July 19, 2024


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Large crowds are a fact of life, from concerts and sporting events to street fairs and protests. While they offer excitement and shared experiences, they also come with potential crowd safety risks. This guide will equip you with practical tips on staying safe and prepared, from protecting your belongings to handling emergencies. By following these simple steps, you can transform any crowded event from a source of anxiety into an enjoyable experience.

Photo by RODRIGO GONZALEZ on Unsplash

Whether you’re cheering at a concert, celebrating a cultural festival, or navigating a bustling city street, large crowds are an inevitable part of life. While they offer the thrill of shared experiences and a vibrant atmosphere, they can also pose unforeseen challenges. Unfortunately, in crowded situations, women may need to be extra vigilant against petty theft and harassment. More importantly, the possibility of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as a sudden riot, can cause unease. This heightened awareness doesn’t have to diminish the fun; instead, it can empower you to navigate the crowd with confidence.

This guide equips you with the knowledge and strategies to stay safe, from protecting your belongings to handling unexpected situations, including the terrifying possibility of an active shooter. By following these simple steps, you can transform any large gathering from a source of anxiety into an enjoyable and enriching experience.

In this post

Minimize Your Belongings Before You Go

Reduce what you carry

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, you should be able to get home if you still have your keys.

Secure your valuables

Remember that many cars have lockable glove compartments. You can leave some items locked in the glovebox 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 daily that we can leave behind when we go to a special event. The less you carry, the less you risk losing. 

Consider a specialized bag

There are purses designed to deter thieves and some have slash-proof straps and an RFID-proof compartment that will protect your credit card information from being scanned and stolen. Check out the Travelon bag.

Protect Yourself from Pickpockets

Cross-body bags

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.

Alternative storage

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.

Conceal your belongings

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 man’s 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 As A Group

Coordinate meeting points

When you arrive at your big event, before jumping into the activities, decide on a meet-up location and ensure 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 leave the area to get there completely. It should also be easy to see from a distance to help everyone find their way and be distinctive. A lamppost is tall, but hardly distinctive. Unless 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 identifying pictures

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.

Relatedly, wearing bright or unusual colors can make it easier to find one another. When my kids have 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 make you stand out to the bad guys. Carrying a dark jacket or hoodie, you can put on over top can negate this problem.  

Share contact information

Make certain everyone has the phone numbers of everyone else in the party with a cell phone. If you are separated, this will help you reconnect. Using the Zello walkie talkie app is an excellent method to communicate in these situations.

When You Feel Unwell or Are Injured

Locate essential facilities

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 go to the first available, while others go to the very last one. This leaves the ones 2/3 of the way down the least used and, therefore, the least stench-filled. This is particularly important if someone is nauseous.

Response plan for emergencies

If you begin to feel faint or unwell, let your group know immediately and try to get out of the crowd. Find someplace to sit down, take stock of the situation, and drink 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.

Stay hydrated

Drinking water is a good idea because dehydration causes many problems and makes them worse, and almost nothing is made worse by drinking some water. Staying hydrated is a great way to prevent problems.

Seeking medical attention

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 Riots and Crowd Safety Knowledge

Balance participation and awareness

There is no way to go to a large event and stay at the outer edges the whole time and 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 you must maintain situational awareness and watch for warning signs.

Warning signs 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. If the crowd unexpectedly starts growing or there is a noticeable change in police/security, those are warning signs.

Escape strategy

If a situation deteriorates or you sense the mood changes and people become angry or frustrated, it is time to leave. Start making your way to the exit, or at least the edges of the crowd.

Crowd movement

If you can’t move away fast enough and find yourself caught up in a demonstration or some other moving crowd, the best thing to do is link arms and move perpendicular across the group. 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 hold hands.

Crowd Safety Tips

  • Download a venue map: Many event venues offer downloadable maps on their websites or apps. Familiarize yourself with the layout beforehand, including exits, first aid stations, and restrooms. This can save valuable time in an emergency.
  • Charge your phone: A fully charged phone is crucial for staying connected with your group, calling for help if needed, and using emergency apps like flashlights or maps. Consider carrying a portable charger for extended events.
  • Learn basic first aid: Knowing how to perform CPR or handle minor injuries can be invaluable in a crowded situation where medical attention might be delayed. Consider taking a basic first aid course.
  • Be mindful of weather conditions: Dress appropriately for the forecast. Extreme heat or cold can pose health risks in crowded situations. If attending an outdoor event, bring sunscreen, a hat, and rain gear if necessary.
  • Communicate clearly with your group: Establish clear communication channels, like pre-determined text messages or a designated call time, in case cell service gets spotty amidst the crowd.
  • Beware of suspicious activity: If you see unattended packages, suspicious behavior, or anything that makes you feel uneasy, report it to security personnel immediately.
  • Manage your exits: Don’t just follow the crowd. Identify multiple exits from different areas of the venue and have a plan for which one to use depending on the situation. Avoid bottlenecked exits during peak crowd movement.
  • Take breaks from the crowd: If you start to feel overwhelmed by the sensory overload, find a quiet space to sit for a few minutes and take a breather. This can help you recharge and avoid anxiety.

Video with the Survival Mom: Staying Safe During Civil Unrest

FAQ

What should I wear to a crowded event?

Closed-toe shoes: Opt for comfortable shoes suitable for walking and standing for long periods.
Breathable clothing: Dress for the weather conditions. Avoid loose clothing or dangling jewelry that could get snagged.

What if I get caught in a crowd surge or riot?

Don’t panic. Keep your feet firmly planted to avoid getting knocked down. Link arms with those around you to create a barrier and help maintain balance. Don’t fight the current; instead move perpendicular to the crowd flow. Try to move sideways towards a wall, railing, or side street to escape the main flow. If you get caught in a crush, cover your head and chest with your arms to create space for breathing.

How can I stay safe if I’m attending a protest?

Research the event beforehand: Understand the purpose and potential risks associated with the protest.
Dress appropriately: Wear comfortable clothing and closed-toe shoes you can move around in easily.
Bring minimal belongings: Only bring essentials like water, sunscreen, and a first-aid kit.
Be aware of your surroundings: Identify exits, medical aid stations, and potential hazards like tear gas or water cannons.
Have a plan for leaving: Establish a communication plan with your group and have a clear exit strategy in case things escalate.

Final Thoughts

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.

Jim Cobb contributed to this article.