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A number of incidents occur due to the lax crowd management systems in India and the unwillingness and inability of the authorities concerned to learn from similar incidents in the past.

Crowd Control in a Mega Event

What is to be done?

  • A systems approach has to be used to understand the situation. In this approach, lessons from one field are applied to others. Such an approach is usually both successful and productive.
  • Even a passing familiarity with networks, fluid mechanics and operations research       (queuing principles and assembly line balancing) can be of great help. Network and flow principles used to control floods and dam bursts, to manage traffic, to control water/sewage flow and the like are all equally applicable in crowd management and control.
  • For example, if in-flow exceeds outflow over a period of time, the volume of the material inside the system will continue to rise till it exceeds the designed capacity of the confined space at some point.
  • It will lead to either of the two-
  1. The flow channel will collapse under pressure.
  2. The space will become unfit for survival.
  • The result will be a disaster which could have been prevented by careful planning, monitoring and regulation.

Aspects of Crowd Management

  1. Planning– Spatial, temporal and event related dimensions have to be considered in the planning process. The space which is going to host the crowd has to be studied first. Additional planning is required if any sudden surge of activity is anticipated at any point of time. Besides, special attention has to be given if there is a specific event happening in that space-time context.
  • Sudden unforeseen emergencies (like a fire) can also trigger incidents like a stampede. Even when such incidents cannot be predicted, they should always be anticipated and prepared for
  • All these three dimensions of crowd management should be well understood by the administrators. Enlarging or creating extra space for the event, counters, extending the time for the event, planning for large crowds, and anticipating whether any particular event can trigger sudden or unusual movement are the possible solutions.
  • The confluence of event, space and time can then be either avoided by repeating the event at other locations, or by creating more regulated space.

2. Flow Regulation – During the confluence of event, space and time there may be a        sudden sharp peak of crowd. Regulating the rate at which the crowd builds up can be achieved through controlling crowd flow at the entry and exit points. If the flow is continuous, monitoring the flow and keeping a check on how it is being exceeded is difficult, a system can be created whereby people can be allowed in fixed batches. As balancing is important, every stage of flow should roughly take an equal amount of time to negotiate, or there will be queues building up at some stages, which will become bottlenecks.

3. While it is easier to manage steady instead of turbulent flows, human movements will naturally be turbulent. Making all movements unidirectional, segregating the flows in different directions can help ensure steady flows. Signage, announcements and volunteers should be available for assistance. Buffer zones to cater to additional flows are essential.

Decongestion is possible only if movement regulation starts from the peripheries. There is no point imposing order at the location itself, since managing huge masses of people within a limited space is difficult; spreading out to the peripheries is a better option.

4. Monitoring – systematic and meticulous monitoring is important even when the event is well planned. The feedback received through monitoring can help regulate the system.

If, at some point, outflow is not happening at the planned rate, the control room should find out the reason through a mechanism (like CCTV camera), and immediately take steps to decongest and restore the flow.

Those who are a part of the crowd will never be able to figure out the problem, only someone who is though outside the system but monitoring it closely, will be able to recognise this and act immediately.

  • All the above aspects of crowd management may require additional resources. But it is always better to spend more for prevention of mishaps than to spend in providing relief and rehabilitation.
  • The crowd should be well informed. Lack of information often confuses people, rumours and panic can lead to tragedies.
  • Children should be made aware of the benefits of standing in a line in a disciplined manner.
  • A contingency plan should be in place including evacuation and approach channels, first aid, ambulance, fire services, water supply and so on.

Crowd Control in Case of Protests

  • The brutal crowd-control tactics of the police have come under the spotlight during the recent clashes in Kashmir Valley.
  • A number of changes made in the Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) which included introduction of non-lethal pellets, after the violent protests of 2010, have come under the scanner.
  • Police forces around the world are trained to aim these pellets below the knees so that the resulting pain acts as a deterrent without maiming or causing life-inhibiting injuries.
  • But in reality, the police forces during the recent clashes, displayed a lack of both leadership as well as training.
  • In the heat of the moment, there was a clear lack of restraint on their part, evident in the numbers injured by the pellets.
  • It is their duty to ensure that the force they use is never disproportionately excessive to the cause of action.
  • Adoption of more humane measures for crowd control is the need of the hour.

Solutions

An expert committee under the chairmanship of T V S N Prasad was formed after the use of pellet guns left many injured during the Kashmir protests. It has given the following recommendations:

  • Various non-lethal techniques of crowd control are used across the world. Tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannons and lathi charge are some examples. Even stink bombs can be a good alternative.
  • The use of chilli- based ‘ Pelargonic Acid Vanillyl Amide ‘ or PAVA shells can help in controlling agitating people. They are a less lethal ammunition, which temporarily incapacitates and renders the target immobile for several minutes. They cause severe irritation and watering of eyes apart from a burning sensation on the skin. Its exposure to water causes greater irritation.
  • Tear gas shells should be made of plastic so that they melt on being fired and cannot be picked up by the protesters and thrown back at the forces.
  • Marker grenades emit an irritating gas apart from carrying a permanent paint that helps in identifying the protesters later.
  • Stun grenades emit a strong light, incapacitating crowds for some time.
  • Pellets from now on will not be made up of metal but of a softer material like polymer, soft plastic, rubber or even paper.
  • Pellets should be used in the rarest of rare cases.
  • The committee has also laid down SOPs for crowd control according to which the forces first have to make an announcement of the unlawful assembly, use persuasion to disperse the crowd, resort to lathi charge, and only then open fire with non lethal weapons.

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