Losing sight of people in a crowd can spell disaster

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Washington, July 11 (ANI): A major series of reports into crowd behaviour and management has determined that losing sight of people in a crowd because of a more focused approach on technology can spell disaster.

Compiled for the Cabinet Office by researchers from two centres within Leeds University Business School (COSLAC and CSTSD), the reports claim that over-reliance on technical and IT solutions means we fail to learn the lessons from past disasters.

The 'Understanding Crowd Behaviours' reports are the first to bring together sociological and psychological research on events and crowd behaviour.

The findings will be of use to all those managing events involving large numbers of people and are particularly timely in the run up to 2012.

The researchers cite the recent debacle at the opening of Heathrow Airport's Terminal Five as a prime example of a situation where faith in the power of new software and other technology meant that the importance of people, in this case, training and familiarisation in the new building and systems and involving those on the front line in decision making, was overlooked.

According to Rose Challenger, researcher in Organisational Psychology, and colleagues Professor Chris Clegg and Mark Robinson, an approach which treats technical and sociological/ psychological considerations in parallel, known in organisational psychology as a 'systems approach', is the best preparation for a crowd event.

It would also, they believe, help us learn lessons from previous mistakes.

"A systems approach is widely seen as best practice in organisational management, particularly in managing change - and is clearly applicable in crowd and event management as well," said Challenger, who led the research.

"Technical solutions will give you the engineering calculations to determine the ideal width of exits, but you need to tie that in with understanding how people will behave and use those exits in given situations and how you will communicate with people in an emergency to ensure best use of them," she added.

"Believing new technology can be the answer to all problems means we are more likely to overlook basic lessons from past events," she explained.

In the reports, the team highlights gaps in knowledge and areas where further research is needed, including more detailed analysis of the different types of crowd and their behaviour and better simulation models which take the complexity of behaviour into account.

Also identified is a need for more sophisticated risk assessment tools, which can ensure a full range of 'what if' scenarios are taken into account. (ANI)

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