Technologies like facial recognition software and gunshot detection devices offer security teams and law enforcement a smarter, more efficient approach to crowd management.
There is power in a crowd, to be sure — but large public gatherings also present a number of challenges to law enforcement agencies and private security teams. From the merely inconvenient frustrations like foot traffic congestion to the threat of terrorist attacks, crowds have the potential to cause (or attract) problems — if, that is, they’re not managed properly.
That’s where crowd control comes in. “Crowd control” refers to the ability to monitor, direct, and manage large groups of people — with an eye towards safety, efficiency, and satisfaction. In practice, it typically combines a number of different disciplines, bringing engineering, technology and psychology together to inform the design and implementation of proactive solutions.
With the growth of urban populations, rising crowd sizes, and new and emerging threats, crowd control has taken on greater importance for cities and towns in recent years. New solutions to an ever-more urgent problem are being sought. Enter: “smart crowd monitoring,” a term defined by the use of intelligent technologies and tactics in preparing for and controlling large crowds. Smart technologies from AI-enabled cameras with facial recognition to connected bomb detection devices are helping law enforcement agencies across the country improve their situational awareness and manage crowds more effectively.
How Does Crowd Control Work?
A truly “intelligent” crowd monitoring solution will combine multiple technologies and unique tactics to manage all aspects of crowd dynamics — from detecting and suppressing potential threats to optimizing the flow of traffic for greater attendee satisfaction.
Crowd control solutions powered by AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) are becoming increasingly common. As technology continues to advance, more security teams will consider adopting everything from radio frequency identification tags (RFID) with smart barcodes to facial recognition scanners and semi-autonomous drones.
However of the discrete technologies that fall under the umbrella of “smart crowd monitoring”, facial recognition serves as perhaps the most effective example. Connected security cameras equipped with facial recognition software can not only identify and track POIs — they also have the ability to flag abnormal or violent behavior. For this, machine learning algorithms compare real-time video data against stored data of “normal movements and expressions” to alert public safety stakeholders to any suspicious activity.
Connected motion sensors serve a different purpose; By monitoring traffic patterns, cities and event venues can identify which areas are the busiest and distribute resources accordingly. Sensor data allows event planners to know when and where crowds are likely to move — crucial insights that inform everything from the location of barriers and street closures to the size and distribution of officers and security guards.
Similarly, infrared cameras can help track crowd density, giving security teams the ability to react to dangerous situations before they result in real harm. Bomb sensors can discreetly alert multiple officers to the location of potential explosive devices, giving them the time they need to effectively suppress the threat. And gunshot detection devices can register not only when a gun goes off, but where — and even what caliber of weapon was used.
These devices put guards and officers in the best position to succeed with invaluable insights into the threats they’re charged with containing. When integrated into situational awareness platforms, smart crowd monitoring technologies serve the right information to the right people at the right time.
Where is Crowd Monitoring Used?
While many industries and organizations may benefit from crowd control technology, sports and entertainment events in particular stand to benefit, enhancing safety, cutting costs, and ensuring a positive customer experience. At music festivals, sensors can be used to measure crowd density at different shows, and determine which food and concessions stands are attracting the most traffic. Sensors can also help control rapid influxes of customers by determining when and by what means they’re arriving. Actionable insights like these empower organizers to manage and optimize traffic flow through the venue.
To cite another example: the City of Antwerp in Belgium has partnered with Orange to create a crowd monitoring solution for local events like the Tour de France. The system is able to tap into mobile phones connected to the Orange Belgium network in order to create a real-time map of attendees. This data is then transmitted to a dashboard that measures crowd density and enables the city to efficiently manage security operations.
Similarly, the West Virginia University and Coca Cola FoodFest have used wristbands with RFID tags to count and monitor all student attendees. The wristbands were used for ticketing and payment, improving traffic flow and shortening lines. Furthermore, event security professionals were able to scan all visitors for threats and efficiently monitor all entrances and exits.
How Can Technology Enhance Crowd Management?
As security threats become more advanced, so too must the tools used to combat them. Decision-makers need to implement connected systems that can handle a broad and diverse array of threats — and be able to adapt to changing crowd sizes. The most effective of these will likely use a combination of cameras, sensors, AI, data analytics, and situational awareness.
For example, Evolv Technology offers an automated facial recognition system that can be used to screen visitors at the entrance of a venue. This machine allows for approximately 600 to 900 people to walk through per hour at a normal pace, eliminating the need for customers to empty their pockets or wait in line for a metal detector.
The camera captures video footage while Evolv’s Pinpoint facial recognition software analyzes the data to identify persons of interest. The application’s algorithms match visitor’s faces to those on the watchlist in the system’s archive. If a person of interest is discovered, their profile will be displayed on a tablet and highlighted. Security professionals can then respond in real-time to block the individual from entering, and apprehend them if necessary. Similarly, an unverified threat prompts the system to highlight a person’s image while their profile is sent to a human expert for review and verification.
Smart Crowd Control in the Hands of Security Professionals
With all the advanced technology that is now available, how can public safety professionals determine which crowd control tools will meet their needs? The first considerations should be the fundamentals: expected crowd densities and the particularities of the surrounding environments in question.
But beyond the basics, stakeholders should also take into account how precise their data needs to be in order for it to be impactful, in addition to the cost of obtaining this data. Finally, decision-makers will want to consider how long the technology will take to deploy, and if it will deliver results in time to be effective.
Generally, an efficient crowd management solution will bring together various data streams that offer both a wide area view of the location as well as a detailed perspective on specific points of interest. This combination of diverse technology enables those managing crowd control strategy to build an accurate, actionable common operational picture.
Most importantly, these technologies will need to be integrated with a robust situational awareness platform — one that puts the right information into the right hands at the right time. Connected security assets need to be able to communicate — both with one another, as well as decision-makers on the ground. Huge volumes of security data are only useful if they can be turned into actionable insights.
As public safety stakeholders lean into emerging security technologies, they’ll need to do more than implement discrete solutions — to achieve true smart crowd monitoring, they’ll need the piece that ties it all together.