By mackskyhelen, Feb 1 2016 09:30AM
Various public domain events have come under severe criticism in the last 12 months for safety issues due to overcrowding. Most recently, Lumiere in London where Kings Cross Station and surrounding area had to be evacuated due to the hundreds of thousands of people who came to the event. This is the latest in a series of events that is starting to show a worrying trend in public expectations. For most, they are being managed by competent and experienced people; for some, they simply didn’t think it would be a problem.
So there are two issues here; firstly, public expectations are changing and the requirements for quality, safety resources and provision, and ease of access are increasing. Safety is of course paramount but event organisers are challenged by public behavior and ever decreasing resources. For free events, there is no need to register in advance so it is incredibly difficult to know how many are coming and the subsequent pressure on travel networks and parking. People expect to be able to get in to the event site as easily as normal operations, despite the amount of advance information and signage or additional services, and therefore arrive (eventually) where they want to be and they are stressed, frazzled and angry. This then creates a more aggressive and stressed feel within the audience and behavior becomes again more challenging. The difficult thing is that you could of course have more security to manage crowds and behavior but what if fewer people come and then it all seems very heavy handed. With high numbers of attendees to a public domain site (which is rarely designed to accommodate that number), who are all potentially frustrated and stressed, being pushed and jostled around the space, we have a recipe for injury, potential crowd surge and crush.
So, we can put in place heaps of plans to manage crowds and safety but with the kind of response that we are now seeing, this isn’t enough. At what point is a city centre ‘full’? And who decides that? And how could we control it? We had exactly this conversation with the Police for City of Lights and there was a general consensus of ‘nobody knows’. The backlash tends to be directed at the organisers – what fools for creating an event that everyone wants to go to! They should have put in more safety provision, more stewards, more signage, more Police! They must be incompetent! I would argue not necessarily as there is a limit to what we can do in terms of the geography of the location, the funds and resources available, and the approach of the people and authorities involved. There is always context.
Not much hope if there is an injury or worse, a fatality, at an event like this and the event organizer is the one who would be prosecuted, not the crowds, nor the Council. With changing attitudes in the general public, how can we enable the public to take responsibility for themselves? At City of Lights, we did this with advance flyers, audience information on the website, increased resourcing for security, increased volunteer steward cohort, and lots of other small tweaks, but it’s not the same for every event and we had to fight our way through a lot of regulatory barriers to get there.
Public domain events are at an interesting crossroads. We need to adapt to this changing groundswell of public opinion and criticism, and we need to evolve our business models to accommodate the additional requirements. Maybe austerity has caused this public shift, maybe it’s the commercialisation of our society, maybe no-one takes responsibility any more….
Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky