Crowd surges at Houston, Texas, Travis Scott concert cast a spotlight on crowd management. Ten people died and over 300 suffered injuries as the crowd surged during the rap performance.
Though the tragedy took place at a music festival that about 50,000 people attended, it serves as a reminder of what can happen in any emergency where crowds of people press to reach a specific area. Whether you’re evacuating employees after a chemical spill, setting up a perimeter after a manufacturing plant catches fire, or managing an emergency response, you must be prepared to safely control the crowd and prevent crowd crushes.
Every industrial facility needs a crowd management plan before one is needed. Fortunately, NFPA 101 Life Safety Code can direct the specifics of a crowd management plan for your facility, whether it involves 50 or 500+ employees.
What is Crowd Control?
Know the definition of crowd control before developing a crowd control plan.
Crowd control involves managing people in a way that keeps them safer, away from specific activities, equipment, and better organized. It can vary in application. It helps evacuate a building safely, keep people away from specific manufacturing equipment or ensure orderly operations. Overall, crowd control keeps things from getting dangerous, costly or disorderly.
Why is Crowd Control Needed?
Crowd control is important for many reasons. But the primary reason is to keep people safe and to move them where they need to go without bodily harm to themselves and others.
You also may need to set up crowd control measures to secure the perimeter of your facility during an emergency. This allows you to keep employees a safe distance away and onlookers out as emergency operations take place.
In a serious emergency where an evacuation is necessary, crowd control measures keep order in the chaos. Everyone knows where to go and what to do to evacuate the facility in an orderly fashion. Better organization during an evacuation prevents injury as people leave and ensures emergency personnel can access the injured and the fire or hazmat incident itself.
Strategies for Crowd Management
Provisions already exist to ensure the safe and orderly movement of people during an emergency. But when facilities overlook these safety protocols, it can have a tragic impact on egress efficiency during fires or other related emergencies. The NFPA 101 Life Safety Code puts a focus on strategies for crowd control that every industrial facility should pay attention to.
Every facility can accommodate a specific number of people entering and exiting. Occupant load is determined using factors based on how the space is used or is determined using the maximum probable population of the space under consideration—whichever is greater. In areas of assembly occupancies over 10,000 square feet, the occupant load cannot exceed a density of one person every 7 square feet. This occupancy load requirement prevents overcrowding. In an emergency where overcrowding exists, walking gets slowed to a shuffle and can cause jam that prevents exit.
Life Safety Evaluations
NFPA 101 Life Safety Code requires Life Safety Evaluations or LSEs when occupancy exceeds 6,000. The LSE recognizes that fixed protection and suppression systems alone do not ensure safe egress when large numbers of people are present. The evaluation examines expected crowd behavior and techniques to manage behavior problems.
An LSE assesses the following conditions and safety measures:
- Nature of the events and the participants/attendees
- Access and egress movement, including crowd density problems
- Medical emergencies
- Fire hazards
- Permanent and temporary structural systems
- Severe weather
- Civil or other disturbances
- Hazardous material incidents within or near the facility
- Relationships between facility management, event attendees, emergency response agencies, and others
All locations must have a main entrance or exit. This concept accommodates occupants who are likely to egress the facility through the same doors/opening they used to enter it and is most familiar to them. In some types of new assembly occupancies, the main entrance must accommodate up to two-thirds of the total egress capacity while in other assembly occupancies it can account for 50%. In assemblies where there is no defined main entrance/exit, exits may be around the perimeter of the building, provided that the total exit width is not less than 100% of the width needed to accommodate the permitted occupant load.
Auditorium and Arena Floors
The code also requires facility managers to consider auditorium and arena floors when they use those areas for assembly occupancy activities and events. No less than 50% of the occupant load can have means of egress provided without passing through adjacent fixed seating areas.
Emergency Action Plans (EAP)
Emergency Action Plans must be provided in assembly occupancies and are a critical component of assuring life safety in buildings. These plans must include at least a minimum of 18 items, including:
- Building details
- Designated building staff responsible for emergency duties
- Identification of events that are considered life safety hazards and the specific procedures to follow for each
- Staff training
- Inspection, testing, and maintenance of building facilities that provide for the safety of occupants
- Conducting drills
- Evacuation procedures
NFPA 101 Life Safety Code also requires crowd managers for assembly occupancies. When the occupant load exceeds 250, facilities must provide additional trained crowd managers or crowd manager supervisors at a ratio of one crowd manager or crowd manager supervisor for every 250 occupants in most facilities.
As the tragedy at the Houston concert shows, crowd control is a critical aspect of life safety for any large occupancy venue, including industrial plants and manufacturing facilities. Facility owners and personnel, as well as inspectors and local authorities, play a vital role in ensuring a safe environment for occupants.