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Book Review: Crowd Science

CRC Press;; 300 pages; $134 

The headlines are always jarring: “Hajj Stampede Near Mecca Leaves Over 700 Dead,” read the September 24, 2015, edition of The New York Times. That number eventually surpassed 1,000. Unfortunately, this type of calamity is fairly regular during the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. But one wonders, in the year 2015, how can a scheduled peaceful assembly suddenly turn deadly? In Introduction to Crowd Science, author G. Keith Still answers that question.  

Still is not afraid to address the inherent contradiction in “crowd science”—that crowds are rarely scientific in form or intent. Crowds, and their close kin, mobs, are meandering, impulsive, erratic, spontaneous, panic-stricken, and self-destructive. Still acknowledges the limitations in applying a scientific method to such an unstable and varied subject matter.  

The book focuses on the essential problem and cause of crowd-related fatalities: density. Still takes the reader through sequential steps to illustrate the relevance of crowd density. Experiments are performed to determine the average area of space a person occupies. When a crowd is denser than five or six persons per square meter, a small disturbance can result in a human shock wave that crushes and injures. This examination goes further to include crowds in motion, ingress and egress routes, and throughput limits.  

Another dimension to the book is risk analysis and its role in estimating the propensity of a crowd to turn deadly. For the security practitioner, this is familiar territory. The reader learns that the distal cause of crowd-related deaths is a lack of adequate planning. If we know the characteristics and conditions that lead to an event disaster, then our planning should include contingencies. 

This book is not a light or easy read. It is a professional work and, at times, technical. But, it is well written and targeted to the safety-security professional. Thus, it assumes the reader is familiar with concepts of risk, operational planning, and event management. For the general safety specialist or event planner, Introduction to Crowd Science should be required reading. It is a deep dive into the cause of crowd-related fatalities and corresponding mitigation strategies. 


Reviewer: Anthony McGinty, CPP, is an intelligence analyst at Los Angeles International Airport and principal at AnalyzSecurity LLC. He is a member of the ASIS Global Terrorism and Political Instability Council.