What is the problem?
A mass gathering is when a large number of people come together in a particular location, indoors or outdoors for a specific common purpose either in an organized and planned way for a defined period of time or in an instantaneous or spontaneous manner, possibly motivated by organizers, participants or third parties or due to an unexpected response to an incident or emergency situation.
Mass gathering can be events of any kind, type, scope and content or protests and demonstrations, immigrant or refugee movements etc.
Due to their nature, mass gatherings are prone to various threats. These include the potential for riots, mass panic that can lead to stampedes or other accidents, violence among participant groups or individuals, etc. In addition, mass gatherings also constitute a very appealing target for terrorist attacks and, at the same time, they can be the direct result of such attacks.
The expansion of social media promotes social movements and mass gatherings both in terms of organisation and coordination of the event itself and by enabling more exposure that leads to increased participation. Importantly, social media can also, conditionally, confer the added capacity of enhancing preparedness against risks that can manifest before, during and after the event and also reduce their potential impact.
“I was very interested to understand the potential of social media in terms of reassurance, gaining trust and improving relationships between communities and the Police. It’s really difficult to talk about these kinds of topics and it changed our point of view.”Workshop participant
While mass gatherings is by no means a new phenomenon, the use of social media in this context can act as a catalyst to their starting and change their dynamics when occuring. The challenge for LEAs, municipal authorities and other stakeholders is to harness the opportunities offered by social media and to understand the change it can produce both in terms of ensuring public security and in shifting the paradigm of policing during mass gatherings in its entirety.
This workshop explored the challenges and opportunities for LEAs, municipal authorities and other stakeholders in harnessing the social media as a tool in ensuring public security during such events and incidents.
For participants in mass gatherings the key requirement is to have a reliable and credible point of contact containing relevant, up-to-date and accurate information. The promotion and management of official accounts is crucial within this.
For LEAs, a key requirement is training for their relevant staff in communication skills and expertise in the use, management and analysis of social media as well as upgrading current technological equipment.
Additionally, event organisers can use social media to directly collaborate with LEAs to ensure security and that order is upheld, directly report any security or safety incidents, seek advice and guidance on designing the event with a minimum level of security in mind to protect participants.