COMMENT | Samson Tinka | Police reports indicate that at least 10 people died at Freedom City Mall in Kampala after a stampede as the world ushered in New Year. Investigations are underway, but all reports inidcate a failure by organizers to manage the crowds.
Unfortunately, as I have mentioned before, there is a low safety appetite in Uganda. Qualified safety managers are rarely deployed. Event management teams rarely have safety officers on their payrolls.
My observation is that many event managers leave all matters of security to police alone. Uganda police are often overwhelmed, especially when they lack local knowledge of a site that is crucial to keeping order in an excited or unrully crowd.
Venue managers and staff all have a duty to their attendees to provide a level of crowd management and safe, fun experience at events. This is not only vital for guest and staff safety, but also in minimizing complaints that may lead to a poor event review.
From what I observed from the videos on social media, the Freedom City New Yer even had big numbers and this ideally would have interested the organizers, and POlice, to be extremely cautious in how to handle a full house.
I notice also many of the dead are children. Parents need to be reminded that any merry making with children should be at day time. This should be a lesson to parents who often carelessly walk to big events with young ones.
Security needs to stick to the rules, even if it is Christmas or New Year. Anyone below 18 should not be allowed to access a bar, club or concert.
Police also needs to do a complete risk and threat assessment of this Freedom City infrastructure and have a report on record especially to the proprietors of this facility. The positioning of the facility is bad. On a busy Entebbe highway. Traffic is clogged every time there is a show at the venue.
I urge all authorities and security to do a thorough review of this incident with the main goal being to ensure lessons are picked up so that we all do better going forward.
Pre-event check list:
(i) Have plenty of ushers and security on-hand
A big event calls for a large staff presence. This will mainly consist of event staff but also event security personnel provided by the venue or hired from a third-party service. There should also be an easy way to locate a guest service desk or station where guests can go for questions instead of having to flag down a busy staff member.
Speaking of check-in lines, this is one area that can quickly become chaotic.
Fesignate the check-in lines or entrances with stanchions and have ushers guide people to the correct line if there are multiple registration/sign-in areas.
Ushers should not confront unruly attendees; they should leave that to the security. Security should also be responsible for checking bags for weapons and other banned substances at check-in.
(ii)Prepare the venue
Attendees are going to be navigating around a crowded (possibly dark) venue that they have likely never stepped foot into. Ensure guests know their way around by using plenty of signs to point people in the right direction. This can include signs for,
- Directions to the nearest restroom
- Where the line begins for the registration
- Designated smoking areas
- Locations to exhibits or workshops
- Restricted or staff-only areas
- Areas of convenience
- Emergency exit routes
- Fire or emergency assembly points
- Complaints desk
- Positioning of fire marshals, first aiders, bouncers etc.
- Public address system management-communication.
Signs should be simple with print that is large enough to read from afar.
Having signs prominently displayed helps to keep the venue space orderly and ensures attendees find their way around the event.
(iii)Have an emergency plan just in case
You always have to plan for the worst-case scenario. So many things can go wrong that will require an orderly evacuation or in the event of a security breach. This could include the breakout of a fire, sudden weather changes, a brawl in the crowd, acts of terrorism, or attendees bringing in weapons. Any of these scenarios may require attendees to exit the venue until law enforcement or firefighters arrive.
It’s all too easy to assume that nothing can ever go wrong. However, it’s imperative staff is mentally prepared to handle the unexpected.
Happy New Year.
Samson Tinka is a safety and security consultant | Director Matts Secure Solutions Ltd | tindsam@yahoo