From a venue manager’s point of view, it’s generally a good thing when a crowd goes wild. But, when an excited crowd turns violent, or has the potential to do so, the phrase takes on a much more undesirable meaning.

Crowd violence can happen in venues of any size and can range from a mild disagreement to a full-on riot. Fortunately, there are ways to diffuse the situation and preventative measures that managers can take to reduce the risk.

Tamara D. Madensen, PhD—an associate professor, graduate coordinator, and director of the Crowd Management Research Council in the Department of Criminal Justice – University of Nevada, Las Vegas—recommends a behavioral psychology approach to crowd violence issues.

She has extensively researched, developed, and used behavioral frameworks to offer guidance for effectively managing spaces in and around venues, allowing venue managers to address problems by thinking about how crowds perceive and react to their environments.

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Tamara D. Madensen, PhD, will be a speaker at IAVM’s 2015 Academy for Venue Safety & Security and GuestX conference, speaking on crowd management challenges.

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For example, in her 2008 publication, The Problem of Spectator Violence in Stadiums, Madensen writes that crowd violence in arenas can be attributed to everything from temperature to seating arrangements and performance proximity.

“Violence between spectators and entertainers is more likely to occur when there is less physical distance between them,” Madensen said. “Those in the front row of concerts are better able to reach out and grab performers, fans with courtside seats can stretch their legs to trip players, and fans can throw objects or jump onto a baseball field or into a hockey penalty box to assault players, coaches, or referees. Verbal insults and other aggressive behavior by spectators close to the action can also prompt retaliatory behavior from entertainers who feel threatened or disrespected.”

But just as behavioral factors contribute to violent crowd escalation, they can be used to diffuse it.

“Behavioral science frameworks can be extremely helpful to those who develop and implement venue safety protocols,” Madensen said. “The most useful frameworks draw from principles established in a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including psychology, sociology, criminology, and engineering. These frameworks are grounded in theory, and they are based upon the findings of empirical research that has taken place over the past several decades.”

Madensen said that most venue managers are knowledgeable about the violence “triggers” that exist in their venues. For example, some managers must deal with poorly designed venues that impede crowd flow or contain physical spaces that generate unwanted physical contact between patrons. Others must deal with capacity and convenience issues that stem from operating in older venues that offer inadequate parking or bathroom facilities.

However, she also notes that while some triggers involve the physical design and management of spaces, violence can also be triggered by social interactions. Many venue managers have effectively reduced the likelihood of serious violence by training their staff to recognize and appropriately intervene when such behavior is identified, avoiding escalation.

“Crowd violence results from negative patron-to-patron interactions, security-to-patron interactions, and, sometimes, player-to-player or player-to-patron interactions,” she said. “Extreme incidents of violence are sometimes preceded by ‘lesser’ problematic behaviors or interactions, such as signs of over-intoxication or obnoxious behavior.”

Madensen emphasizes the importance of an effective command post and a clear, established chain of command so that staff performing various functions can both receive orders to act and report potential or immediate threats. Commanders must be able to effectively collect and analyze intelligence relayed from the field, and staff should also be clear about their assigned roles and what to do in emergency situations to avoid adding more stress to a chaotic atmosphere.

When planning crowd containment plans and policies, Madensen recommends an approach that combines the high and low tech: data analysis and people watching.

“One of the best approaches to developing effective crowd violence prevention strategies involves studying how people move, interact, and behave in venues,” she said. “This type of assessment, when combined with scientific analysis of previous incidents, allows managers to develop evidence-based risk assessment instruments that are tailored to their specific venue.”

Such policies should be continuously revised based on the most recent incident data available, and the best data can inform venue manager decision-making concerning staffing, training, and deployment strategies in ways that reduce the potential for crowd violence.

To learn more about leveraging behavioral science and analysis for venue safety, Madensen suggests working directly with academics who develop response frameworks and conduct safety and security research. Additionally, she says that professional organizations that bring scientists and practitioners together, like the International Association of Venue Managers, provide a valuable forum for developing professional relationships with researchers.

“Partnerships between venue managers and scientists help to foster more insightful and helpful research, while reducing the time it takes to find meaningful solutions to problems commonly faced by venue managers,” she said. FM