Friday, July 1, 2011

10 Tips for Dealing With Crowds

I have spent the last couple of weeks wading through tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas.  Not only are they a large, undulating mass at the Rio Convention Center where the World Series of Poker is being held, but all of the tourist areas of the city are covered with...well...tourists.  And lots of them.  Here's ten tips for dealing with large crowds:
  1. Assess the crowd.  You want to quickly assess the mood and the purpose of the crowd you are dealing with.  In the case of the poker tournament, you have ten thousand people who are focused on poker.  They aren't drunk, they aren't belligerent, but they are putting many thousands of dollars into a game they seriously want to win and are focusing on.  In a word, this crowd is probably at the low end of the threat level.  On the other end of the spectrum is a large crowd at a political event, a sporting event, or other emotionally charged event where they can, and most often do, pose a threat to others in the crowd.  This is a crowd you want to stay away from.
  2. Find the exits.  Right after figuring out what kind of crowd I am dealing with, I look for the exits.  Even in the most nonthreatening of crowds, an emergency can happen where you may want to exit the situation quickly.  Knowing where the exits are ahead of time will save you precious minutes and aid in your escape.
  3. Stay on the outskirts of the crowd.  Again, a crowd can initially pose very little threat, but things can change fast.  Being in the middle of a crush of people is the last place you want to be.  By staying on the edge of the crowd you have more options for protecting your safety (ie: being able to exit quickly, or just being able to avoid being crushed by a surging crowd).
  4. Observe physical barriers that could impede your safety.  Surging crowds are dangerous for many reasons, one of the most common ways to be injured or killed in a crowd is being unable to protect yourself due to physical barriers that prevent you from exiting the fray in a hurry.  Doors that are barred can keep you from escaping a fire, for example, and barricades are a crush hazard should the crowd all start surging in the same direction.  People can also become trampled by a crowd due to their own physical barriers--they are smaller, slower, and weaker than others in the area and can fall causing them to be trampled over by the crowd.
  5. A stampeding crowd is one of your biggest threats in a crowd situation.  Again, barring a major incident (shooting, earthquake) the crowd at the poker tournament isn't going anywhere as they are all seated and concentrating on the game.  In the case of sold out concerts, crazy Black Friday sales at Walmart, and contentious World Cup soccer games, however, stampedes can happen at the drop of a hat and you don't want to find yourself in the middle of this type of situation. 
  6. Keep an eye on the crowd.  Even though you can't see everything that is happening, you can usually tell if there are problems in the crowd by the overall pattern of the crowd's movement.  When there is a threat or a disruptive event, you will see the crowd either circling around the action and/or fleeing the threat.  This should be your cue to move away from the disruptive event as quickly as possible.
  7. Check out security that is in place to control the crowd.  At large, planned events, there is generally a lot of security that you see and a lot of security you don't see; this is a good thing.  On the other hand, poorly planned events, quickly gathering mobs, and events that get out of hand either size-wise or violence-wise, are a bad place to be and I suggest leaving as quickly as possible. 
  8. Run through some scenarios of how you would protect yourself if all Hell breaks lose.  As you are enjoying the event you are attending, take a minute to consider what you would do RIGHT NOW if the crowd decides to suddenly become a threat.  How would you escape?  What barriers could you use to protect yourself?  What barriers would impeded your escape?  From what direction might a threat come?  What is the most logical type of threat you may encounter in this particular situation?  You don't need to do a thorough analysis but stopping every once in a while to consider these things is a good way to raise your safety awareness level.
  9. Don't add to the problems that could arise in a crowd situation.  The way you act in a crowd may need to be much different than how you would act in any other situation.  In a crowd you want to be as non-threatening and as quick to diffuse a situation as possible.  A crowd situation it is not the place to become belligerent or rowdy, engage in a fight due to a perceived slight by someone in the crowd, or pull a weapon for either threat or self defense purposes.  It only takes one person to cause a melee to break out and you don't want to be this person.
  10. As a final option, you can choose not to deal with crowds.  This is usually my default as I am not a fan of crowds to begin with and find that being hyper alert in such situations generally takes the fun out of whatever I happen to be there for.  My general thoughts when viewing a large crowd is first, what a good place to let loose a chemical/biological agent, second, how quickly could this crowd situation devolve into a chaotic mess, and third, if I have to pull my firearm for self defense, how many people could I hit (answer, too many, which is why the use of a firearm in a crowd is a critically bad idea).
Sometimes you just can't avoid crowds but with a bit of planning and awareness, you can at least have a better than average chance of protecting yourself in such a situation.

1 comment:

  1. I would add to the list that to avoid crowds when the weather is bad. The primitive in us strikes out more readily. I've got a bad eye to prove it. I now never attend events when it's muddy, raining and crappy.