The world’s largest sporting event of the summer kicked off (pun intended) in France this month and continues through July 7. According to Reuters, more than 1.5 million supporters are expected to attend the 2019 Women’s World Cup matches in the nine cities hosting the tournament. With record-breaking attendance, the rising popularity of women’s soccer also means an increase in crowd-related risks and the need for a comprehensive risk management plan.
To ensure a safe and positive experience for all, host cities and venues must consider risks from all angles and think about how to prevent and respond to potential incidents. The responsibility for crowd safety goes beyond city and stadium officials, first responders and security staff. Members of the public – the crowd itself – also can and should take an active role in ensuring everyone enjoys the event without incident.
First and foremost, city and venue officials need to identify and assess risks and have a plan ready to address them. This analysis requires total situational awareness and a thorough assessment of potential vulnerabilities, including everything from how many exits are available at the venue, to what can happen between the stadium and the parking lot, to understanding how crowds typically interact and move throughout the event.
This kind of assessment requires thinking about the event in a broader context, beyond the stadium gates and the confines of the match itself. Risks are not limited to the main location or time of an event. Attendees should remain alert before, during and after an event, as well as inside and outside the venue.
See also: The Globalization of Risk Management
Total situational awareness encompasses:
- Crowd/human behavior
- Emerging technologies
Host cities and stadium officials need to consider what infrastructure exists to support the event. Is there a comprehensive map of the venue that includes all the entrances and exits? Are they secured? Is there an emergency plan in place for various crisis scenarios? If so, when was the last time it was tested it?
Prior to a major event, every venue should do a practice run-through to make sure the plan is up to date. By going through the various crisis scenarios, you can identify gaps in the plan and figure out how to fill them, before an actual crisis occurs.
While security personnel are typically sufficient for the entrance into a big event, hostile attacks are increasingly occurring outside the main venue. For example, in naturally open spaces such as parking lots, perpetrators have easy access to large groups outside of the stadium’s protection. Also, think about the venue itself. Is the place/location of special significance to any group or cause? Does the timing coincide with a particular holiday or anniversary? When considering a potential attack, officials should also monitor social media, before and during an event, for clues and possible tips that an incident may occur.
Finding the right balance between creating a fun, entertaining atmosphere and a safe place for large crowds to gather can be tricky. On one hand, you want an open, inviting space; on the other hand, you must maintain order and some kind of control. With people from all over the world coming together, safety instructions and protocol must be visual and easy to understand. For example, emergency exits should be clearly marked and accessible. Security and other staff, such as concession workers and maintenance crews, should be trained to watch for body language, verbal cues and unusual behavior that might indicate potential threats. A “see something, say something” policy, where people are encouraged to report suspicious behavior, is helpful to enlist community vigilance to prevent incidents.
From passive surveillance to handheld apps and artificial intelligence, advances in technology are enabling a better understanding of risks. Closed-caption television (CCTV) cameras that allow a central command center to monitor crowds are widely used in venues today. Advances in facial recognition algorithms and AI enable computers to analyze faces and raise red flags when someone elicits extra scrutiny. With machine learning, computers are getting better at detecting bodies and objects in crowds. Whether it’s distinguishing between a flashlight and a firearm, crowds pushing each other and a fight, or a joke and negative intent, artificial intelligence is analyzing real-time video feeds to better identify threats.
Proactive policing and passive surveillance, such as millimeter wave technology, can identify weapons (explosives, guns or knives) with nearly 100% accuracy. Mobile apps can turn any phone into a body cam, so that all staff (from concession workers to maintenance crews) can feed images to security. Stadiums can even set up “no drone zones” with equipment that can intercept drones within a periphery and turn them around.
For crowd safety, some stadiums offer apps that can guide event attendees through the venue or allow them to send alerts if a family member or friend is lost. These apps can also “crowd-source” security, allowing fans to provide real-time information on potential threats to the on-site command center. Using sensors placed strategically in and around the venue, exact locations can be determined and security personnel dispatched quickly and efficiently.
Be part of the solution
Public safety is everyone’s responsibility. It takes community involvement, and being aware of and caring about the person next to you, to make a positive impact. Everyone – players, fans, stadium employees and even the public at large – plays a role in keeping the peace. Whether you’re heading to France this summer or attending some other crowded event, my advice to you is simple: Pay attention, be smart and, most importantly, have fun!