Love them or hate them, large crowds cannot always be avoided and they have inherent dangers ranging from pickpockets to riots. It’s good to be prepared for those dangers and keep in mind crowd safety. You just need to use your head in order to stay ahead of the game, so to speak.
Do you need it with you?
Whenever you attend large crowd gatherings, the fewer belongings you have with you, the less there is to keep track of and potentially lose. And the less weight you are carrying around for no good reason. It doesn’t normally matter that I have three tubes of lipstick, four pens, etc. in my purse – but if I know I’ll be walking around and carrying it for hours, I cut that down a lot.
You do need to keep your keys, but they don’t have to be in your purse. Where can you carry them with the least possible risk of losing them? Even if you lose everything else, if you still have your keys, you should be able to get home. Remember that many cars have lockable glove compartments. You can leave some items locked in there while you are at the event. Unless the day is going to be really hot, I regularly leave my GPS and Kindle locked in the glove box. Sometimes I even leave my house keys there, too, but I make certain there is nothing with my home address on the key chain or anything else I leave in the car.
As you get ready to leave your home, sort through what you normally carry and reduce it to the minimum you need. Most of us have extra credit cards, reward cards, and all sorts of small things we carry every day that we can leave behind when we go to a special event. The less you carry, the less you risk losing.
Many years ago, a tour guide recommended carrying a purse with the strap running across and in front of your body, rather than just off one shoulder, and the actual bag in front of you, possibly even with your hand on it. Keeping the strap running across your body, not over one shoulder, makes it harder for a thief to grab your bag and run with it. In addition to grabbing, his experience was that some thieves cut the strap in crowded areas and stole purses that way. Keeping your bag in front of your body, with your hand on it, makes that more difficult.
Another option is a thin pouch on a neck strap that you can keep underneath your shirt. This keeps your hands free and your belongings out of sight, yet easily accessible.
TIP: There are purses designed to deter thieves, and one, in particular, has slash-proof straps and a RFID-proof compartment that will protect your credit card information from being scanned and stolen. Check out the Travelon bag here.
Finally, take steps to deter thieves from literally picking your pockets. Put your phone, camera, cash, and other valuables in front or inside pockets where you’re more likely to notice someone grabbing for them. If you have pockets that zip, use and zip them. (This is more common in menswear, which is a great reason for women to own at least one mans jacket.)
Many women keep their cell phones in a back pants pocket, and many men keep their wallets there. In a large, close crowd, that phone or wallet could be snatched or fall out in an eye blink and you might not even notice. Someone could be gone with your things before you even had time to turn and look for them, and you would have no idea who it was.
Staying together in a crowd
Wearing bright or unusual colors can make it easier to find one another. When my kids have on neon green or orange shirts, it is FAR easier to find them than when they wear black t-shirts with jeans. However, if things go horribly wrong, this could have the effect of making you stand out to the bad guys. Carrying a dark jacket or hoodie you can put on over top can negate this problem.
When you arrive at your big event, before you jump into the activities, decide on a meet-up location and make sure everyone in your group knows where it is. It should be outside of the busy main area, but not so far that you can’t get to it easily or have to completely leave the area to get there. It should also be easy to see from a distance to help everyone find their way, and it should be distinctive. A lamppost is tall, but hardly distinctive. Unless, of course, there is one lamppost that happens to be an entirely different color or style from the others.
Make a mental note of where emergency exits are located and likely paths of least resistance. If there is a good meeting spot near there, use it – but be sure it is just far enough that it won’t be in the middle of the exodus if the emergency exit actually needs to be used in an emergency.
Take a digital photo of each member of your party, including every child, before leaving the house or just after arriving at the event, and a photo of the meeting location, as a reminder. This way, if someone turns up missing, you have a current photo to show authorities. In various jobs I’ve held over the years, I’ve been part of search teams looking for missing kids and I can tell you that many parents have trouble remembering what their children wore that day. It is far easier to find a person if the searchers know what color shirt or hat to spot.
LEARN MORE: Your cell phone camera can be very useful in emergencies. Read these “50 Emergency Uses for a Cell Phone Camera“.
Make certain everyone has the phone numbers for everyone else in the party with a cell phone. If you are separated, this will help you re-connect.
If you are unwell or injured
When you arrive, take the time to find a map with all the bathrooms, water fountains, and rest areas. Out of the way bathrooms often have the shortest lines, so make a special note of these.
At outdoor venues, personal experience has taught me that the Port-a-Potties about 2/3 of the way down the line are the cleanest. Many people simply go to the first available, while others go to the very last one. This leaves the ones 2/3 of the way down least used, therefore the least stench-filled. This is particularly important if someone is nauseous.
If you begin to feel faint or in any way unwell, let your group know right away and try to get out of the crowd. Find someplace where you can sit down, take stock of the situation, and have some water. This is important because if someone’s health suddenly takes a turn and paramedics need to be called, it can be extremely difficult for them to fight through the crowd to reach you.
Drinking water is a good idea because a lot of problems are caused or made worse by dehydration and almost nothing is made worse by drinking some water. Staying hydrated is a great way to prevent problems.
The same goes if you are injured. This could be a simple twisted ankle or minor cut, or something far more serious like having a golf cart run over your foot or a rioter beat you. If you need a paramedic, try to send another adult or responsible teen for help and keep anyone younger or infirm with you. They are less likely to be distracted or get lost if they stay with you and can still help you, even with things as small as carrying your bag(s) or dialing a cell phone.
Potential riot and crowd safety
There is no way to go to a large event and both stay at the outer edges the whole time and actually enjoy the event. If you are at the edges, then you are…at the edges. Not fully immersed and participative, and what is the point in that? Of course, if things take a turn for the worse, at the edges, with as few people as possible between you and “open territory,” is exactly where you want to be. But what warning signs do you need to watch for?
Some elements clearly make a riot more or less likely. Crowds, alcohol, and strong feelings are all big contributors to riots. Crowds and alcohol are fairly obvious. Strong feelings can be about politics, justice/injustice, or sporting events. The cause doesn’t matter, but the presence of strong feelings does.
Can you imagine a riot over Starbucks having green cups with a white logo instead of the reverse? Not easily, because it’s hard to imagine anyone caring that much. If there are two groups somewhere and one group gets white cups while the other gets green, they might start a riot if one already feels like they are being treated worse, somehow.
If the crowd unexpectedly starts growing, or there is a noticeable change in police/security, those are warning signs. If the mood changes and people are becoming angry or frustrated, it is time to leave. Start making your way to the exit, or at least the edges of the crowd.
If you can’t move away fast enough and find yourselves caught up in a demonstration or some other moving crowd, the best thing to do is link arms and move perpendicular across the group of people. You’re not going to get very far trying to walk in the opposite direction but by cutting across the crowd, you should be able to get to a sidewalk or side street. Linking arms is far better than trying to just hold hands.
While the safest course of action would be to avoid crowded events entirely, we cannot and should not live our lives in fear. If your favorite band is playing at a local venue and you have the means to attend the show, go for it! Just take a few common sense precautions so you can be sure to enjoy the concert.
Staying Safe During Civil Unrest
Jim Cobb contributed to this article.