There's Safety In Numbers Even When Millions Of People Gather

During prayer at Mecca in the Holy Mosque at the Hajj, in 2012

Some crowds are safer than others even when it feels like everyone is packed in like sardines in a can. It depends on who’s gathering.

Being in a large group can make people feel safe despite the safety issues associated with crowds, UK research has found.

Surveying Hajj pilgrims who take the annual trip to Mecca, which can reach a crowd density of eight people per square metre, the authors found people who highly identified with the crowd felt relatively safe because they perceived the masses to be supportive

Crowd safety is a major concern at the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the world’s largest mass gatherings with more than 3 million attendees in 2012.

Hani Al-Nabulsi and John Drury of the University of Sussex surveyed 1,194 pilgrims at the Holy Mosque in Mecca during the 2012 Hajj, and also took measures of crowd density, which reached up to 8 people per square meter.

Individuals who highly identified with the crowd felt relatively safe as crowd density increased, due to an increased perception that others in the crowd were supportive.

Crowd identification and perceived support also helped explain differences in reported safety across national groups, with pilgrims from Arab countries and Iran reporting greater safety, compared with those from other countries.

The authors suggest that these findings show how the crowd can be understood as part of the solution rather than just the problem in crowd safety, and that shared identification in a crowd is key to increasing mutual support.

The paper, Social identification moderates the effect of crowd density on safety at the Hajj, is published by PNAS (Proecedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

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