Crowd Management Done Right

Crowd management is a profession apart. In this episode, Kevin talks with Paul Foster, on how to better plan crowd flows.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Crowd management is a profession apart. In this episode, I talk with Paul Foster, on how to better plan crowd flows.


Hi Paul, welcome, virtually, in our studio.


Thank you very much, great to join you.


We're going to talk today about crowd control, crowd management. And how to do so. How to plan for it.

If we're talking about that subject, where do we start?


Yes, it's an important subject and there's been a lot of recent examples, of where crowd planning has not gone well.

And it can be very public, if things don't go well. With the age of Twitter, Facebook, if someone's having a bad experience at an event, well, they can tell the whole world about it pretty quickly.

So, it's becoming more and more important.

But in terms of crowd management, we always try and look at it, in terms of four corners of the triangle, which is: security, safety and experience,

Obviously, the security element is very important these days, with all the risks and issues and the way the world, it is working at the moment.

And safety: are people safe in those spaces? Is there enough space for them? Do they feel comfortable within those, you know, where there moving to and from a venue and within a venue.

And then finally: experience. People pay a significant amount of money to go to many events. Many festivals. Many sports events. And their expectations now are higher than ever before.

We're all competing with different types of events and new events, coming online.

So, it's very important for people to have a good experience.


That's interesting, Paul. Because a lot of festival organizers and concert planners and other event planners, mainly look at it from a point of perspective, meaning the security and the safety of people.

But you add experience to that and I think that's a very interesting twist to the whole story.


Yes, and I think it should give equal weighting, because at the end of the day, if people don't have a good experience, they vote with their feet and they will go and have another experience and go enjoy another sport.

And we know now that people's, kind of, concentration span and interest is shorter than ever before. And they've got so much more choice. You can watch multiple different sports live. You can watch in multiple different formats. And there's more festivals available for you to go and see, across Europe, than probably ever before.

So, there's lots of choice. So, we're in a very competitive world. Experience is very important.


Okay, you have the three angles to look at. But then, you eventually need to start planning and see how all that fits together.

How do you do that?


Yes, there's quite a few different models out there, which are available.

The UK is probably seen as fairly advanced in crowd management planning. The reason behind that is because we used to be pretty bad and we had some major incidents back in the eighties and early nineties.

But most of the models that you'll see, coming out of Australia, the USA, Europe and the UK are very similar. And they'll focus on three particular elements and that is: time, space and information.

So how does time effect your event? What time does it start? How long is it?

And then space. And that very much looks at two different elements and that's your capacity, so how much space do you have, and your demand, how many people are you going to put into that space?

And then finally: information. So, you're looking at things like signage, maps, social media, news reports and what communications you have with people, throughout their journey, to and from a venue and also within the venue, as well.

So, time, space and information.


And then you start planning that, to see where the bottlenecks are? Or how do you proceed?


Yes, so, we always encourage people to, kind of, follow the visitor or spectator journey. So, see things from your customer. And not just the point that they come and see your venue or come into your festival site and have a great experience.

Actually, what's their whole, kind of, journey. From the moment they're, kind of, buying a ticket, to the moment they're coming through a transport hub, or parking their car.

What's their whole experience? All the way through to scanning their tickets. Maybe getting security checks, into the venue and in the return.

Because if any point of that service falls down, then it's a bad experience. They will have a bad experience at that event.

They don't generally, kind of, are able to distinguish who's delivering what where. They're like: I've had a bad experience at that event.

And in many cases, if you're an event-owner or event-planner, not all of that journey may be your responsibility. You might be relying on other partners, to deliver that for you.

Particularly, if people are arriving on public transport, for example. You have large car parks where people are managing that for you. And you need to make sure, that they all work seamlessly together.


Bringing that all into a clear picture. You already mentioned there are models for that, you can use.

But then, it comes to using proper software, I assume.


Yes, I mean, a good crowd management plan is...

You know, you can have very, very detailed ones. And, you know, I've been involved in writing very detailed ones for Olympic Games.

One of the important things, about these crowd management plans, is, actually, people on the ground, have to deliver that for you. So, you can have the best plan in the world, but, actually, it comes down to: how do you then translate that, into the stewards, the volunteers and the workforce on the ground. Delivering that for you.

And have you got the right messages to the public, as well. In terms of how you want to influence their movement and behaviour. And you're right, there are numerous kinds of technologies, which can support that.


Now, you raise two very important questions.

How do you make sure people on the ground do exactly what you want to do? And how do you message the crowd itself?

Yes Paul, how do you do that?


Yes, yes, so with the team on the ground, I think it's always important to establish: who is going to be your workforce? So, are you utilizing volunteers? In some countries, volunteers are well-utilized. But in others, it's not such a cultural norm.

There's many differences. You may be going out to a stewarding contractor. To engage with to provide that. Or you may be doing it in-house.

You need to establish what's your delivery model, very, very early on.

And then a lot of it comes down to the trainings. The training you're giving, is it easy to understand for the stewards?

And what we found at a lot of places, is, particularly where it's, kind of, contracted out, that the workforce may not feel an ownership of the event. They may not feel so engaged by the event.

So, it's very important how you look after that staff. Get hem really engaged. And get them to, kind of, buy into what you are trying to do.

And there's nothing better than doing, kind of, real-time exercises. So, actually get people who are stewards, to, kind of, experience the crowd. Get familiar with their surroundings. And get them really, really engaged with your customers.

And it's different types of people, in different kinds of locations.

Obviously, if it's a security screening, you have a very strong kind of security presence.

But much of people movement is about feeling. Is about experience. Is about atmosphere. And you can create that by engaging with that spectator.

It doesn't necessarily have to be a firm, hard kind of security presence. It can be more engaging. And I think probably London 2012 was a good example. Where the games makers were, you know, very well thought of. And most of those were volunteers. They were people who were very engaging. They knew their city very well. They knew the sports very well. And they really wanted to engage with people.

And what we always try and say: there's two sides to, kind of, crowd flows. There’s crowd management and crowd control.

Crowd control is much more about forcing people to do certain things. And that's generally because crowd management hasn't worked.

And crowd management is about the interactions with people and the engagement with people. And more about, kind of, encouragement.

So, if you can increase your crowd management, there's probably less need for the crowd control side.


Do I need to think then, about, for example: if you know there will be queuing at a certain point, okay, put a nice music band or something next to them, so they feel more entertained while waiting?

Is it stuff like that?


Yes, definitely.

So, as I mentioned, kind of, how people feel in a crowd is particularly important. And a queue is a classic one. If you're needing people to queue in a location, don't fill a whole, kind of, area, wall-to-wall with people. Or they will feel very enclosed, feel like there's nowhere to escape. Maybe bring a barrier line closer in, so there's spaces either side of the queue.

And entertainment. We generally say: if you provide entertainment to the queue, people will be happy to wait, maybe 15 minutes longer. Because they will feel less anxious. They will feel in a good mood. They will feel, kind of, engaged.

And probably the next element I would say, is: if you are creating a queue system, try and do it in a way that people can see what's happening. They can see at which point they're going to enter, you know, the train station. Or at which point they're going to enter the venue. Let them see what's happening. If people can see what's happening, again, they're less likely to get anxious about waiting in a long queue. Because they can, kind of, in their mind, think about: well, actually, in five minutes I might be here. In a few minutes time, I'll be there. I can, kind of, appreciate what's going on.

So, don't underestimate the kind of feeling and the demure of the crowd plays an important part.


Yes, you showed me before that you are working on a very interesting software solution. To do all this kind of stuff. To predict and make great plans of events.

Can you already share something about that?


Yes, I've worked on, you know, many live events and Olympic Games, which have very big budgets, to be able to do lots of compact planning and modelling.

But we're very keen, with One Plan, to look at, maybe some solutions that could be used for people, who plan much smaller events and medium-size events.

So, what it does: a lot of automated tools, that will help you predict how long queues will be. How long it will take to evacuate people from a particular venue.

And it's all based on a mapping system, so you can do your whole event site plan in one system. You can share it with your stakeholders and partners, kind of online. So, people aren't working off multiple plans. It basically brings together the whole event planning process. And it supports that with a number of modelling tools. To be able, for, you know, individuals, for event agencies and owners, to plan their events more safely.

So, yes, we're really excited about launching it.


Okay Paul, we're looking forward to that. Thank you for your time and being here in the studio.


Thanks very much, yes. Great to join you.