Crowded Places

Crowded PlaceIn 2017, the Australian New Zealand Counter Terrorism Committee (ANZCTC) released new guidance on protection of crowded places Australian National Security. This document is a significant improvement over previous ANZCTC guidance which had a strong law-enforcement bias with an emphasis on what would happen after police arrived, by which time it was probably all over.

The 2017 guidance provided some useful self-assessment tools which, to the eyes of subject matter experts, may be open to debate but are of value to those seeking to establish a baseline and compliance with government expectations. The 2017 document also had an excellent section on resilience.

As mentioned previously in this column, earlier guidance had little respect for owners and operators of venues and contained many statements of the blindingly obvious, reminding owners that they had a duty to protect those on-site. The latest version at least recognises that owners and operators are not only aware of their responsibilities but have measures in place to deal with them. The policy requires the establishment of a Business Advisory Group and a Crowded Places Advisory Group. Let us hope the voice of the commercial sector is both heard and listened to.

It also recognises that the professional and industry associations have a role to play. Unfortunately, according to the information flow diagram, their role is to receive information from government. Associations such as those for the security, emergency, venue and facility management sectors have long been concerned with safety, security and response options.

International associations such as ASIS International and the International Association of Venue Managers have thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of members and have established sub-committees looking at these issues. Such organisations could be a source of information to the ANZCTC. It would also be of interest to know how many members of the ANZCTC are members of relevant professional associations.

While published guidance will always be general in its nature, there are a few basic concepts that may help any venue. One step is to identify the ability of the venue or event security to communicate and move or hide patrons, performers/athletes and staff. Once this is known, the relevant protective and response plans can be assessed or revised. For example: an underground railway station has good communication with those on-site, but little capability to move or hide them; at a long linear event such as a parade or marathon, people can easily move away and possibly hide, but trying to communicate with everyone along the track may be impossible and unnecessary; some sporting and theatrical venues allow for easy movement of people but others result in the potential for crowd crush.

The ANZCTC has provided useful information and tools for those owners, operators and advisors responsible for the safety of people in crowded places. Obviously, all venue operators need to continue to assess and improve their ability to prevent (if possible) and certainly to respond to mass casualty events. It is unlikely that any place where crowds gather has failed to plan; what security advisors need to do is help them make sensible and practical decisions and plans that not only fit within but support their particular operating environment. This is done by understanding their environment as well as fundamental concepts such as the ability to communicate, move and hide.

Table 1 Crowded Places Planning Considerations

This table groups types of venues and considerations for managing crowds during a security/emergency event. Some facilities may contain a number of these venues, such as a shopping complex with cinemas and an indoor sports arena. The following are generalisations and the ability for patrons to escape or hide will depend on the specific built environment.

Type of Venue Descriptor/example Crowd Type Comms to Patrons Evacuation Shelter/hide
Sporting seated Stadia:

major cricket and football grounds

Most of patrons seated, some standing Limited Poor; concerns over crush points Poor
Sporting standing Stadia:

regional sports grounds

Patrons standing and reasonably stationary Poor to limited Limited to good Poor
Sporting internal Sporting arena:


See Cultural theatre Good Poor; concerns over crush points Poor
Sporting linear Event occurring along a route: triathlons, fun runs Patrons along the route of an event Poor Good Limited to good
Cultural theatre Cinemas, theatres, places of worship Patrons usually seated Good Poor; concerns over crush points Poor to limited


Art galleries Patrons standing and relatively slow moving Good Poor; concerns over crush points Poor to limited


Outdoor gigs, rural showgrounds, open-air art shows Patrons standing or seated on grass areas Poor to limited Limited to good; depends on fencing Poor to limited
Retail centres Shopping complexes, factory outlet centres Patrons standing and relatively fast moving. Some sitting in food areas, etc Good Limited to good; depends on size of walkways and exits Limited to good
Transport hub above ground Airport, bus interchange, railway station Patrons standing and relatively fast moving Good Limited to good; depends on size of walkways and exits Poor to limited
Transport hub below ground Underground rail station Patrons standing and relatively fast moving Good Poor; concerns over crush points Poor
Mass transit


Bus, train Patrons seated or standing but contained in vehicles Good to poor Poor Poor
Multi-tenanted office venues High-rise office buildings Tenants sitting Limited, may be only by use of EWIS* Poor to limited Limited to good (Open plan = poor)

* Emergency Warning and Intercommunication System


Good: Probable, is expected to happen or be available
Limited: Possible, might occur or be available
Poor: Unlikely, not expected to occur or be available

Don Williams
Don Williams MIExpE, IABTI, CPP, RSecP is convenor of the ASRC Explosives 2014 forum. Don is a member of the Institute of Explosives Engineers, the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators, the venue managers Associations, ASIS International and the Australian Security Research Centre’s Activities Committee. He is the Author of “Bomb Incidents – the manager’s guide” and numerous other publications relating to explosive and bomb safety and security.