Íse Murphy

So, What is Crowd Safety?

People don't ask me this as bluntly as the title suggests, but in general I get a blank look when I tell people I work in "crowd safety". I ask them if they have ever attended an event and arrived safely, were gently guided into the venue, found their seat/place with ease, watched the show and then gently guided out of the venue back to their mode of transport, barely noticing their journey as they were enthralled in a conversation with friends? That's crowd safety, I declare. If we're doing it right, you don't notice we're there.

Crowd Safety takes into account the safe movement of crowds from the moment they arrive on site, to the moment they head off home. Crowd Safety encompasses  not only the stewards in hi-viz, but communications, live information on social media, tickets, train schedule that day, political environment, audience profile, location of the venue, arrival time, search policy, site/venue design, layout of the stage, security measures, seating capacity, sale of alcohol, genres of the line-up and dare I say it, the number and location of toilets!


Crowd Safety as a concept has evolved rapidly over the years and is becoming a subject matter in of itself. There are different terms used to describe this work including; crowd science, crowd management, crowd control as well as crowd safety. So let us start at the very beginning, as it's a very good place to start, I will offer definitions of these terms.

But first, what is a Crowd?

A crowd can be defined as a large gathering of diverse people in the same physical location, at the same time, not necessarily sharing the same goal or interest (Wijermans, 2011).

In addition..

people in a crowd can shift from individual separation to sharing a common social identity, where their behaviour shifts, becoming a “psychological crowd” (Neville et al, 2020).

Crowd Science:

"..study of the effect of density, dynamics and behaviour on a crowd and crowd safety" (Still, 2020)

Crowd Management:

“the systematic planning for, and supervision of, the orderly movement and assembly of people” (Fruin, 1993)

Crowd Control:

“The restriction or limitation of group behaviour” (Fruin, 1993)

What is Crowd Safety?

There are a number of academic disciplines that study crowds and each have their own definition to consider. The study of crowds considers both the dynamics of how crowds move in spacetime in the form of simulations and models (Zeng et al, 2010; Fruin, 2002; Narain et al, 2009; Yogameena and Nagananthini, 2017) and the psychology of crowd behaviour, how they respond to each other and their environment (Reicher et al, 2004; Filingeri et al, 2017; Templeton et al, 2015; Drury, 2015; Kok et al, 2017). New perceptions of crowd behaviour are being formed with increasing evidence regarding the social identity of crowds. Instead of being disorganised and irrational; a phenomenon to be feared, crowds instead can be organised, calm, resilient, and helpful to each other; even acting as “zero-responders” during major incidents (Cocking et al, 2010; Reicher et al, 2004).

In the industry, crowd management and crowd control are two distinct, yet interrelated subjects (Abbott and Geddie, 2000). Crowd control is reactive, where crowd management is proactive, where most issues regarding crowds can be quickly resolved or prevented with effective preparation in management (Berlonghi, 1995). The evolution in the perception of crowds has changed how we approach crowd safety.

Evolution of crowd safety

Crowds occur frequently in our modern world, usually without serious issues (Fruin, 2002). However, their potential is lethal (Fruin, 1993) and they are also where we are at our most vulnerable to attack and emergency (Aradau, 2015). The study of crowds is a relatively young subject area (Abbott and Geddie, 2000) and has developed over time through disciplines including biology, physics, civil engineering and sociology among others (Kok et al, 2017). The study of crowd science first originated in the 19th century in response to urbanisation and unrest (Nye, 1974) to understand the relationship between the psychological crowd and protest (Huang et al, 2017). Crowd psychology developed from mass society theory which stemmed from the fear that crowds are the masses in action; a threat to order (Reicher, 2017). Le Bon (1895/1947) was credited with providing the narrative of how, up until recently, crowds were perceived; that members of a crowd lose individual control and rationality, become primitive, mindless and aggressive.

Perception has since shifted.

As reflected in crowd disaster reports and in guidance produced in the UK, the main approach to crowds was through the use of crowd control, rather than proactive management (Stott et al, 2008). Only thirty years ago, crowds were seen as a threat, rather than be the subject of protection themselves (Elliott and Smith, 1993). Police training for managing crowds were based on Le Bon’s theories (Hoggett and Stott, 2010) which only exasperated disorder in crowd situations (Stott et al, 2008). An example includes the police response to the Hillsborough Disaster, where officers misinterpreted crowd unrest as a sign of disorder rather than realising the crowd were in danger and being asphyxiated (Hillsborough Independent Panel, 2012).

In the early nineties, the issue of safely managing crowds began to take precedent over the issue of hooliganism (Elliott and Smith, 1993). The timing of this correlated with the Hillsborough Disaster which saw a shift from seeing the crowd as the cause of the disaster to “failing in management” being the cause (Darby et al, 2004). Evidence of this was seen socially in the local and supporter boycott of The Sun for portraying the crowd as a dangerous phenomenon “hooligans”(Canning, 2018), who broke into the stadium and caused the disaster (Jemphrey and Berrington, 2000). The narrative about the fans changed from ‘hooligan’ to ‘victim’ (Williams and Vannucci, 2019). Since this disaster, it appears the events industry has reflected this shift from crowd control to the safe planning and management of crowds (Aradua, 2015).

Crowd Safety is being recognised as a rapidly growing research area (Still et al, 2020), where conventional risk assessments are unable to predict human behaviour (Upton, 2004), and can bias towards overestimating risk (Still, 2019). Crowd Safety involves conducting crowd risk analysis in the design, planning, licensing and delivery of a project or event. Academics and teachers in the industry have designed models such as Still (2014) DIM-ICE (Design, Information Management - Ingress, Circulation, Egress) and RAMP (Routes Area Movement Profile) Analysis and Fruin (1993) FIST (Force, Information, Space, Time) Analysis. There are now education opportunities available with qualifications on level 5, 6 and 7 on the Regulated Framework of Qualifications (RFQ).

Improving Crowd Safety

When the Wheatley Report (1972) was produced after the Ibrox Disaster, Prime Minister Edward Heath was quoted “we cannot afford another disaster, crowd safety ought to be covered by law”. Fruin (1993) recommended that events or venues over 500 capacity have a Crowd Manager on their staff by law. Berlonghi (1995) called for more competence in the profession of crowd management. To date there is no law requiring a Crowd Manager to be on site for any outdoor event, nor does the event manager need to hold any safety qualification to organise an event for any capacity venue or space.

This very observation became the focus of my masters dissertation as I researched the impact of legislation and competency on crowd safety. The following articles over the coming months will delve into the causes of crowd disasters, the evolution of legislation in crowd safety and discuss competency regarding the event approval process. Through understanding the history and evolution of aspects that mould crowd safety to what it is today allows us to reflect, learn and improve and hopefully prevent another crowd disaster.


Abbott, J. L. and Geddie, M. W. (2000) ‘Event and Venue Management: Minimizing Liability Through Effective Crowd Management Techniques’. Event Management, 6, September, pp. 259–270.

Aradau, C. (2015) ‘“Crowded Places Are Everywhere We Go”: Crowds, Emergency, Politics’. Adey, P., Anderson, B., and Graham, S. (eds) Theory, Culture & Society, 32(2) pp. 155–175.

Berlonghi, A. E. (1995) ‘Understanding and planning for different spectator crowds’. Safety Science, February, pp. 239–247.

Canning, P. (2018) “‘No ordinary crowd’: Foregrounding a ‘hooligan schema’ in the construction of witness narratives following the Hillsborough football stadium disaster.” Discourse & Society, 29(3) pp. 237–255.

Cocking, C., Drury, J. and Reicher, S. (2010) ‘Everyone for themselves? A comparative study of crowd solidarity among emergency survivors’. British Journal of Social Psychology, 48(3) pp. 487–506.

Darby, P., Johnes, M. and Mellor, G. (2004) “Football Disasters: A Conceptual Frame.” Soccer & Society, 5(2) pp. 125–133.

Drury, J., Novelli, D. and Stott, C. (2015) ‘Managing to avert disaster: explaining collective resilience at an outdoor music event’. European Journal of Social Psychology, December, pp. 1–44.

Elliott, D. and Smith, D. (1993) ‘Football stadia disasters in the United Kingdom: learning from tragedy?’. Industrial Environmental Crisis Quarterly, 7, October, pp. 1–25.

Filingeri, V., Eason, K., Waterson, P. and Haslam, R. (2017) ‘Factors influencing experience in crowds - The participant perspective’. Applied Ergonomics. Elsevier Ltd, 59(Part A) pp. 431–441.

Fruin, J. J. (1993) “The Causes and Prevention of Crowd Disasters.” Engineering for Crowd Safety. (Elsevier), pp. 99–108.

Hillsborough Independent Panel (2012) Hillsborough. House of Commons, pp. 1–389.

Hoggett, J. and Stott, C. (2010) ‘Crowd psychology, public order police training and the policing of football crowds’. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 33(2) pp. 218–235.

Huang, W., Fan, H. and Zipf, A. (2017) “Towards Detecting the Crowd Involved in Social Events.” ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information, 6(10) p. 305.

Jemphrey, A. and Berrington, E. (2010) “Surviving the Media: Hillsborough, Dunblane and the press.” Journalism Studies, 1(3) pp. 469–483.

Kok, V. J., Lim, M. K. and Chan, C. S. (2017) ‘Crowd behavior analysis_ A review where physics meets biology’. Neurocomputing. Elsevier B.V., 177, March, pp. 1–21.

Le Bon, G. (1895/1947). The crowd: A study of the popular mind. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Narain, R., Golas, A., Curtis, S. and Lin, M. C. (2009) ‘Aggregate Dynamics for Dense Crowd Simulation’. ACM Transactions on Graphics, 25(5) pp. 1–8.

Neville, F. G., Novelli, D., Drury, J. and Reicher, S. D. (2020) “Shared social identity transforms social relations in imaginary crowds.” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. (Sage) pp. 1–16.

Nye, R. A. (1974) Origins of Crowd Psychology: Gustave LeBon and the Crisis of Mass Democracy in the Third Republic. London: SAGE.

Reicher, S., Stott, C., Cronin, P. and Adang, O. (2004) ‘An integrated approach to crowd psychology and public order policing’. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 27(4) pp. 558–572.

Still, G.K. (2014) Introduction to Crowd Science, London: CRC Press.

Still, G.K. (2019)’Crowd science and crowd counting’, Impact, Vol. 2019 No. 1, pp. 19-23.

Still, K., Papalexi, M., Fan, Y. and Bamford, D. (2020) “Place crowd safety, crowd science? Case studies and application.” Journal of Place Management and Development.

Stott, C., Adang, O., Livingstone, A. and Schreiber, M. (2008) “TACKLING FOOTBALL HOOLIGANISM: A Quantitative Study of Public Order, Policing and Crowd Psychology.” Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 14(2) pp. 115–141.

Templeton, A., Drury, J. and Philippides, A. (2015) ‘From Mindless Masses to Small Groups: Conceptualizing Collective Behavior in Crowd Modeling’. Review of General Psychology, 19(3) pp. 215–229.

Upton, M. (2004),“Risk analysis for major concert events, the benefits of hindsight”, Cabinet Office Seminar on Safety at Mass Crowd Events (January 2004).

Wheatley (Lord) (1972). Report of the Inquiry into Crowd Safety at Sports Grounds. London: HMSO.

Wijermans, F. E. H. (2011) Understanding crowd behaviour: simulating situated individuals. PhD, University of Groningen: SOM research school.

Williams, J. and Vannucci, N. (2019) “English hooligans and Italian ultras sport, culture and national policy narratives.” International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 12(1) pp. 1–17.

Yogameena, B. and Nagananthini, C. (2017) ‘Computer vision based crowd disaster avoidance system_ A survey’. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. Elsevier Ltd, 22, June, pp. 95–129.

Zheng, X., Sun, J. and Zhong, T. (2010) ‘Study on mechanics of crowd jam based on the cusp-catastrophe model’. Safety Science. Elsevier Ltd, 48(10) pp. 1236–1241.

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