Staying Safe in a Crowd

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safe in a crowd

Love them or hate them, large crowds cannot always be avoided and they have inherent dangers ranging from pickpockets to riots. It’s good to be prepared for those dangers and keep in mind crowd safety. You just need to use your head in order to stay ahead of the game, so to speak.

Do you need it with you?

Whenever you attend large crowd gatherings, the fewer belongings you have with you, the less there is to keep track of and potentially lose. And the less weight you are carrying around for no good reason. It doesn’t normally matter that I have three tubes of lipstick, four pens, etc. in my purse – but if I know I’ll be walking around and carrying it for hours, I cut that down a lot.

You do need to keep your keys, but they don’t have to be in your purse. Where can you carry them with the least possible risk of losing them? Even if you lose everything else, if you still have your keys, you should be able to get home. Remember that many cars have lockable glove compartments. You can leave some items locked in there while you are at the event. Unless the day is going to be really hot, I regularly leave my GPS and Kindle locked in the glove box. Sometimes I even leave my house keys there, too, but I make certain there is nothing with my home address on the key chain or anything else I leave in the car.

As you get ready to leave your home, sort through what you normally carry and reduce it to the minimum you need. Most of us have extra credit cards, reward cards, and all sorts of small things we carry every day that we can leave behind when we go to a special event. The less you carry, the less you risk losing.


Many years ago, a tour guide recommended carrying a purse with the strap running across and in front of your body, rather than just off one shoulder, and the actual bag in front of you, possibly even with your hand on it. Keeping the strap running across your body, not over one shoulder, makes it harder for a thief to grab your bag and run with it. In addition to grabbing, his experience was that some thieves cut the strap in crowded areas and stole purses that way. Keeping your bag in front of your body, with your hand on it, makes that more difficult.

Another option is a thin pouch on a neck strap that you can keep underneath your shirt. This keeps your hands free and your belongings out of sight yet easily accessible.

TIP: There are purses designed to deter thieves, and one, in particular, has slash-proof straps and an RFID-proof compartment that will protect your credit card information from being scanned and stolen. Check out the Travelon bag here.

Finally, take steps to deter thieves from literally picking your pockets. Put your phone, camera, cash, and other valuables in front or inside pockets where you’re more likely to notice someone grabbing for them. If you have pockets that zip, use and zip them. (This is more common in menswear, which is a great reason for women to own at least one man’s jacket.)

Many women keep their cell phones in a back pants pocket, and many men keep their wallets there. In a large, close crowd, that phone or wallet could be snatched or fall out in an eye blink and you might not even notice. Someone could be gone with your things before you even had time to turn and look for them, and you would have no idea who it was.

Staying together in a crowd

Wearing bright or unusual colors can make it easier to find one another. When my kids have on neon green or orange shirts, it is FAR easier to find them than when they wear black t-shirts with jeans. However, if things go horribly wrong, this could have the effect of making you stand out to the bad guys. Carrying a dark jacket or hoodie, you can put on over top can negate this problem.

When you arrive at your big event, before you jump into the activities, decide on a meet-up location and make sure everyone in your group knows where it is. It should be outside of the busy main area, but not so far that you can’t get to it easily or have to completely leave the area to get there. It should also be easy to see from a distance to help everyone find their way, and it should be distinctive. A lamppost is tall, but hardly distinctive. Unless, of course, there is one lamppost that happens to be an entirely different color or style from the others.

Make a mental note of where emergency exits are located and likely paths of least resistance. If there is a good meeting spot near there, use it – but be sure it is just far enough that it won’t be in the middle of the exodus if the emergency exit actually needs to be used in an emergency.

Take a digital photo of each member of your party, including every child, before leaving the house or just after arriving at the event, and a photo of the meeting location, as a reminder. This way, if someone turns up missing, you have a current photo to show authorities. In various jobs I’ve held over the years, I’ve been part of search teams looking for missing kids and I can tell you that many parents have trouble remembering what their children wore that day. It is far easier to find a person if the searchers know what color shirt or hat to spot.

LEARN MORE: Your cell phone camera can be very useful in emergencies. Read these “50 Emergency Uses for a Cell Phone Camera“.

Make certain everyone has the phone numbers for everyone else in the party with a cell phone. If you are separated, this will help you re-connect.

If you are unwell or injured

When you arrive, take the time to find a map with all the bathrooms, water fountains, and rest areas. Out-of-the-way bathrooms often have the shortest lines, so make a special note of these.

At outdoor venues, personal experience has taught me that the Port-a-Potties about 2/3 of the way down the line are the cleanest. Many people simply go to the first available, while others go to the very last one. This leaves the ones 2/3 of the way down least used, therefore, the least stench-filled. This is particularly important if someone is nauseous.

If you begin to feel faint or unwell, let your group know immediately and try to get out of the crowd. Find someplace to sit down, take stock of the situation, and have some water. This is important because if someone’s health suddenly takes a turn and paramedics need to be called, it can be extremely difficult for them to fight through the crowd to reach you.

Drinking water is a good idea because a lot of problems are caused or made worse by dehydration, and almost nothing is made worse by drinking some water. Staying hydrated is a great way to prevent problems.

The same goes if you are injured. This could be a simple twisted ankle or minor cut or something far more serious like having a golf cart run over your foot or a rioter beat you. If you need a paramedic, try to send another adult or responsible teen for help and keep anyone younger or infirm with you. They are less likely to be distracted or get lost if they stay with you and can still help you, even with things as small as carrying your bag(s) or dialing a cell phone.

Potential riot and crowd safety

There is no way to go to a large event and both stay at the outer edges the whole time and actually enjoy the event. If you are at the edges, then you are…at the edges. Not fully immersed and participative, and what is the point in that? Of course, if things take a turn for the worse, at the edges, with as few people as possible between you and “open territory,” is exactly where you want to be. But what warning signs do you need to watch for?

Some elements clearly make a riot more or less likely. Crowds, alcohol, and strong feelings are all big contributors to riots. Crowds and alcohol are fairly obvious. Strong feelings can be about politics, justice/injustice, or sporting events. The cause doesn’t matter, but the presence of strong feelings does.

Can you imagine a riot over Starbucks having green cups with a white logo instead of the reverse? Not easily, because it’s hard to imagine anyone caring that much. If there are two groups somewhere and one group gets white cups while the other gets green, they might start a riot if one already feels like they are being treated worse, somehow.

If the crowd unexpectedly starts growing, or there is a noticeable change in police/security, those are warning signs. If the mood changes and people are becoming angry or frustrated, it is time to leave. Start making your way to the exit, or at least the edges of the crowd.

READ MORE: “15 Tips for Staying Safe During Times of Civil Unrest

If you can’t move away fast enough and find yourselves caught up in a demonstration or some other moving crowd, the best thing to do is link arms and move perpendicular across the group of people. You’re not going to get very far trying to walk in the opposite direction but by cutting across the crowd, you should be able to get to a sidewalk or side street. Linking arms is far better than trying to just hold hands.

While the safest course of action would be to avoid crowded events entirely, we cannot and should not live our lives in fear. If your favorite band is playing at a local venue and you have the means to attend the show, go for it! Just take a few common sense precautions so you can be sure to enjoy the concert.

Staying Safe During Civil Unrest

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Jim Cobb contributed to this article.

11 thoughts on “Staying Safe in a Crowd”

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  2. Prepared Grammy

    These are excellent ideas, and I have used some of them. I know this isn’t related to large crowds, but my husband and I have something that we do to be prepared when we stay in hotels.
    My husband occasionally stays out of town for several days at a time for his job. This requires overnight stays in a hotel. One night he was awakened by the sound of a fire alarm and a hotel employee banging on doors while yelling that everyone should get out. The hotel was actually on fire. He quickly pulled on his pants, shoes, and jacket; grabbed his wallet, and ran out the door. He met up with some coworkers in the parking lot, one of whom was only wearing his underwear. A female coworker had on her pajamas, but was barefoot. She was completely covered, but very embarrassed. The nearly naked man was also quite embarrassed, and likely so. Most of the other guests were similarly dressed, or should I say undressed. Hubby unlocked his truck, and got some coveralls for the man to wear. He gave his extra jacket to pajama lady. They all waited in Hubby’s truck, and watched the hotel fire scene unfold.
    After the fire department put out the fire, the guests were allowed back in the hotel. Hubby made his way to his room, only to be called by the front desk some time later. Several guests didn’t have their room keys, and no identification to prove they belonged in their respective rooms. His coworkers were among the crowd. Hubby showed his company identification, and vouched for them. The hotel manager reluctantly let them in their rooms, but made them show their own identification and room keys before he left.
    So, what did we learn from this? Before we go to sleep in a hotel, we have our clothes and shoes out. Hubby has his wallet, vehicle keys, and room key in his pants pocket. I have my purse beside my clothes. We also have a flashlight within easy reach of the bed.
    Is all of this necessary? Yep. When we were on vacation and awakened by an earthquake, it was nice to not be running around half naked. That was an unforgettable night, but we were prepared.

      1. Prepared Grammy

        We have several other ways that we stay safe, but this is one that most people don’t think about. We have an increased awareness of the what-ifs when we’re out of our normal environment. I feel as if I could write a short book of the things that we initially made an effort to do, and now it’s just a way of life.

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  4. Thank you for posting this. It’s a shame when we can’t go int large crowds any longer without fear that something may happen. When we leave the house to go somewhere I put my little ones in a double stroller, while having my middle two hold the stroller and then my oldest ones just walk along with me. Going to the grocery store is a trip for my husband and I because it’s the only one to keep everyone safe. Our neighborhood has changed so much I don’t even like letting the kids play outside.

  5. The glove box is better than nothing but easy to break in to. As a mechanic and auto enthusiast, I would recommend the trunk on most cars. At least the ones that have one. I like to find a secret hiding place in my car. In my truck there was a great hiding spot under the cup holder in the console. I could keep my wallet and even a small gun under there. Also many seats have zippers holding the covers over the foam at the base of the seat or a folding arm rest. They make great places to his money, keys and other small things. Finally, i bought a smLl safe that would fit under my seat and chained it to the seat mount. This is where I keep my gun when I go places that don’t allow them, like schools. Try to keep things out of sight that a thief might want. Had a friend who’s car got broken into for a nice leather belt once.

    1. Since I avoid places where criminals congregate, like schools and other government facilities, and the vehicle can’t use the gun, it goes with me, if it is with me.

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  7. Best pickpocket deterrence I know is a good ol’ diaper pin keeping that pocket closed and secure. If WalMart doesn’t have them, eBay will.

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