Oh Canada: 150 hospitalized after Vancouver riots–Questions about Crowd Control

This morning the Star headline shouts – ‘Youth Day Mayhem’ – Poor Crowd Control almost leads to another tragedy’ whilst in Vancouver, Canada, 150 people are hospitalised after a crowd goes on the rampage after their team lost.

On one list, a member writes: ‘We’ve got more than our share of morons, it seems, including the noodle headed city officials who put up giant screens in the downtown area so that more than 100,000 people gathered on one street to watch the game.  What a surprise when some of those 100,000 decided to drown their sorrows in anarchy.  As a former police manager, and the survivor of two major hockey riots, all I can do is wonder at the daftness of the people who encouraged 100,000 fans to gather in one downtown area without adequate controls in place’

Crowd control is part of Emergency Response/Event planning and should have been anticipated.

In my work in Crisis Management when we do a plan and a simulation for a client, psychological factors are taken into account – such as trying to anticipate that people would want to go back into a building to get personal belongings, how people would react to messaging, etc.

In South Africa we celebrated Youth Day yesterday and poor crowd control nearly led to another tragedy at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto yesterday when people stampeded outside the stadium.

Ten years ago, on 11 April 2001, 43 fans died in a stampede at a soccer match at Ellis Park. As a result of an enquiry, various deficiencies in the procedures followed at the match were identified. Since then, problems at other live events also gained media attention, including previous President Mbeki’s narrow escape from injury when a temporary stage covering collapsed at the Union Buildings.

Last week there was a fire at a home for the aged and those with special needs and 12 people perished in a fire. There obviously was a need to take into account that some people move slowly, and I wonder if that was factored in.

The report from the New Orleans Hurricane disaster pointed out that there were two stakeholder groups who were not taken into account – those with special needs like the elderly and young children whose parents perished, as well as those owners with dangerous and weird animals like hippos in private zoos.

This obviously points to a lack of planning, and is an important lesson to us all. What we least anticipate, will happen. People will behave erratically and will not follow normal patterns. Not everyone is conditioned like the people who left the World Trade Centre in an orderly fashion.

The role of Twitter in reporting is interesting – http://thenextweb.com/ca/2011/06/16/twitter-playing-big-role-in-reporting-of-vancouver-riot/

This raises a number of issues and concerns:

1. What standards are there to establish requirements for crowds at different types of events and crowds of various sizes? Were these followed?

2. Who were the members of the Planning or Steering Committee? Did this group include not just Law Enforcement officers, but also psychologists?

3. Did the event planners study other events and benchmarked their plans against the lessons of what happened in events like soccer?

The reason there were few incidents in South Africa during the World Cup Soccer event, was that the SA Government worked closely with FIFA and other international Law Enforcement agencies to set up standards and protocols long before the event.