Why the Stadium must be Rebuilt

security staff monitoring CCTV cameras

Next month marks 30 years since the 1989 tragedy at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England which saw 96 people crushed to death at a soccer match on live television.

A mere 8 years earlier, 38 people were injured in a crowd surge at the same stadium. Lessons not learned see lives lost.

Professor Dr G. Keith Still, international expert on ‘crowd forces’ has compiled a terrifying list of hundreds of crowd crush incidents at public venues.

Last year, 17 people died in Rio during a crush simply while entering a stadium.

That’s small when compared to the annual Hajj pilgrimage which sees millions of Muslim pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia and converge on the holy city of Mecca. On an almost annual basis, thousands are crushed to death (over 8,000 in 2015).

Australia hasn’t been spared and few can forget Jessica Michalik, a 16 year old girl crushed to death at the 2001 Big Day Out. Or a crowd stampede at the 2017 Falls Festival which left 80 people injured.

Much contemporary security and law-enforcement focus is on terrorism. Ironically, more people can be killed in a crush from evacuation to avoid a terrorist attack, than direct victims from a shooting or bombing which caused it.

However crowds can surge for far more mundane reasons.

In February, two women were crushed – to death – when a Kuala Lumpur indoor market was giving away 200 free buffet vouchers and 1000 people didn’t want to miss out. (A less dramatic version of this can usually be seen at Town Hall Station around 5:30pm). Multiply that physical force by ten or a hundred and the problem becomes obvious. Nor is it confined to the third-world.

At the ‘Global Citizen’ event in Central Park, New York last year a barricade fell over and the noise was mistaken for gunfire causing panic and confusion as 60,000 fans headed for the exit (except those global citizens standing around filming it for social media). Fortunately there were no walls or gates in the way as the event was held in a wide open space – in exactly the way stadium events aren’t. Big, wide spaces outside the exit of a stadium are not a straightforward answer either due to the conflicting requirement for hostile vehicle mitigation and inbound visitor screening and turnstiles.

Anyone who’s ever attended a crowded event at Allianz Stadium (that is, not a Waratahs game) knows that getting out at the end of it was difficult. That is with an orderly crowd in the absence of any particular danger. Now imagine people in panic and it becomes obvious why the stadium needed to change. This is over and above well known fire safety issues.

Now that the stadium is no longer in use we can discuss these additional hazards without giving any ideas to a would be terrorist.

As a security professional I would hate to see a preventable incident take place followed by finger pointing as to how it could have been avoided, when the answer is blindingly obvious. This is why I find the current argument over rebuilding the obviously dangerous Allianz Stadium, so appalling.

Debate is raging over ‘pill testing’ in an apparent attempt at saving the lives of people who’ve engaged in an entirely voluntary way to kill yourself. Michael Daley said NSW Labor would explore pill testing if elected.

Whereas nobody has ever volunteered to be crushed to death. Yet this is entirely predictable and Daley apparently is okay with that.

With the benefit of hindsight – after many deaths as well as CCTV footage of ‘what happened’, substantial research such as Keith Still’s into crowd dynamics and venue engineering has evolved.

Modern software allows stadium designers to ‘what-if’ the effects of a ‘well behaved’, nervous or fleeing crowd against exits, immovable obstacles such as walls and of course other human beings. In other words, what happens when an unstoppable tsunami of human bodies move in a particular direction.

By any modern assessment – based on research which didn’t exist in the early eighties when it was designed – (Allianz) Sydney
Football Stadium is a disaster waiting to happen. Unless Michael Daley stops making this a political issue, he is too.

Daniel Lewkovitz is a security expert and the CEO of Security and Life Safety Company, Calamity Monitoring (www.calamity.com.au)