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Know Your Audience

May 21, 20072 mins
CSO and CISOPhysical Security

No matter how many people are in a crowd, from a crowd management perspective each individual is one of four types of people, according to G. Keith Still, a crowd management expert. (For lessons on crowd control from ancient Pompeii, see “How to Control Crowds in Ancient Pompeii,”.)

The four types are: Instigators, who find violence attractive; Imitators, who will respond to violence with violence, but who do not instigate it; Reactionaries, who will react violently to an out-of-control situation; Nonviolents, who abhor violence and will try to escape it.

Additionally, any situation that arises in a crowd and increases anxiety—crowding, confusion, a bad call by a referee—can even move people from one crowd type to another, potentially riskier, level. For example, a series of crowd-related frustrations could turn a nonviolent group into reactionaries, who may act out violently, Still says. It’s easy to see how situations can build on themselves.

But the good news is that good crowd management can calm people who might otherwise instigate or imitate. If there’s little anxiety present, the imitators have nothing to imitate, and reactionaries have nothing to react against.

Of course, the vast majority of people are nonviolents, and only a small fraction are instigators or imitators. But all it takes is a few individuals to spark a crowd incident.

The proportions of crowd types change depending on the type of event. That’s where security officers and facility managers need to start, by profiling the type of crowd they expect at an event (see table for examples), which in turn will inform their management of the event.

For example, consider extra monitoring and alcohol restriction policies at a sporting event between rivals, while a rock concert will demand good stage design and ticketing policies. Understanding what types of people are going to use a facility is one of the first steps in effective crowd management.

Hypothetical Distribution of Behavior Types in a Crowd at Certain Events

Rock concert1%2%7%90%
Soccer match3%7%30%60%
Gladiatorial games in ancient Pompeii5%15%20%60%
SOURCE: G. Keith Still. Percents are general estimates and the numbers for pompeii are speculative.