Crowd Control: How a Lack of Regulations Has Led to Numerous Deaths

By Hannah Rajalingam and Talia Willscher

With the growing popularity of festivals and concerts, the dangers of large, excited crowds have been brought to the public’s attention. Last year, we witnessed a national outcry against the crowd crush that killed several attendees at a Travis Scott concert. Many were left wondering why this wasn’t prevented. Aren’t there rules and regulations in place? Surely, there are some safety nets? Unfortunately, the short answer is no.

The United States has no federal regulations for crowd control. Though the national fire protection association (NFPA) issues a safety code each year, only select jurisdictions (i.e. counties and local districts) – about 400 of 3,142 in the nation – actually adhere to these regulations. More often than not, local counties overlook certain safety hazards at large events because of the large revenue they bring in for the local economy. Local officials have expedited permits and approved events without checking that proper precautions are put in place, such as sufficient numbers of safety officers and accessible exits.

One of the first events that highlighted the dangers of this casual attitude was a 1979 The Who’s concert in Cincinnati, Ohio. The concert was set to begin at 8 pm, but by 7:45 the doors hadn’t opened and eager fans mistook a warmup for the start of the concert. The crowd rushed to the doors and 11 people were killed in the frenzy. 18,000 tickets were sold for the concert, with a mere 25 safety officers to manage the crowd. After this tragedy, thankfully, regulations that opened doors earlier for large concerts and lowered the proportion of attendees to officers were implemented.

The lack of emergency regulations is dangerous in all emergency situations. On May 28, 1977, a fire in Beverly Hills Supper Club in Kentucky left 165 dead. This was not flagged as a major issue with crowd control, but in the reports of the frantic rush to the exits, clubbers quickly realized how narrow and limited escape routes were. This lack of accessible entry and exits are a repetitive theme in concert stampedes; large groups of people are left frantic with anyone and everyone at risk of trampling, suffocation, and more. While this event did not inspire new measures to protect civilians in such incidents, the casualties served as a reminder of the danger of a crowd mentality in unpredictable circumstances.

More recently, this year during Halloween in South Korea, many people were killed after crowd surges occurred while attempting to get into nightclubs in the neighborhood of Itaewon. The nightlife in South Korea is big, with many people bar hopping and going to multiple clubs in a single night. However, the streets off the main road in Itaewon that the partygoers had to walk through from place to place are very narrow. On Halloween night, with hundreds of thousands of people attempting to get to clubs, people began to get stuck in one of the small alleys. The alley became blocked off due to the amounts of people within and people began to die. At least 130 people were injured and 156 people were killed.

How does this event raise awareness for crowd regulations? Well, only 137 officers were on hand for crowds of over 100,000. There could have easily been more officers made available.   Yet it was foreseen that there would be many people out. So why were there so few police officers? Because there were no plans made in advance to address the large crowds. This seems to be a common problem. If the doors had been opened sooner at the 1979 concert, 11 lives wouldn’t have been lost. If the amount of entrances and exits into the Beverly Hills Supper Club had been noted, then fewer people could have been let in and an incident would have been prevented. In all of these cases, had crowd regulations been stronger, lives would not have been lost.

This continuous problem of crowd control has littered event and concert history throughout the past several decades. Safety regulations across the nation remain a patchwork attempt at standard precautions for large crowds. Having required safety measures that are actually enforced for all states would allow precautions that districts, cities, and states would be free to add upon as needed. Let’s not wait for the next incident to wake us up and push for federal crowd control standards now.