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Managing crowds – London NYE fireworks


37ee98946bd5de65c6916f911b3ea0cbLike many people, I like to watch the now annual London New Year’s Eve fireworks in the warm with a glass of chilled champagne in my hand.  Large screen televisions, great sound and loud children are enough to make it a great atmosphere after a long evening partying.

Many however, prefer to take to the streets of our wonderful capital city to see the spectacle live and in all its glory, particularly from the Embankment opposite where the crackles and bangs are clearly audible and your nostrils are full of the smell of explosives.

This year, for the first time, the event was ticketed in the prime locations opposite the London Eye – the focal point for the display.   In his blog post on MayorWatch, Martin Hoscik examines the original documents which set out the ticketing policy not only for 2014 but also for 2015 and 2016.  As he points out “The document correctly predicted that introducing paid tickets would be unpopular and warned it could create the perception that the event had been commercialised”.

Capture3One of my own contacts posted on Facebook the following morning her own views on this particular policy, and she was not alone in her condemnation.  Mayoral candidate David Lammy was quick to tweet his views #thanksboris and many national newspapers had coverage of the decision.

While London was attempting to manage huge crowds in a city that still retains many of the narrow streets and alleyways built in the 18th century, when the population was 9x smaller than it is today, Shanghai was experiencing the tragedy that this unpopular policy was attempting to avoid.  36 people lost their lives as uncontrolled crowds surged into Chenyi Square.

I asked a number of the Who’s who in events group members who are health and safety/crowd management experts what, for them, would be their top three pieces of advice for managing crowds when it is impossible to know exactly how many people will turn up to view a particular spectacle:

Eddy Grant, Health & Safety Consultant at Capita Property & Infrastructure and Senior Lecturer in Event Safety at Derby University had these top tips:

  1. Know how many people can fit into your area – have an in-depth knowledge of your site
  2. Have barriers and systems in place to ensure you can limit access to these numbers – ensure these are robust and usually out of line of sight of the attraction
  3. Have plenty of good stewards and SIA – your crowd management team will need to coordinate across them all

Sonja Muller from Elle Projects and Events in Cape Town offered this advice: Catering for large public (especially FREE) events will always be challenging.  I always look at worst case scenarios and worik it back from there.  The Three main focus areas for me would be:

  1. Transport & Pedestrian Access / Escape Routes
  2. Security, Medical and Emergency Services
  3. Sufficient Ablution & Refreshments
Any of the above should be ‘expandable’ when it becomes clear that the event is growing beyond expectation, hence planning for worst case scenario.    Emergency services, for example, needn’t be on site but on high-alert standby.

Jim Fidler, an experienced security and crowd management professional from Sydney, explained that ticketing helps to manage crowds in the following ways:

  1. It is important to consider capacity… “not enough room at the inn”… in order to ensure that it is possible to fit all those who are likely to attend into a specific area.  There has to be some way of measuring how many people have entered an area.
  2. As more people attend an event it reduces the egress capability from a site, a key consideration is can we get everyone away from an incident safely in an emergency.
  3. Surrounding infrastructure: it is important that transport links and other facilities around an event can cope with the number of people expected within a certain area.

Tragically, it would appear that the experiences in Shanghai proved that the steps taken in London were sensible ones.  The bigger challenge for the Mayor’s office is how to communicate the benefits of the ticketing as a health and safety mechanism without it appearing to be  cover-up for commercial gain.

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