Safe events, is that even possible?

The death toll of the concert of Travis Scott rises to 10. Dozens were injured during the recent drama at the Astroworld music festival in Houston. The quest for answers is on: what exactly went wrong? This drama makes one thing very clear: guaranteeing safety is crucial and should be the starting point of the organisation of any event. Safe events are the ultimate goal, but is that even possible?


Bringing people together is the core of events. However, the more people you bring together physically, the more likely something will go wrong. Health and safety risks are always linked to any type of event. Unfortunately, it was not the first time that an event had such a tragic outcome. The past has shown that many things can go wrong, such as the suffocating crowd during the Love Parade in Duisburg, the heavy storm at Pukkelpop and the terrorist attack in the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.


Incidents, disasters and crises as driving factors of event safety


In recent years, event safety has mainly been driven by incidents and disasters. The drama at the Love Parade, for example, gave a serious boost to the importance of crowd control. The heavy storm during Pukkelpop made many organisers think about the consequences of extreme weather conditions and temporary constructions. And because of the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, terrorism was put at the top of the agenda of safety risks to be considered when organising events.


Also new safety risks are rapidly gaining importance. Due to the corona crisis, the health of visitors has become the starting point of many event organisers. Today, more than ever, such a crisis determines the interpretation of event safety.


An integral view on safety: much needed, but non-existent


The biggest challenge is to take an integrated view of event safety without reacting too impulsively to incidents, disasters or crises. Why? Event safety is a complex subject that involves several facets, ranging from traffic and transport to the choice of location, the event design and access control. Various risks can also threaten the event, such as crowds, storms, terrorist threats, fire hazards or pandemics. An integral view on safety is necessary.


Unfortunately, such an integrated view is still lacking today. This is partly because existing legislation is fragmented and often insufficiently focused on the dynamics and complexity of events. The various disciplines (e.g. police, fire brigade, medical assistance) each have their own regulatory framework, although they are inevitably in close contact with each other during a crisis, disaster or incident.


The domain of event safety is also fragmented. An integral federal safety policy for events is lacking, despite the fact that the demand for such a policy is very high, and this from various angles. There have been repeated calls to address this issue through scientific and independent research.


Unfortunately, the currently available solutions for mapping the safety risk of events are inadequate. They are often too complex, not sufficiently generic and mainly serve for evaluation purposes after the event. Moreover, these solutions and tools offer little or no concrete solutions for improvement in the planning of events.


Towards an integral safety scan


There is a clear need for a more integrated view on event safety. Researchers Eline Frison and Kris Spaepen of the centre of expertise Public Impact of KdG University of Applied Sciences and Arts want to meet this need. Through practice-based scientific research, they study event safety in all its facets and want to develop an integral safety scan for events.


"In our research we build on existing models of event safety, such as PRIMA and CERM", emphasises Eline Frison. "Together with different event professionals, local and regional authorities, safety and medical experts, we want to make event safety measurable by defining first of all a set of parameters. These parameters form the basis for a first, integral safety model for events."


"In close cooperation with our project partners Vias institute and the National Crisis Centre, we are developing a safety scan that allows event professionals to map and evaluate the safety of their event", Kris Spaepen continues. "We believe that it is possible to organise integrally safe events. And it is our job to bring together all the knowledge, experts and stakeholders on this subject and come up with a clear, usable and supported model that everyone can and wants to use."


For more information about the research: https://www.publiekeimpact.be/en-safety-at-events