By Steven A. Adelman and Peter Tempkins

Whether you’re putting on a rock concert, anticipating a large audience for a motivational speaker, or just doing standard safety checks at a popular nightclub, here’s something that should be more fully integrated into the crowd management plan for that event – the crowd’s own expectations about what is going to happen and its role in the event.

Since around 2000, a common risk assessment tool has been the “DIM ICE” model for crowd management. The model helps event organizers assess various factors that influence crowd behavior during the Ingress, Circulation and Egress phases, in the categories of:

  • Design – not just the physical layout of a stage or auditorium and placement of exits and seating, but other features like table or booth placements, for example, that meet aesthetic requirements without negatively affecting traffic flow and/or safety;
  • Information – how the event organizer communicates with the audience before and during the event, including the use of signage, social media channels and staffers;
  • Management – inputs that range from staffing levels and personnel (such as guest services, security and law enforcement, and medical and harm reduction services), CCTV monitoring, insurance stipulations and regulatory requirements.

For all the value of this model, something important is missing. A draft ANSI standard for Crowd Management currently circulating for public review advocates that a more comprehensive acronym would be DIME ICE, in order to ensure the crowd’s expectations are factored into the planning process. Expectations color what people perceive and how they react to it, and therefore are very important for crowd managers to understand and address when planning their events.

It comes down to human psychology. The principle of “confirmation bias” shows that when things don’t conform to our expectations, we either reject them entirely or reinterpret them so that they conform with what we expect. But multiply confirmation bias by many thousand event patrons (as well as the people charged with keeping them safe) and the results can be disastrous.

Crowd expectations contribute to the challenges of some of the most notorious disasters occurring at live events. At nearly every active shooting incident, survivors report that they did not immediately think to take cover because they believed the sound they heard was firecrackers or a bass line from the band or something else that would have been part of the performance. Likewise with tragedies involving fires at event spaces, people routinely report afterwards that they did not understand that the blaze was not part of the act. Confirmation bias insidiously causes patrons to assume that everything is performance because it occurs at an event, even if the same sensory input would immediately raise alarm bells if they experienced it in a different context.

For these reasons, the crowd’s expectations must be factored into any crowd management plan, in order to help ensure that everyone who comes to an event leaves in one piece, ready to return for another show.

HUB International’s team of Entertainment Insurance experts are ready to guide you on all the risk considerations that should be factored into planning for any type of production.

Guest Blogger
Steven A. Adelman is the head of Adelman Law Group, PLLC in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Vice President of the Event Safety Alliance. His practice focuses on safety and security at live sports and entertainment events throughout North America.