7 Ways To Be Safe In Crowds

Neil StraussNeil, Survival8 Comments

For many people who read Emergency, one of the first things they did was reach out to Kevin Reeve to take his Urban Escape and Evasion course. He was one of my favorite people and here’s some great advice from him. You never know when it can help you out…

I have been asked several times since the Boston Marathon bombing about how to manage risk in a large crowd environment. One answer is simple: Unless you are absolutely required to be in attendance, AVOID large crowded environments. Of course when there are times when you have limited choice and must venture into that environment, then use good habits of “situational awareness” and adopt a “bias towards action.”

Large groups of people will always attract a certain amount of risk. Never underestimate the volatility of people in large groups. Any significant event, even a “perceived” event, can result in a stampede. People are injured and die every year during Black Friday Sales events when they become victims of a frenzied mob. A fire, an explosion, an active shooter can all create a mob mentality that takes on a life of its own.

The KEY to surviving any event in a crowded venue will depend almost entirely on your ability to control personal panic, to assess the situation, and to take immediate action. If you panic, you drastically increase your odds of injury or death.

Here are a few strategies that will decrease your risk. Concentration is initially involved, but after practice, these habits can become natural and seemingly effortless.

1. Maintain your awareness. Keep your eyes up, off the smart phone, and scan your environment. This is can be challenging due to the large volume of people. But try actively scanning. Look for “out of baseline” behaviors. People moving upstream, against the flow, for example, are out of baseline. People moving faster or slower than the baseline, or whose gestures or furtiveness do not match the event.

I have a friend who works in a department store in theft prevention. In a glance, he can spot someone about to shoplift. Their behaviors are out of baseline. A shoplifter will always stand right next to the shelf before he pockets the item, whereas a normal shopper stands back to be able to see the contents of the shelves. Out of baseline.

2. Identify specific threats or threatening behavior. Look for menacing behavior or people who by their looks cause you to feel uncomfortable. Trust your gut. There may be a valid reason why they make you feel uncomfortable. If you are in proximity, move away. As always, look for “orphans:”  bags or packages without owners. Alert security if you see them, but do not stand next to them waiting for security to arrive.

3. Identify exits. Whenever I enter a room, or area, one of the first things I do is scan for exits. Are there emergency exits? Are they alarmed? Are they locked? What about windows? Can they be opened? Is there a heavy object like a chair I can throw through the window?

4. Look for exits on the opposite side of the room from the entrance or at right angles to the entrance. Most people will bypass emergency exits in close proximity to them to go back to the entrance they came in through. This behavior has led to many deaths in ballroom and concert fires. People who are panicking seek the familiar.

5. Identify cover. Cover refers to safety from fire. A brick wall may stop bullets, but sheetrock walls will not. Solid furniture may seem solid, but even a two-inch thick oak table will not stop a 9mm round. You must find something substantial if shooting starts. The engine block and front axle of a car for example may provide enough cover for one person. The car door, not so much.  Inside a building, there is generally not much cover. Better to head for the exit.

6. When an event occurs, grab your family members and head for the exit. Pick up and carry children. Have your family members, (spouse, others with you) grab a hold of your belt. Move assertively towards the PRE-SELECTED exit.  Move with the crowd “downstream” but also in a diagonal direction, until you can reach a wall inside, or if outside, the edge of the crowd, where you can better control your movement. Do not be afraid to damage or destroy the fixtures or the building itself to get out, such as breaking open windows or kicking open doors, or breaking locks  Timidity will not be helpful. Your primary concern must be your family. Once they are safe, you can decide whether or not to render aid to others.

7. Carry essential gear. Essential gear for an outside event: Water bottle. First aid kit that includes a tourniquet. Knife. Multi-tool. Sunglasses that also provide eye protection. Indoor essential gear: add a small pocket flashlight which will penetrate smoke and haze (a cell phone light will not penetrate smoke and haze.)

It is impossible to anticipate every event. However, most events will precipitate the need to MOVE. MOVEMENT to SAFETY will generally always be your highest priority. If the event is localized to your immediate vicinity, then safety generally lies elsewhere. The most important trait here is a BIAS TOWARDS ACTION. Take action to improve your crowd situation.

Kevin Reeve is the founder of onPoint Tactical, an Urban & Wilderness Survival School, teaching awareness and a full range of advanced survival skills. You can find more from him here: http://onpointtactical.com/.

8 Comments on “7 Ways To Be Safe In Crowds”

  1. Thanks for the post, Neil. This kind of information makes me think and rethink a number of habits. Rather than “following the crowd” in a potentially threatening scenario I hope to maintain the awareness you mention.

  2. Great advice, thanks Neil. Situational awareness is invaluable. It surprises me how much people don’t pay attention to their surroundings. I’ve left restaurants and demonstrations before because I noticed things getting out of hand before others did. An easy and good habit I built is giving a quick glance at everyone in a room when I enter, and identifying all the exits. It takes 3 seconds and can occasionally give you excellent insight into situations, should they arise.

  3. Thanks guys, though there are few comments on this one, I hope more people read it. It’s the kind of information that, by the time you realize you need it, it’s already too late.

  4. I was at a tailgate for two rival football teams once and it went from being all fun to a near riot with fights breaking out within a couple yards of each other. I was standing and watching one of them start to draw a crowd like a tornado building up steam. Next thing you know another fight is breaking out a few feet away from me spilling into our tailgate area. I tried to help break it up and got sucker punched for my trouble. I got a concussion and a massive hospital bill. I should have been more aware of my surroundings.

  5. I remember being at a soccer game with my father during the World Cup. It was hot, there where hooligans and the stadium was packed. I remember seeing football violence on T.V. and quickly looked for the exits and kept a close watch on security and the hooligans. It ended safely but at a young age I realized how scary things can escalate and to be very aware of everything.

    The events this week in London have me aware of something else- what they term The Bystander Effect. I cannot understand why no one did anything. I could not watch someone being butchered to death, I would get involved. I abhor cowards like this.

  6. Great advice… I’m adding a small stream light to my Every Day Carry (EDC) items, and I’m getting an extra tourniquet to throw in my truck first aid kit.. Thanks for the heads up.

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