By Jamie Ridenhour

Following recent tragedies, ensuring safety in crowded environments has been on many people’s minds.  Whether it’s a public event with thousands of attendees or simply an overcrowded store during a holiday sale, there are many steps that both individuals and event planners can take to minimize risk.

Following are some items to keep in mind when attending or being a part of an event with a large crowd.  In general, the idea is to try to avoid hazardous situations, but to be prepared should you find yourself in one.

  • The most important concept is awareness. Pay attention to what’s going on around you and to any disturbance that may be moving toward you
  • Know where the exits are and think about the easiest route to get to at least two of them
  • Avoid the most crowded areas, particularly if things seem to be getting out of control
  • Walk around crowds rather than pushing through them
  • If you are caught in a moving crowd, walk diagonally with the flow to work your way out
  • Leave early or late to avoid the rush
  • Have a plan for where to meet should your party get separated
  • Pay attention to what other group members are wearing or take a group photo before the event

Preparation also applies to what you wear and what you take with you.  Make safety and security a priority with some of the following tips.

  • Don’t wear loose fitting clothing that can be pulled or stepped on
  • Wear closed toed, comfortable shoes with a good tread and keep them tied
  • Skip the jewelry, both to avoid theft and the need to bend down to look for a dropped item
  • Take only your ID and a single credit card and necessary cash
  • Carry your wallet or other important items in a front pocket
  • Use a close hanging purse and preferably one that hangs across your body or not carry a purse at all

If you do find yourself in a crowd panic situation, try to stay calm and keep in mind some of the following suggestions.

  • Put your arms up like a boxer’s defensive position to protect your head and chest
  • Be careful of wasting breath screaming or yelling
  • Keep valuables in your pockets to avoid dropping anything and do not bendover
  • If you do end up on the ground, get in the fetal position on your left side, which offers the most protection for your heart and lungs
  • Do not try to crawl in the midst of a mass of people

We’ve covered a lot of tips to help individuals stay safe in a crowd, but much of the responsibility for safety comes initially from the event organizers.  As we’ve seen lately, planners have an ethical and legal responsibility to ensure as much safety as possible at an event. Below are some of the most important considerations when planning for a crowded event.

  • Have plenty of security personnel and ushers on hand
  • Be sure that ushers understand their customer-service role, while security personnel are responsible for keeping the peace and controlling the crowd
  • Security personnel should have an increased presence at check-in lines, or any other bottlenecks, which can quickly become chaotic
  • Have easily visible signage to guide customers and attendees to:
    • EXITS!
    • Guest services
    • Where lines begin
    • Restrooms
    • Other important areas
  • Clearly indicate areas that are restricted or staff-only
  • Use fences or barriers to keep crowds moving efficiently
  • Exits and pathways should be well lit and free of obstructions
  • Clearly identify staff and security with shirts, vests, or other easily visible and identifiable means
  • Know the layout of the venue and try to understand how traffic will move, both under normal conditions and in an emergency
  • Have an emergency plan and make sure staff has easy access to it
  • Communicate with emergency services and first responders prior to any large event

Neither event attendees or organizers can fully plan for every possible situation but understanding the risks inherent in crowded environments and taking some simple precautions can go a long way towards avoiding a catastrophic outcome.