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Modern Control Crowd Lessons (from Ancient Pompeii) – slideshow

May 18, 20074 mins
IT LeadershipPhysical Security

Pompeii, 59 A.D.: A bustling town known as a vacation retreat for rich Romans and senators, Pompeii boasted a world-class amphitheater that hosted many spectacles. Computer models by crowd dynamics expert G. Keith Still show that the design of Pompeii’s Anfiteatro and other ancient stadia were superior in terms of crowd management.

Build a Big Bathroom: In ancient Pompeii the toilets were separate from the arena, in a grand facility called a Palaestra. In addition to toilets, this is where people would meet, mill about and likely where vendors set up. It even included a swimming pool. Its size is its crowd control feature: It was as big as the stadium.

Separate Queues from Promenades: The Palaestra also helped keep lines and groups of people not moving separate from walking spaces and concourses around the stadium. Contrast this with modern stadia where often lines for the bathroom and for concessions mix with walking spaces, interrupting traffic flow.

Limit Corners: It’s simple. Corners force people to slow down and sometimes lead to indecision if one doesn’t know what options are available around the corner. Curves allow people to maintain their normal walking pace while giving them time on approach to areas where they have to make a path decision. Pompeii Stadium is a true oval. Its concourses have no sharp turns.

Limit Options: It might sound like a paradox to say that fewer options means less congestion but it’s true. It’s Braess’s Paradox, which states that giving people more options leads to indecision which can in turn increase congestion. Pompeii Stadium has just six stairways and one general direction for ingress and egress. Once outside, entrances to the Palaestra are all on one side and the main road doesn’t split off to side roads until the crowd would be well-dispersed.

Respect Personal Space: Spectators at a gladiatorial spectacle at Pompeii’s Anfiteatro would have twice as much personal space as today’s fans. The effect of this is twofold. One, it increases comfort, which reduces the stress that leads to violent behavior. Two: It prevents escalation of crowde vents by allowing for people to safely move away from a violent situation without creating the crush or stampede that results from people not having the space to move away.

Anxiety Control: In addition to design, crowd management involves understanding and anticipating situations that will lead the stress that incites crowd incidents. In sports, this may be a bad call. At a concert, it may be an unexpected cancellation. In ancient Pompeii, as today, anticipating such trigger events involve understanding the four types of people who attend spectator events: Instigators of violence; copycats; those who react to violently to stress; and those who want no part of violent situations.

Build a Big Road: In addition to the actual stadium, the infrastructure supporting it must also be designed for managing the masses. Notice the ultra-wide Via Dell’Abbondanza leading up to the stadium, which doesn’t narrow until several different side roads are available. Roads that widen on approach prevent congestion and crushing toward the entrance. Many ancient stadia repeat this feature.

Point Them Toward Home: In addition to the stadium and infrastructure being designed for crowd management, the actual siting helped to decrease crowd risks. Pompeii’s stadium was built in the corner of the city, tucked against a city wall so that all exiting traffic moved in one general direction back toward the city. This choice for site was likely no accident.

Open Open Open! : Notice that walking spaces don’t narrow down into bottlenecks. No open spaces close in on a single doorway or stairway, and no large roads force crowds onto a single narrower road. The key design element here is openness everyhwere. This design choice was no accident, and because it, Pompeii’s Anfiteatro could be emptied of 30,000 fans in under ten minutes.