Securing major events: challenges and opportunities

Andrea Sorri

Ever heard of the Tomatina? Every August, crowds gather in the Spanish town of Buñol to throw tomatoes at each other. It’s said to be one of the best public events in Europe – certainly one of the most peculiar.

Many towns have traditional events (although not always quite so messy) that take place every year, where large crowds come together to celebrate or watch. Safety and security are of course a concern for the authorities. Whether it’s a music or sports event, a carnival, New Year’s Eve celebration or building a human tower , the management of such events presents complex challenges: including managing the capacity of the site; ensuring emergency crews can get access if necessary; or that the crowd can be safely evacuated.

Often, events like these take place in inner-city areas such as squares and parks that are normally used for other purposes during the year. There may already be cameras installed, but the technologies deployed for everyday safety are not always sufficient to monitor and secure a large crowd. At these times it could be necessary to enhance the existing set-up with temporary mobile surveillance systems and maybe even add some extra functionality.

For example, crowd dynamics simulations could be used prior to the event to optimize the site layout, reducing the potential for dangerous bottlenecks, while crowd analysis software can help predict crowd movements in real time. In addition, facial recognition tools can spot any known troublemakers in the crowd. All of these can be quickly deployed using wireless networks and then easily removed after the event.

The city of Turin, in Italy, field-tested a range of new technologies during the Pope’s last visit. Their challenge was to use edge-based video technology in an outdoor installation subject to change right up until the last minute with thousands of people filling a confined area in a few hours. Above all, they had a need to increase security, but without transforming what should be a peaceful gathering into what could be perceived as a threatening environment. Watch a video that explains how they did it:

Managing Complex Events from Wanna-C on Vimeo.

Whatever the event, network video can play a key role in enabling authorities to handle a challenging situation. It facilitates cooperation among different entities such as the city municipality with police forces, firefighters, Red Cross, civil defense, and more. Live and recorded footage from the cameras enables pedestrian dynamics analysis, providing a rich source of data to modeling and simulation software, as well as a proof of the model in a real-life scenario.Thanks to pilot projects such as the one run in Turin, authorities will learn more about how crowds behave – and they will be able to be well prepared for large events.