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Avoiding Mass Panic: Best Practices for Large Public Events

Avoiding Mass Panic: Best Practices for Large Public Events

Planning for large public events can be a thankless job. When the planning goes well, people don’t really notice. When there’s an oversight in planning, the fallout can be damaging. Not all crowds are dangerous, but each and every crowd holds the potential for great danger.

When there’s a parade, a celebration, a concert, or an historic visitor, crowds of people can flood into your city, making business as usual an impossibility. With crowds of people reacting en masse, you need to make sure the communication flows early and often. To avoid panic, there are several considerations that state and local agencies must think about. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, these are the factors you should consider, with real-life examples.

Crowd Management

Surging, stampeding, and exit panic are the main causes of injury and death in crowds. Crowd management will depend on having good situational awareness before the day of the event. Planning in as much detail as possible can prevent you from experiencing the unfortunate.

The special event permit application is a great time to plot out your crowdflow, since you’re right at the beginning of the event management process. All stakeholders, as well as local and state agencies, should have a shared understanding of the crowd, by understanding factors like:

  • Facility type
  • Event type
  • Expected number of attendees
  • Target audience for event
  • Staffing capabilities

In-Action Example: Special event permit applications should include a map that identifies public spaces, fire lanes, detours, barricades, exits, and estimated foot traffic flow. Roadblocks and critical road closures can be highly disruptive. Event planners must also consider public safety and proximity to other highly-populated areas. The more detail that’s included in this application, the better.

Staffing and Volunteering

If you’re having a one-off event in your area, chances are you’ll need to bone up on staff. Your volunteers are just as important as your permanent staff, and may even require more training and special dispensations. Consider staff with respect to the following factors:

  • Special equipment and supplies needed
  • Expertise required
  • Volunteers vs. permanent staff
  • Security required
  • First Aid
  • Credentialing

Once you understand your permanent staffing needs, set up volunteer onboarding, training, registration, and rest areas. Security checks are often the most time-consuming, so place security at the front of the check-in process. Also be sure to account for “peak” hours when there is a surge in crowd numbers.

In-Action Example: Establish a staffing tent for shift changes and breaks. All volunteers and permanent staff will be highly engaged on event days, so make sure that you build in time for them to recharge. Additionally, make sure they understand emergency entrances and exits and have appointed leaders to direct crowds toward these places in the event of an emergency.

Community Alerts

When it comes to alerting, you need the awareness of as many individuals as possible. If you send out alerts over a loudspeaker, you have no guarantee that they’ve been heard or that your directions are being followed. Your best course of action is to unify several different mass notification channels - radios, loudspeakers, mobile phones, emails - and unify them. You can take action on this unification well before the event date.

In-Action Example: Create a large opt-in opportunity ahead of the event. For example, have a message that reads, “Text SAFETY to 888-8888 to receive safety and traffic alerts.” From those opt-ins, you can disseminate important messages about weather, traffic, delays, street closures, and updates. These templates, alerts, and networks are available through mass communications platforms like BlackBerry AtHoc.

Social Media

In this day and age, social media is a huge part of any large-scale event, whether it’s good or bad. Through social media, you have the potential to disseminate a message to large crowds of people that may not see it otherwise. Just make sure that your message is succinct, consistent, and actionable.

In-Action Example: Create a hashtag and have high-profile personnel disseminate it in order to get users to see it. The hashtag may be used to send out updates or instructions to large groups of people, for example, “#GameDayPhilly2018 Electricity is temporarily out but will return within 20 minutes, please remain calm.”

Inter-Agency Coordination and Segmentation

Crowds can be extremely fluid, so you’ll need targeted communications. Take a look at your existing crisis communication plan. Does it allow for the segmentation of different groups? Your communication to the public at large will be different than your communication to a specific group of volunteers, or to emergency healthcare responders. You need to be able to designate messages that get sent out to police, security contractors, volunteers, first responders, EMS, and event staff.

In-Action Example: Using your mobile phone, you can send a message to an internal group of ticket collector volunteers, rather than searching for contact information and emailing them one-by-one. With systems like AtHoc Alert, you’re also able to determine who has received your message and whether they’re carrying out the task you requested.

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