Most states require crowd managers for managing public events to prevent injury or property damage in the event of an emergency. In most cases, one crowd manager is required for every 250 people. Crowd managers are trained under NFPA or IFC requirements. Duties include keeping the aisles clear, ensuring max occupancy is upheld, and making sure that all entrances and exits are always clear and unobstructed.

However, when it comes to controlling crowds, it is not solely the job of the crowd manager to ensure the safety of the individuals attending the event. It’s also the job of the building designer, building owner, facility personnel, inspectors, and local AHJs to create and maintain a safe environment for event attendees.

NFPA 101

While there are technically no federal laws mandating who is responsible for the management of crowds, or even federally mandated laws around safety requirements at large public gatherings,  NFPA 101 Life Safety Code is used nation-wide as the gold standard for crowd management and crowd safety. And while most cities and jurisdictions adhere to these codes, there are some events and venues that have taken a deadly turn due to the lack of regulation and crowd management.

Within NFPA 101, you’ll find requirements and recommendations for all types of assembly occupancies. These are important criteria to maintain safety within large crowds. Most states have a process that requires venue owners to apply for a business permit that specifies its maximum legal occupancy. These venues will likely have the same fire code requirements as other commercial buildings, but with additional requirements to safely operate as an assembly building. The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) oversees fire code enforcement for a specific city and ensures there are no fire code violations.

To avoid overcrowding, these are just a few safety regulations outlined for assembly occupancies within NFPA 101:

  • A Life Safety Evacuation (LSE) must be performed if the venue holds over 6,000 people
  • Main entrance/exit must accommodate up to two-thirds total egress capacity
  • If the occupancy exceeds 10,000, density cannot exceed more than one person in every seven feet
  • In new assembly occupancies where the floor area of auditoriumsand arenas is used for assembly occupancy activities/events, not less than 50 percent of the occupant load can have means of egress provided without passing through adjacent fixed seating areas
  • An Emergency Action Plans (EAP) must be in place and include a minimum of 18 items (I.e., building inspection reports, staff training, drills, and evacuation procedures)

Common hazards in large public gatherings

Recent tragedies have placed crowd management at large events in the forefront and are causing many people to question their safety in crowds.

Overcrowding is a serious hazard for so many reasons. For example, here are a few things that may happen due to overcrowding at an event:

  • People can pass out from lack of oxygen or pressure from the crowd
  • People may become trapped if they fall and get trampled
  • People may experience medical emergency but can’t get the help that they need in time
  • People may experience anxiety-related medical issues

Ticketed events in indoor venues are typically easier to regulate when it comes to crowd behavior, but non-ticketed and outdoor events can bring an entire new set of dangers for both the attendees and crowd management officials.

Take for example the Braves watch parties that occurred during the World Series where the media reported record breaking crowds that forced Battery authorities to restrict the number of fans. In these instances where people can just walk up to an area and gather, there are even more safety and crowd management concerns. To prepare for this event, it’s reported that the fire department tripled the number of fire marshals and quadrupled the number of emergency medical services personnel to handle the large crowd, but people were still shoulder-to-shoulder in a sea of people that can get dangerous fast. Thankfully no one was injured during these events at the Battery but record-breaking events like this show the need for crowd management, which isn’t always an easy feat.

Crowd management can be challenging for several reasons, namely that crowds can be unpredictable in their behavior and actions. Variables like the venue, event, and emotions of the crowd affect the level of crowd management necessary to keep people safe. Crowd managers must be ready for the unexpected, but it’s not solely the responsibility of crowd managers to ensure the safety of event attendees. As seen in the example of the World Series games, local officials worked with facility managers and personnel to provide safety and medical care should it be needed. This line of communication and collaboration among parties is an essential piece of crowd management. If the building lacks appropriate safety measures, then all the crowd management in the world can’t ensure the safety of the individuals attending an event

 Solutions for better crowd management

The inherent variability and unpredictability of crowds at group events like music festivals make it hard to plan for what might happen. To keep the public safe in these large events, organizations like the NFPA are developing tools that offer emergency personnel and crowd management staff real time data to monitor changes as they happen.

The NFPA web-based crowd monitoring tool is just one example of how technology can help to improve crowd management. This tool, which is still in the works, “utilizes modern technologies and algorithms to evaluate crowd movement over time in high-risk spaces.” The tool can then evaluate a crowd count, and even predict the count with a crowd-density map. Using this data, you’d be able to manage the distribution and flow of people and ensure safety measures where needed. Emergency personnel would also be able to have better access to individuals in need of medical assistance.

These up-and-coming tools will no doubt improve the safety of large events, but in the meantime, there seems to be a necessity for federal laws that would require a standard set of safety measures when it comes to crowd management. And maybe that’s the next discussion from here.

How to prepare for an emergency in a public gathering

Before attending an event, have a plan in place. This plan should include what to do if you and your group become separated from one another. It should include what to do if you lose phone service, have a medical emergency, or need to evacuate the building. When you enter the venue, find the exits. Every venue intended for assembly should have at least one main exit/entrance, and in many instances, there should be multiple exits. Find those exits before the show begins. And if you do need to evacuate for any reason, get out and stay out. Do not go back into the building to find friends or family members.

Fire Systems, Inc. cares for all members of our community and we strive to ensure that fire safety best practices are upheld on a regular basis. Educating our community on the dangers of crowds, and what can be done, is just one way that we function as a part of the life and safety services in our area. Fire Systems has been in the Atlanta area for over 30 years. If you are a building owner, we can help you with all of your fire protection needs. From sprinkler to alarm, we do it all. Call us today at 770-333-7979 or visit our website for information, and we look forward to serving you.