In the past few decades, thousands of people around the world have died or been seriously injured by crowd crush, many of compressive asphyxia, where victims are unable to expand their lungs under the force of bodies surrounding them. It’s common for dozens if not hundreds of people to die in a single event: In 1990, a crowd crush in a pedestrian tunnel leading out of Mecca during the Muslim Hajj led to the deaths of 1,426 Muslim pilgrims.
Federico Botta, a 27-year old PhD candidate and researcher at the University of Warwick Business School in Coventry, England, believes he might have found a tool that could help—smartphone data. As part of a study, “Quantifying Crowd Size with Mobile Phone and Twitter Data,” published in May, Botta and other researchers analyzed two months of cell phone calls, smartphone Internet connections, and Twitter posts emanating from a soccer stadium in Milan, Italy, during 10 matches. They found that they could quickly and accurately estimate crowd size in the stadium simply by analyzing the amount of smartphone activity happening within the stadium.
NFPA Journal interviewed Botta for the "Perspectives" feature in the new NFPA Journal about this new approach, as well as how emergency planners and first responders could use this real time information to help them prevent future crowd crush tragedies. Read the interview with Botta and learn more about the phenomenon of crowd crush in the July/August issue of NFPA Journal, and at nfpa.org/journal.