Engaging the Crowd in Safety & Security

Written by MEI Member, Krowdthink.

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Digital has a massive role to play to enhance safety and security in crowded places and reduce costs through the efficiencies digital is designed to deliver. We need to explore innovative ideas if we are to achieve a step change in the safety of our crowded venues. The real opportunity is what is technically called cyber-physical – or in simple terms how digital services enhance real life objectives. The largest asset we have in a crowd…is the crowd. How, or indeed should, we engage the crowd in the safety agenda? After all they are there for enjoyment. At best we advise crowds about fire alarms, exits and assembly points, because we are obliged to under regulation. Is this sufficient in a world of enhanced terror threats, where iconic events attract focus attention?

After the Manchester Arena bombing Lord Kerslake led a thorough review of the emergency services response. There were many areas the media focused on, but what did not hit the headlines was that of all the learning’s from previous terror response reviews, the only one repeated verbatim in the Kerslake report was the Cocking report after 7/7 tube and bus bombings, specifically:

“Neglecting the potential spontaneous resilience of crowds in emergencies by the

authorities could also be missing out on an opportunity to make use of a positive

resource. The ability of people in emergencies to play a leadership role and coordinate mutual aid amongst survivors should not be underestimated. Therefore,

rather than seeing the public as potential obstructions that need to be moved on,

acknowledging and making provision for people’s willingness to help and direct

others could provide the emergency services with a large pool of potential volunteers, who can act as ‘force multiplier’”

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It has been 11 years since the idea was first floated, and a second tragedy has occurred, so what lesson can we learn? The key idea at the centre of this concept is that the crowd is itself an asset, a force multiplier. What if we were to consider the crowd as an asset in a pre-emptive security context? If we can trust the crowd to be a constructive asset in a high stress situation, why can’t we trust them to be of assistance in situations of reasonable normalcy? This is the idea behind initiatives like “See it, Say it, Sorted” campaign by organizations such as the British Transport Police. This has evolved into the UK counter-terror policing initiative Step Change, seeking to affect a major shift in business and public engagement in security.

The trouble is the level of concern an individual has to have before they will contact official police services is high. How many times have we seen people just walk slightly away from a strangely behaving person or an unattended bag? There is a similar reticence to engage venue security staff in venues; for some its shyness, for others its laziness, others it’s ‘not my problem’, or others are just worried about wasting other peoples time. Our security teams are not getting the early warnings they need to pre-emptively halt or mitigate a terror threat, and they cannot be everywhere the crowd is. In addition, exit feedback reviews from the O2 Arena showed a high percentage of the minor crimes and issues that affect the event experience are never reported, leaving the individual dissatisfied with the event and/or venue.

The answer is communication, or more specifically lowering the bar to communication. If we make reporting a concern, however minor, something that does not go to the police, but to the local stewards and security team to address, if we make the action of reporting something you don’t even have to leave your seat for and no more than a couple of taps on a phone app, how much more intelligence could we pull in? How much more pro-active can the venue security team be in their role of making the event a safer experience?

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This was why, after the Manchester Bomb last year the Office of Counter Terrorism put aside some funding to find innovations that could deliver more value in the prevent agenda, and why our company Krowdthink was awarded support to enhance its’ Krowd venue communication and engagement app to integrate such reporting capability. Our proposal was to ‘make the crowd a participatory threat sensor and responder’ through the simple step of simplifying communication between the security team and the crowd itself. The Krowd provides a digital broadcast channel by which security teams can keep crowds informed of the local threats to be aware of, whether its as simple as ice in the car park or a gentle reminder to see it say it sort it. Whilst also providing an instant communication capability from anyone in a crowd to the security team to seek assistance or just inform them of something not quite right. A key step in this process is not using the Krowd communication capabilities as a priority security tool, (to do so would imply that somehow the venue is unsafe and such a tool is needed), but to make security a subliminal element of the social and engagement experience of the digital event experience. To do this we need to bring together the event organisers and venue service providers to understand and meet their mutual objective, the safe and enjoyable event and venue experience. Lets recruit the eyes, ears and instincts of the crowd to create a new deterrent and make our venues and events safer and more enjoyable.

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