Based on the fact that up to 80% of UK adults now own a smartphone, you can be sure that at most events, such as concerts, sporting fixtures, festivals, corporate gatherings and theme parks, that there will be a proportionately high number of internet enabled devices.
Our smartphones are now being used for documenting our entire lives – where we are going, what we are doing, and what is going on around us. This information is regularly posted on social media sites such on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Linkedin and Twitter through updates, picture and video posts. These updates contain a wealth of information that event organisers can use to assist with crowd management.
Social media can give invaluable real time insights into what is actually happening (factual) and what people think may be happening (opinions) on a mass scale.
It is important for event organisers to differentiate between factual information, such as pictures and videos, or opinions without evidence, such as worded status updates. Event organisers should look to leverage this information to the best of their ability to help minimise risk.
Large crowds in small spaces are a recipe for disaster and a robust social media monitoring programme prior to an event (where crowds are not predetermined by ticket sales) is a modern essential tool for event organisers who endeavour to ensure the correct staffing levels across a multitude of areas including security and stewarding, medical staff and fire marshalls. Inadequately staffed events are not only dangerous but may also be in breach of safety legislation in your jurisdiction. Staffing levels should form a fundamental part of any robust risk assessment process.
Due to the real time nature of social media updates, this is often the first place content is posted about a major incident. For example, news first broke of the Hudson River plane crash in 2011 via a tweet. This readily available stream of information can be utilised to assess the mood and behaviour of a crowd, a well-known influencer of crowd safety, which can be essential in the assistance of monitoring and dynamic assessment.
Social media can also give event organisers the ability to flip the informational flow and communicate en mass to crowds, via social tools such as Twitter or Facebook or through the official site associated with the event. Being able to create and deliver content instantaneously to people’s phones can revolutionise the way crowds are managed and controlled.
A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Warwick suggests that we can track crowd size by utilising the geolocational data from users smartphones at large events. Users were tracked in two separate locations using tweets from known visitors and mobile phone usage. These figures rose with very close correlation to visitor numbers.
Whilst this data will never be exact, there is a definite correlation. This information is dependent on the amount of internet enabled devices in the area and the amount of use, which both are ever increasing. With this increase will come improved accuracy and this may be a legitimate tool to use in the future of crowd safety.
With such reliance on technology, we must also consider the cyber security of such sites, as any hacking could prove fatal in terms of safety, security and commercial.