Psychology of Crowd Safety – Safety, Security and Service

PSYCHOLOGY OF CROWD SAFETY – Safety, Security and Service

by Steve Laws | Mar 26, 2018

Those who work with crowds depend upon knowledge of crowd psychology in order to enhance positive crowd experiences, maintain safety and security, and to manage risks.

During my studies in crowd science and safety management, I have increasingly pondered this question:

“In emergency situations, how do I know that my stewarding staff deployed at this event will behave and react in the ways I expect and planned?”

A colleague from a prominent national sports stadium recently commented to me that you never really know how a steward is going to behave in an emergency. This comment was thought provoking! In writing contingency and emergency plans what do you take for granted? That your safety and security teams will behave in the model way to execute your plan?

Well, how do you know?


Every steward should be working towards or have qualified with a level 2 NVQ in Spectator Safety, or equivalent training standard for crowded places. It is expected that stewards should complete their training and assessment, and have obtained external qualification or certification within 12 months dating from the start of their first induction training (6th Edition -Draft guide to safety at sports grounds) . During their training each steward would have been instructed, coached and assessed to maintain the standards expected to qualify. They should be able to describe and reflect in their duties the appropriate standards of behaviour expected at spectator events. The main theme for this is:

‘It is important for stewards to maintain in control at all times at spectator events. This needs to be done in a calm and controlled manner in order to keep the crowd from getting unnecessarily aggravated and makes them have belief that you are there to help them. It is vital for them to be reliable, trustworthy and conduct themselves in the correct manner to gain the trust of the public as well as keeping a high standard of health and safety. Public behaviour is easily influenced by the behaviour and attitude of a steward, for example if a steward appears calm and polite this will gain a similarly polite response from members of the public.’

In this strikingly poignant photo taken from the aftermath of the bombing at Manchester Arena 2017 (Associated Press), I am reminded that stewards are human, vulnerable and like everyone have the basic instinct for flight or flight in life threatening situations.

The fight-or-flight response (also called hyperarousal, or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. It was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon (1929 – Bodily changes in pain, hunger, fear and rage).

In considering this as a possibility, isn’t it the responsibility therefore for venue safety and security management to consider and factor in how their staff will respond to what is being required of them in an emergency scenario?

Testing readiness

Are you and your staff prepared? I have led and been involved in a number of emergency planning exercises to test the readiness of a venue and their management to prepare, mitigate, respond and execute their emergency contingency plans. You may be saying to yourself right now;

‘Well I know I am ready and my plans are robust and effective’.

This may sound extreme, but what if, just imagine for a moment, what would happen to the execution of a well crafted emergency plan if key staff carrying out key roles froze or fled their posts?

Someone once said of me ” Steve always remains so calm and level headed when everyone else seems so stressed out and losing their way. ” I wasn’t always like that! I learnt to behave that way though many many experiences where my resolve, ability for clear thinking, behaviours in extremis and skills were put to the test.

We have worked alongside a number of national event and security companies supplying staff to venues and events throughout the UK. We have trained 1000’s of staff for their NVQ’s and supported safety management training to gain their required qualifications. This has led me to speak with and interview many staff about their experiences across the industry. People have shared their experiences during critical incident debriefs and I have seen these individuals reach their ‘new normal’ following their involvement in terrorist incidents.

This brings me back to the core theme of this post…….. How will you ensure (in an emergency) that your staff will support you and carry out their roles as you have planned?

If you would like some support and advice on how to answer this question, then I would be pleased for you to get in touch. Thank you for your time to read this post.