Even though the science underpinning event management is developing rapidly, there is still a lack of consistency around protocols and tools used in Australia to maintain safety at events.
A large amount of research has been undertaken into crowd safety and audience behavior at events – particularly outdoor music festivals.
While the authors do not wish to comment on the Falls Festival event, there is a swathe of current event management research and event safety protocols.
They are well established, developed and sophisticated to ensure that the scheduling of the breaks between performers are sufficient for patrons to move around a venue safely.
There is clear data about the nature and spacing of access and egress pathways to and from stages.
Ensuring that these pathways are monitored by event management personnel, clear and free of obstructions and lit in such a way to facilitate smooth transitions for the audience between venues at a multi-stage/site music festival is a basic requirement.
Key public health risks at events that have been identified include the potential for delayed emergency response and wide-scale health effects which can occur because of access issues or environmental features.
Current event safety protocols are based on a risk assessment-risk management paradigm that is often part of the legislative environment of the city/state where the event is being staged.
Once the risk assessment has been completed and a risk management plan developed, event organisers and emergency services and other safety personnel remain on call until an incident occurs and are then tasked to respond.
Planning is undertaken prior to the event to mitigate potential risk identified in the planning process, but during the event the management of risk is reactive/responsive (that is, after the incident has occurred) rather than pre-emptive/proactive to reduce the potential for the risk to happen in the first place.
Existing evidence surrounding event management during the event is primarily anecdotal and any expertise developed in this area is passed on by word-of-mouth and often kept within the management of a single event by a single event manager.
Anecdotal evidence from experienced event managers and emergency service personnel supports the notion that event management is often intuitively done, but it is based on the personal long term and wide ranging experience of the decision maker at an event rather than a known approach that can be adopted by any event organiser regardless of their experience level.
If there is insufficient time between acts for the audience to get to the next stage or if exits are blocked by promotional booths as occurred in the tragedy that was the Love Parade event in Germany, then there are both audience behaviour and event site design factors in play that can quickly lead to highly dangerous situations
Crowd management has been a topic of academic conversation since Festinger (1952) used the words ‘mob-mentality’. This belief still prevails with the term crowd ‘control’ used. ‘Crowd’ itself has become a pejorative term.
Incidents such as these, however, are not ‘stampedes’ but moments of real panic and fighting for survival for those involved and deep-seated instinctive reactions from individuals and the group can be observed.
Some argue that a crowd behaves according to the set of norms and values presented to it, so when a situation of panic occurs, this feeling can quickly become contagious.
Identifying such behavior as a ‘stampede’ is not helpful as this denotes a predetermined action and reflects poorly on the individuals when in fact they are simply reacting to a situation that has been created by a range of factors outside of their control – factors that need to be proactively monitored and managed in real time by the event organisers regardless of the event safety assessments and pre-planning undertaken and standard protocols in place.
Until we understand that an audience-centric and a proactive, real-time positive intervention proactive approach to event safety is required, then it is likely that such incidents will continue to occur.
Associate Professor Alison Hutton and Adjunct Associate Professor Steve Brown are researchers at the Torrens Resilience Institute at Flinders University
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