By Peter Tempkins

We’ve learned a lot about best practices in crowd safety management at public events over the last 30 years or so, and much of it the hard way. Crowd swelling or surges are a risk every event promoter and organizer has learned to plan for. It’s a matter of anticipating crowd safety issues for safety’s sake.

There’s a reason why crowds behave the way they do when an extraordinary event like a fire, a major windstorm or just extreme enthusiasm sparks a surge. Most crowds demonstrate efficient, intelligent, collective dynamics. But such collective behaviors can disappear at certain critical densities, causing shock waves where those at the back push forward and injure those in the front (or worse).

Understanding those dynamics and also paying attention to circumstances that can lead to tragedies have become important to advance planning for major public events. 

Consider the New Year’s Eve in New York City. Millions of people – an estimated 2 million– descend on Times Square annually to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. You never know what will spark a surge. The city’s standard operating procedure in recent years has been to use lightweight metal container pens as a way to section off crowd groupings. Elevated viewing platforms have also been used to give crowd managers a good perspective for potential issues. 

But the city went further in 2017 in light of the Las Vegas sniper shooting a few months earlier, as well as vehicular terrorist attacks, like the three in Manhattan since 2016 and on Bastille Day in 2016 in Nice. Measures included sealing off streets with concrete barriers, blocker cars and sand-filled trucks so crowds, should they start to surge, have paths to travel to ensure maximum audience safety. 

Anticipating things that can go wrong at your event is a given and it’s key to the advance planning that helps mitigate risk and ensure  crowd safety. So is figuring out all the parties who have responsibility and liability if a crowd surge tragedy does occur despite all your best efforts. 

It’s all part of a comprehensive insurance and risk management program that reflects the unique facets of big  staged public events. It helps to have outside guidance from experts with substantial experience in this arena to cover all the contingencies, because the reality is that in a litigious society, there’s no shortage of targets if something goes wrong.


A lot of planning goes into a staged public events, and crowd swelling is just one of the risks to be factored in. It takes time and input by a team experts with experience to do the job right so that crowd safety and success don’t end up being mutually exclusive concerns.

HUB International’s team of Entertainment Insurance experts are ready to guide your team on the risk considerations that should be factored into planning for your festival or other major public events.