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  • Writer's pictureSimon Golstein

Drones and crowd management

There is always potential for disaster when large numbers of people gather, and sadly, there are countless examples of mass gatherings turning into tragedies. This is why a crowd management strategy must be foremost in the minds of event organizers.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the causes of problems at mass events, and how drones can be used to prevent and mitigate disasters.

Crowd crushes

When crowd density surpasses five people per square meter, individuals become compressed and lose freedom of movement. In these situations, “waves” can be observed as the mass of bodies push in one direction or another. This phenomenon has been the cause of countless tragedies, with most fatalities caused by asphyxiation. This sounds extreme, yet crowd crushes happen more often than you might think.

How can drones help?

The best way to stop crowd crushes is to prevent crowd density from getting too high in the first place. Drones give organizers a mobile bird’s-eye view that can’t be achieved with a static camera, allowing them to see when a crowd is becoming too packed in a certain spot and take action to redirect people. Drone software can autonomously count attendees and warn the operator when a preset limit is reached. Crowd counting has other applications too. In Lima, Peru, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the infection rate was rising despite the lockdown. People were permitted to shop for essentials except on Sundays. Drones were used to study three of the city’s biggest markets and discovered a considerable attendance spike on Mondays - it appeared that the Sunday curfew was causing a Monday shopping rush. The data was presented to the authorities, and they ended the curfew.

Moving people along

There are different types of crowd, and they behave differently. One study from the University of Sussex classified crowd types into two: physical (a lot of people in the same place) and psychological (a mass with a shared sense of identity). Psychological crowds move more slowly than physical crowds because they want to keep formation. And in any type of crowd, lone individuals move more dynamically than social groups because the latter will constantly check that they are together. These things are relevant because directing people and planning for evacuations is a central facet of crowd management, and movement time is not just a measure of how long it takes for people to get from point A to point B - it must also take into account how long it takes for people to begin to move.

How can drones help?

Drones aren’t just observers - they can be fitted with loudspeakers and used to communicate information far more effectively than someone on the ground can. This means that people can be moved quickly and given information to prevent confusion and panic. Loudspeakers can also form a barrier to block areas if necessary and can even play music. This last point may sound trivial, but it can be useful in placating a crowd which has become bored or angry.

Medical emergencies

Medical emergencies can be easily overlooked at mass events because visibility in a crowd is poor at the best of times, and worse when it’s dark. The affected person might not be heard over the noise of the crowd and/or music, and fellow attendees may be too focused on the performance to notice that someone is in trouble. Furthermore, it can be difficult to help someone even if they’re spotted because the mass of people impedes the movement of ambulances and paramedics.

How can drones help?

Drones provide an airborne, high-quality camera view that can easily spot medical emergencies. Thermal vision and zoom capabilities mean that nothing needs to be missed. AI can even be used to automatically detect people falling – Czech police conducted such an experiment with a football team who were instructed to randomly lie down while training. The drones immediately detected the anomalous behavior and flagged it. Drones can also be used to supply water and first aid equipment in situations where medical personnel can’t get to a patient.

Illegal behavior

If a person becomes violent in a crowd, the effect can be catastrophic. Firstly because the violence could spread, and secondly because it will prompt others to try and escape. This can lead to a crush if too many people try to push through a narrow path at the same time. Violence aside, other illegal behaviors can cause problems too. People could climb onto structures, endangering themselves and the people underneath them and risking collapses. They could park illegally, blocking access of emergency vehicles. They could sell illegitimate tickets outside the venue, swelling attendee numbers beyond the organizers’ plans.

How can drones help?

Drones make security teams more effective by providing unmatched visibility and enabling ground teams to apply themselves only where needed. They also establish presence. Bad actors will be very aware if a security team is weak, and drones are arguably more effective in establishing presence than human security guards because more people can see them and it’s impossible to tell what the drone is focusing on. This can be enough to stop illegal behavior before it begins.

A new era of event management

Drones are, first and foremost, information gatherers, and information is the single most important asset of an event organizer. No tool is more effective in this respect: drones are easily and quickly scrambled with minimal supporting infrastructure needed, and their ability to hover on the spot means a camera can be placed anywhere without limitations.

But that’s not the only power that drones have. They can communicate, deliver vital supplies, overcome staff shortages, help with planning, act as a warning to criminals, and more. And the best thing - with the right operating system, they are easily operated and relatively inexpensive.

High Lander’s Mission Control turns any drone into a perfect event management tool with a range of features giving drones additional capabilities. The share link feature creates a link through which recipients can see through a drone’s camera, enabling an entire security team to benefit from the bird’s-eye view or focus on a specific individual. Object detection is a tracking tool that empowers drones to identify and count people or vehicles. The feature can also lock on to an object and will follow it with the camera, even if that object goes temporarily out of sight. This gives organizers complete oversight of numbers and lets them keep an eye on suspicious individuals. The hot replacement feature gives continuous coverage by autonomously sending a replacement drone when the active one has low battery, so battery power is not an issue. Mission Control also allows users full payload control –camera, loudspeaker, delivery box, and more.

For more information about Mission Control and how it can help you secure mass gatherings, get in touch for a free demo.

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