Centre at the University of Leeds. Having worked on the original Understanding Crowd Behaviours projet, she is hoping the research will provide the wide crowd event preparation and management community with knowledge about improving crowd behaviour practise and safety.
An interesting experiment that supported this research is the “Invisible Gorilla” experiment, carried out by Christopher Chabris who was at Havard University at the time. This experiment involved having somebody watch a group of people pass a ball around between each other and count the passes, while in the background a man in a gorilla costume would walk past. Only around half of the people actually spotted the gorilla – so occupied was their focus on counting the passes.
Rose Challenger describes this as ‘inattentional blindness’ and says that ‘it shows that focusing resources on one issue means that we fail to notice the other issues around us.
‘If you look at the example of the Hillsborough disaster, much of the focus was on stopping hooliganism and this affected how they dealt with the crowd that day.
‘As a result, they interpreted people climbing the fences as a pitch invasion so they failed to see what was really happening.
‘Disasters are not normally the result of one issue, there are many – lack of training, poor communication, lack of real clarity and knowledge and poor technology.
‘We need to consider everything that could go wrong in an event.’
As well as the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, the research studied other incidents including the 1977 Tenerife Airport Disaster, the 1985 Bradford City fire, and the 1987 King’s Cross Underground fire. This events showed that perceptions of risk can sometimes be focused too heavily one lesser likely risk, ignoring the more mundane and probable risks.
At the Olympics in London this year, it is important that the bigger picture with regards to safety and crowd management isn’t jeopardised by focusing too much of the resource on the threat of terrorism.
‘We need to make sure that everyone is not just focusing on one issue at the neglect of others’, starts Rose Challenger. ‘A lot of resources are in their systems to prevent a terror attack. The police need to be fully trained in crowd management. There are a lot of different mattes that need attention, lots of different factors at play.
‘Communication is important and we need to make sure everyone is working together, including all the different agencies. People need to be aware who is in charge and people need to gain awareness of these issues.
‘People will gather in areas which have the best view, or near concessions stands, or where good seating is available. It is important that density levels are closely monitored and that people are directed towards less crowded areas where they can also have a good view. People will probably arrive steadily over the day depending on what they’ve come to observe, but [Olympic chiefs] will need to be careful managing a people typically want to leave en masse as soon as what they’ve come to see is over.
‘Given the nature of the event,, I don’t anticipate there being any major problems with crowd disorder.’
Locally in Leeds, with the European football Championships taking place in Poland and Ukraine at the moment, people have been gathering to watch England play on the big screens at Headingley Stadium.
On events like these, Rose Challenger says: ‘We have to be aware of smaller crowds. It is not just the main crowd event we need to watch but also all those other areas, such as transport and screen events. Everything else that is going on around it needs managing.’
Working with The University of Leeds, the MPS, Lothian and Borders Police, the City of Liverpool, the Emergency Planning College and the Emergency Planning Society, The Crowd Behaviour Network hopes to disseminate its research findings to a wider audience and engage with the wider industry to uncover new ideas and approaches to large-scale crowd events.
The Network also hopes to develop state-of-the-art training and education, fill gaps in research and knowledge, and form a network of collaborative research.
Research has already helped to help formulate methods and responses to threats contained within crowds at large events and is incorporated into plans for major events this year. It is hoped that ahead of the Olympics, methods of crowd management will be successful enough to ensure no one misses the gorilla in the room.