David Ward – Heeding the lessons of history

David Ward

In his latest blog for Infologue.com, David Ward of Ward Security discusses crowd evacuation and dispersal procedures. David writes: “After 27 years and a two-year long inquest which was the longest jury case in British legal history, the behaviour of Liverpool fans during the Hillsborough tragedy has been exonerated. The family and survivors of that tragic event in 1989 have conducted themselves with dignity during the long wait for justice.

“And it certainly has been a long wait, and much has changed during that time, not least security and crowd management procedures at large events. As a direct result of the events that took place in Sheffield on 15th April 1989, the Taylor Report recommended facilities at top flight football grounds were modernised to ensure such a tragedy could never happen again, and while it’s hard to think of anything good coming out of such a tragedy, at least we now have a more conscientious approach to crowd management at major football grounds, and indeed at other events.

“However, we must not be complacent. It would be foolhardy to think that because a quarter of a century has passed with no similar tragedies, that crowd management is any less of a concern.

“The conditions and mistakes that led to the deaths of 96 people at Hillsborough were specific and were addressed by the Taylor Report. However, today we face a whole range of modern threats, not least the threat of highly organised and targeted terrorist attacks. These can take place anywhere people gather, including sporting and other public events, shopping centres, airports, and offices. The reality remains that evacuation and dispersal procedures, along with crowd management procedures, if not adequate, have the potential to present a real threat to safety in the event of an unexpected incident.

“Health and safety regimes, and modern risk assessment procedures have immeasurably improved the physical environment of public and commercial spaces. Few modern sites are inherently dangerous or present challenges to evacuation and dispersal strategies, however, what they cannot account for is the human factor, and this is where the security industry has a responsibility.

“Should an unexpected event require the emergency evacuation of large numbers of people, and their subsequent marshalling into an area where they can be accounted for – the typical assembly point – security has an obligation to ensure that they remain safe and secure. Just because they have been removed from the immediate danger presented by the initial threat does not put them out of harm’s way. Indeed, such a gathering of people itself presents a potential target.

“This is perhaps where procedures need to be updated in the modern world. It is culturally engrained that the assembly point means safety. It is where we all typically breathe a collective sigh of relief and take the time to assess and witness whatever event has led us there, even is that event is the humble fire drill. But in the modern world, with its modern threats, are we really that safe when we are gathered en masse next to the assembly point sign in the car park?

“To ensure complete safety it is perhaps time we start thinking about a second stage of evacuation and dispersal regimes that cover what happens in the event of something unexpected happening when evacuated crowds are gathered. Without a plan and direction, this is where things could fall apart quickly. The initial evacuation could run smoothly, but what happens in the event of a subsequent event? Should large groups of evacuated people be gathered together in the first place? Is there a safer way of assembling and accounting for people?

“It is crucially important to periodically audit evacuation and dispersal procedures to ensure they are still fit for purpose. Time and situations change. Businesses grow and new occupants arrive at offices and commercial sites. Are your procedures suitable for your site as it is now, or have they become outdated as the site and its usage has evolved? Is signage still in place and clear? Are staff properly briefed about procedures? These are the basic questions that all site managers and organisations should ask themselves. But more than that, they should also start thinking about next stage procedures.

“An audit of your site and updating of your procedures is essential, but thinking things through further could make all difference. With more scraper office blocks going up in city centres, many of them holding many thousands of people and each very likely sharing the same area of ground for an evacuation point, shared evacuation and dispersal plans with local neighbours should be considered”.

Ward Security Website

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